So much of teaching is collaborative. We share our ideas, best practice, and resources. Yet heading into leadership can feel quite lonely. To get a promotion you need to be the one leading while doing the work with a team of people. As an aspiring leader, you can feel quite isolated if you are not supported. Without a mentor to guide you, the sense of figuring it out on your own can slow your progress towards a promotion.
So, what do you do when you are not supported at school on your leadership journey? Here are several suggestions if you're in this situation.
Feeling unsupported? Don't wait for opportunities
Don't wait for someone to tell you you’re ready to become a leader. You go first. I have spoken to many teachers who seek the reassurance from those in leadership that they are ready for a promotion. Often, they are waiting for someone to say that they should apply for a role. Yet, they were already toying with the idea of applying before anyone had said anything yet didn't back themselves.
The way to build others perception of you as an aspiring leader, is to be part of the solution, not the problem. When you know you must create leadership stories, everything is a problem that you COULD solve. Narrow down to projects that will provide you with the experience you need and get started. Read more about that here.
When there is no support for you at school, become your own cheerleader. Find that version of yourself that is ready to start and back yourself. No one can decide for you that you are not ready to start applying for roles. We would never say to our students that they couldn’t achieve something, so don’t say it to yourself.
Not supported by feeling like you can't get your foot in the door? Build momentum
An aspiring leader who was right at the beginning of their leadership journey once told me that she couldn’t get her foot in the door at her school. She had applied via EOI for a role that would mean she was off class one day per week to run a new school wide literacy initiative. She did not get the role. Now she felt like the school did not see her as a potential leader because they appointed another person. She said that there were now no opportunities for her in her school to gain leadership experience.
You do not need a school appointed role as a teacher to become a leader. Leadership stories can be small yet powerful. You can get a promotion even if you have never had a role in a school or run a school wide initiative.
But you do need to build momentum.
Start with improving small things first. Ensure the improvement you have made is for students, with teachers and supported by data before the change and after the change. With this as your definition of a leadership story, you can start creating leadership stories that show you understand school leadership.
This strategy will them build your capability and visibility to improve student outcomes on a larger level. It allows you to crawl before you walk.
Not supported because "No one sees me as a leader" - Be visible
When making change and improvement, it is important that you take your team with you. If you are leading a project, big or small, make sure you are visible in the school as the go to person.
To increase your visibility, send emails about how the project is going, gain data from surveys, talk to admin about having a few minutes in a staff meeting to update people on how your initiative is going. Share and celebrate successes privately and publicly.
All these actions will add to you being seen as a leader.
Teachers love to support each other. Letting people know what is happening in your initiative allows them to feel part of the journey. Do not rob your colleagues of being part of your journey. So many things in my career have happened because I shared a win with the whole school and then had several brief conversations with teachers, only for their passing comment to add richness and depth to my initiative.
Not supported from people above you? Manage Up
If you're being visible by building solution focused momentum in your career but it’s admin putting roadblocks up, then let’s talk about managing up.
Admin that are unsupportive tend to fall in one of two camps. Either they are so overwhelmed with their role and supporting you could be beyond their capability, or they are super focused on a big picture you are not aware of, so your solutions/initiatives are not in alignment with their focus.
Here are some important things to combat both and/or consider:
Keep the steps small and tangible. Jumping too far into a project too fast is of no benefit for the school or your leadership stories. Spend time getting the foundations right. This allows the admin team to move with you.
When there is a disconnect between you and admin, then asking questions to understand their point of view is important. What is it you don’t know?
Provide several suggestions for how to proceed and ask them to discuss with you the viability of each option.
Head into all meetings with clear intention of what needs to be solved or discussed.
Keep the person you are working with up to date with what is happening.
At the start of each meeting, spend a few minutes always connecting with the reason for this initiative.
Not supported with advice? Get a mentor
Mentorship is so powerful as an aspiring leader. It helps you open your perception of what is possible and why things are happening. Mentors allow you to vent, reflect, get advice, be coached, and hold you accountable as you take your next leadership actions.
Mentors can be found it lots of different places. They could be several steps ahead of you or years ahead of you. Sometimes they are from outside teaching however, I've often found that someone who is out of the education space can be a little too far removed from our context that translating their advice is lost.
I'll have more advice on the specifics of choosing a mentor in next week’s blog.
In conclusion, if you’re feeling unsupported:
- Don’t wait for opportunities.
- Build momentum.
- Be visible.
- Manage up.
- Get a mentor.
If you'd like to get some advice or talk about me being your mentor, book a call here to chat.