Creating Access: Lead
By Sally A. Baas
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
— John Quincy Adams
Recently, I was sitting in the Reno, Nevada airport and had an opportunity to talk with some school psychologists about how they lead “from the middle.” We had just attended the Western Regional meeting and were reflecting on our opportunities as school psychologists to lead in the midst of our work by modeling effective ways to make significant differences for our students and schools, creating shared visions, challenging how things are presently being done, and bringing people together to do the work while encouraging them to be resourceful, resilient, and accountable.
Andrea Clyne, PhD, licensed school psychologist, Louisville Middle School, Boulder Valley School District, shared this story:
In 2005, I attended the Colorado Society of School Psychologists' annual conference in Vail. The preconference training was about positive behavior interventions and supports, provided by Dr. George Sugai. This was a new topic for me then, and at the end of the day, I had one of those “Oh, wow” moments where I still didn't know exactly what to do or how to do it, but I did have a stack of furious scribbles I wanted to translate into a program at my school. Like immediately. I guess you could say I was inspired in a huge way. As I crafted my message to the leaders in my school, including key partners that included the principal, counselors, teachers, and secretarial staff, my excitement grew because our entire faculty soon collaborated to establish our school's core values. From here, the idea took on a life of its own as our principal expanded its scope and pumped resources into it. Our climate scores rose, our discipline incidents plummeted, and the relationships between teachers, students, and families blossomed. Eight years later, I was recently astonished to find out that our school leadership team, consisting mostly of teachers, had decided to update the school's vision statement with our PBIS tenets:
At Louisville Middle School, we envision a learning community where we follow the fundamental values of PRIDE:
- Positivity motivates us to act in a manner that is solution focused, constructive, and helpful.
- Respect comples us to honor the dignity and worth of self and others.
- Integrity empowers us to do the right thing, even when no one else is watching.
- Determination helps us to approach challenges with energy and persistence.
- Empathy calls us to connect with others through compassion and caring.
The best thing about this was the fact that I was not able to make it to this particular meeting, so I had no direct input into this choice. Thanks to Dr. Sugai's ideas and research, my school has a powerful vision that inspires and unites our students, staff, and families.
Andrea's story inspired another conversation with Margaret Sedor, PhD, Western Region Delegate Representative who was also waiting at the airport. Margaret told me about how leadership persistence has paid off in her school district where she has worked for some 15 years. She has wanted for so long to have a focus on building strong mental health services for children, and just recently administrators have really heard her, and with Margaret's assistance, are making plans to put programs in place to meet the needs of students.
When we work together with other like-minded people in a persistent manner, we know that talent and skill do not always guarantee success; however, resilience and tenacity or grit is what is called for. A 2013 United States Department of Education report, Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century, says that educators, administrators, and others like us have responsibility to model for others how to develop grit. Developing grit means to put into practice and master the skills of leadership, stretching ourselves beyond our comfortable places to “valuably fail.” We must give ourselves permission to explore new strategies that have not yet born success, but may result in future achievements. We often do that by leading from the middle of teams or organizations—not directing, not dictating, not doing it all—instead, using our influence and leveraging points to bring success.
Andrea and Margaret's examples reflect school psychologists working from their place in the organization to create huge differences for students, families, and communities. Let’s follow their lead to instill a hope for success and belief in others. Positive leaders empower people to accomplish their goals.
Sally A. Baas, EdD, is on the faculty of Concordia University—St. Paul (MN) and is president of the National Association of School Psychologists