Recently Dr. Alan Zimmerman provided a group of schools in NEIA with a workshop in leadership. His words were exactly what I needed to hear during a dreary winter in a new job where I sometimes feel very lonely. Since he provided such an engaging and meaningful workshop, I decided to sign up for his Tuesday Tips. These weekly emails are short, quick reads that remind me to engage in effective and active leadership in my classroom.
This week's tip was right up my alley: Leadership Lessons Learned from Downton Abbey. For those who don't know, I'm not a big TV watcher. The TV is always on, but I'm rarely paying attention unless it's one of "my shows." There are some shows that the characters, drama, and settings pull me in. While I've had a few favorite shows over the years, none have captivated me as much as Downton Abbey. In addition to it being a historical piece about my favorite time period (1900-1930), the storyline takes place in England, including London. The Lords and Ladies are a sassy bunch, with much drama coming between them. I love the depth of the characters, and have a few characters who I really hate. It's like reading a good book, but all of the work of visualizing is done for me. Plus, the costume, set, and hair/make-up people have won several well-deserved awards for their time & attention to detail.
Another reason I love Downton so much is the way it brings people together. PBS has always been my favorite channel, but I've rarely watched their Sunday night line-up. In the past 6 seasons, however, I have not missed a Sunday night. Before I got married & moved, my friends & I spent every Sunday during Downton season together watching, laughing, occasionally crying, and always enjoying a wide spread of food and fellowship. After many of us left Dubuque, we kept up the tradition via social media (our Facebook conversations are intense!), but it didn't have the same feel. It did, however, provide great Sunday night entertainment and a check-in with people I care about.
So, Dr. Zimmerman was playing right into my hand with this week's Tuesday Tip. His lessons in leadership, learned from a very Carson-like woman, are interesting & engaging. I will speak about 2 of them that I need to be more cognizant of in my classroom, however.
Tip #1: As a leader, teach your people how to do things and then expect them to do it … right.
As a teacher, I set high expectations for my students (that's why I'm so "mean" in the hallways). I teach students how to do something, then expect them to do it. I keep reminding them until they get it right. I know I often sound like a broken record (seriously, how many times can one human say "Use complete sentences!" or "First thing: put your name on the top!" or "Work time is a gift -- use it accordingly!"), but I want my students to know that fair and consistent expectations are something they can expect in the world of school and the world of work. It is not hard to write in complete sentences when attempting formal writing. Putting your name on your work is a given. Yet, these reminders, among others, serve to remind my students that my expectations of quality do not decrease. If I've taught you to do it, I expect you to do it.
Tip #3: As a leader, teach your people that tasks trump titles.
My least favorite phrase in education is "that's not my job." My usual response is: "Is it good for kids?" or "Does it make our school environment better?" If so, leaders in education, it is your job. Yes, teachers have tough jobs. Yes, we have high expectations placed on us by the state, parents, administrators, and students. Tough luck. Sometimes we need to pull up our sleeves and do things that are not our job but make our lives and the lives of those around us better. Until we admit that, we will never be effective leaders.
So, Dr. Zimmerman. thanks for the reminders. And to the cast, crew, writers, and lovers of Downton: Thanks for the memories. May your legacy carry on.
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Kari teaches English I to 9th graders (!) and other electives in rural Iowa. Her husband is also an English teacher, and their friends have sworn to never help them move again because "even libraries don't have that many books."