Learning to Let my (Educational Leadership) Freak Flag Fly
There is so much to write about. I offer this as a starting place — a place where you will be introduced to some of my thinking and some of the ideas I like to explore — my “freak flags” are simply the things I think about myself which in turn inform how I see the world. I was going to begin this post with my education story, but I thought better of it — I’ll save that for another day. This post isn’t about my past, it’s about my present and future.
Recently my Superintendent of Education posted a TEDtalk for us to watch. It was about confidence. The talk hit home on a number of levels but what really stuck is the following:
Permission, community, curiosity: all of these are the things that we will need to breed the confidence that we’ll absolutely need to solve our greatest challenges and to build the world we dream, a world where inequity is ended and where justice is real, a world where we can be free on the outside and free on the inside because we know that none of us are free until all of us are free. A world that isn’t intimidated by confidence when it shows up as a woman or in black skin or in anything other than our preferred archetypes of leadership. A world that knows that that kind of confidence is exactly the key we need to unlock the future that we want. — Brittany Packnett, April 2019 [Brittany Packnett: How to build your confidence — and spark it in others | TED Talk]
And so, I show up to this blog with confidence (even if you can’t see how long it took me to type that word… type… delete… type… delete… until I just smashed the keys, forced the word out and typed this sentence before I deleted again!!)
The struggle for women to express themselves with confidence is as old as time and is certainly not unique to me. The fear is often, “Will anyone care about what I say?” For the half of the population for whom trying to get people to care about what they say (whether individually or as a group) is so deeply embedded in their day to day, it can feel like just a part of the fabric of our lives. But I will show up, with confidence and try to loosen the fabric, just a little bit.
Now, back to the topic at hand. I had been worrying about what I was doing putting myself out there as an educational leader. One of my great mentors, retired principal, Amanda Sinclair gave me the following sage advice, “Carol, let your freak flag fly!” After laughing at this Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reference (it’s from the 1970 song, “Almost Cut My Hair”), we actually had a good conversation about what the idea means for me. She agreed that I am a bit different from many educational leaders. This post is a brief exploration of my “freak flags” so that in future posts people can refer to this one to get a sense of where I’m coming from.
Freak Flag One — I begin each day reminding myself that I am a teacher first — a (vice) principal teacher, to be sure — but a teacher first.
Teachers are learners. Learners make mistakes, have emotions that they aren’t afraid to share and understand that the collective is stronger than the individual agent.
I strive to continue to learn with my teachers, identify with my teachers’ needs and treat them with the kind of professionalism that I enjoyed with several principals (high expectations aren’t only for our students!) I am passionate about my work, but I’m also deeply concerned about the mistakes I make. Self-reflection often looks a lot more like self-flagellation in my practice. But I need to do it because it’s how I learn.
Freak Flag Two — I still identify as an “artist” or perhaps “cultural producer” is a better term to describe what I do and how I am in the world.
While I abandoned my first career in the art-world, I still love the arts — or, rather, “cultural productions as a way of knowing the world” (an explanation of this will be part of a later post…) They have become intrinsic to the way I engage in my own life especially in education and in the way I lead. Schools are sites of cultural production and I’m deeply privileged to be able to participate in them.
Freak Flag Three — I am a feminist (and it still shocks me how often this comes up as an “issue” in leadership). I feel as though my identity as a feminist positions much of my work on equity and anti-oppression. The arts have often also underscored that work. I continue to grapple with understanding systems of oppression and the irony of doing that work in a public school system is not lost on me. That said, this is a topic I will be exploring in more depth over time as I work to understand my privilege and the positional power I have not simply inherited because I am white and cisgendered, but have now chosen as a “titled” leader.
The title I applied for and was given, “vice-principal” does indicate my thinking about myself, that I am able to put myself out there to lead in a way that I’m accountable to because of the title. How does this impact me as I learn to become an activist-ally in my role?
I know these “flags” are not unique to me. But I also know that these are some of the things that make my approach to educational leadership personal. I fly them, with confidence.
Finally, an acknowledgement. Dr. Debbie Donsky recently posted an article to her blog that gave me the courage to finally write this piece and put it out in the world. She is a leader who has always inspired me and her blog posts are a generous gift she has given us all. I encourage everyone to read the following:
Perhaps it will inspire you, too, to share your voice, with confidence.