I’m engaging in a virtual learning opportunity #IMMOOC with George Couros. One of the questions posed this week, “Talk about a time when you dealt with adversity in education and how you overcame it.” So, here we go. Let’s get real.
It was 2012, and I had just finished the final graduate course for my principal’s license. I had an instructor who was a masterful storyteller with vast administrative experience. I enjoyed his class very much, and he was kind to me and to all of the students in our class. As everyone packed up and headed out, he and I made small talk. I shared that I had just been offered a middle school assistant principal position which led me to ask, “So, any advice for me?”
Without missing a beat, he answered, “Wear pants.”
I didn’t know what to say. Stunned and wide-eyed, I waited for him to explain further, hoping there was some wisdom in this advice that was yet to be seen.
Sensing that I wanted him to say more, he elaborated with something along the lines of, “Seriously, young female administrators should avoid skirts. You will earn more respect if you play down your femininity.”
Now, I think he meant well, and he truly believed in his heart that he was helping, but for the first time in my career, it was evident that there were unspoken rules, and I was going to have to navigate those rules.
Certainly, I could take us down an interesting road, examining privilege. But instead, I want to focus on what I decided to do. Because I believe in the power of storytelling.
So, truly, I had a choice. I could change aspects of my personality and attire to seem more masculine, or I could be myself.
At the time, it seemed like a lot of work to be someone else. I wish I could say that in that moment I made the choice because it was brave and to set an example for other aspiring female leaders. It turns out, I would later have opportunities to demonstrate that kind of courage. But in that moment, I decided to stay true to myself because I didn’t have the energy to figure out Plan B. This means that I’ve continued to wear skirts and dresses, heels, and bright lipstick. It means that I fast clap when I’m excited and put heart emojis on my tweets. You catch my drift. In these ways, I’m just a walking cliche.
HOWEVER, staying true to myself also means I get things done. I create systems that support decision-making. I follow-through. I aim to be a champion for the sake of what’s best for students. I am fierce in my support of teachers, so they can live their best lives and do their best work.
This is why I’m drawn to Wonder Woman, “I am the man who can.” And Olivia Pope, “It’s handled.” It’s why I can’t get enough of Brene Brown, Sheryl Sandberg, and Shonda Rhimes just to name a few among many empowered women who are changing the world with their talents and voices.
And while I’m reminded fairly often that I’m a girl and that in some circles this means my voice is viewed differently, I continue to use my voice when I believe I have something important to say. And I listen because there is always more to learn. I do so with pink lips, heels, and a smile on my face because that’s how I roll.
As Judy Garland said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of someone else.”
This is what we want for our students. Many of whom are fighting battles much larger than this, trying to live in their truths as their authentic selves, and trying to live wholehearted lives.
“Our job as educators and leaders is not to control others but to bring out the best in them. Engagement is not enough. We need to create the same opportunities for our students as those we would want for ourselves.”
– George Couros, Innovator’s Mindset
In order to love and accept all learners for who they are, we must first love and accept ourselves. Our true selves. And making that choice over and over again, when the world tells us to be someone else, is an act of bravery.
Let’s take care of each other. Let’s live our best lives. Let’s do work we believe in.
And let’s create environments that empower students to do the same.