What is audacity and why this, why now?
Audacity is the courage to be bold.
I have always associated courage with bravery and noble acts. I never really thought about the necessary presence of fear to create courage. Without fear, there is no courage. Without courage, there is no action. And to act is to be bold.
Boldness is the willingness to face that fear—the emotion behind what courage requires. It’s the push into the deep end, the “Yes, you can!” attitude that gets you to take the risk. And it’s needed now more than ever in our leaders, in our schools, and in our very own hearts.
I am embarking on my 14th year in education, and the more and more that I dig into this beloved profession of mine, I find myself circling around two important questions: What do teachers need to be successful and sustained? and What does that require of my leadership?
Over the past five years, I had the absolute honor of serving as an instructional leader for Brownsburg Community School Corporation. My job was to work with 45+ secondary English teachers day in and day out. I was responsible for hiring, coaching, evaluating, and professional learning for this amazing group of teachers. What a tremendously important and delicate responsibility this was.
Leading teachers—the very heart and soul of our educational system—is perhaps the greatest and most humbling experience that can be bestowed upon leaders in this field. It’s also scary. Suffocatingly scary. Overwhelmingly scary. Bury-your-head-in-the-sand-at-times scary. You get the picture.
Why is instructional leadership so terrifying? Because you are responsible for the TEACHERS. The masters. The conductors. The stars. Teachers have the absolute hardest and most rewarding job in education, and as an instructional leader you are responsible for them.
If you’re any good at this job, you love them and give all of your heart to them. It’s scary because you don’t always know if what you’re doing is right. You might not know if you’re guiding them or losing them; if you’re supporting or squandering their talents and abilities. Do they love you—hate you—both at the same time? Who knows? You don’t know. You’re just the leader.
But I’ll tell you this. Instructional leadership requires audacity because our teachers are looking for courageous leaders who will figure it out, and create safe enough spaces to risk success (and maybe a little failure, too). Teachers are desperate for leaders who will provide clarity in expectations and link arms with them. They want to know—every single day—that they are safe and cared for. That they can make mistakes and that these mistakes will be celebrated as opportunities for growth.
Isn’t that what we all secretly want in life? To know that it’s our hearts, not our actions (or lesson plans or test scores) that determine our value? Take this a step further and you see how acceptance and belonging—two cornerstones of trust—are also what most students seek the most from their teachers.
Instructional leadership requires the audacity to lead and love in the same breath. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize this fact, but it’s true. Learning is a deeply personal experience made up of connections between people. Our field is one of people, and people want to belong and feel love. Your teachers—your students—they want to know they matter.
Leading with love is scary because you cannot truly love in one direction. To lead with love, you have to courageously choose to open your own heart to the love you will receive in return. You have to truly open your heart to be vulnerable with your teachers.
Leaders, hear me: your teachers want to love you. They want to champion you because you champion them. They want to forgive you because you forgive them. They aren’t seeking perfection because you aren’t seeking perfection. Even if you thought you were, I’m here to remind you that you are not. You are not chasing a test score, and you are not here in this profession to hit a quota or a set goal.
Don’t get me wrong, goals matter, and striving to improve is essential for learning—but you do not lead for this reason. You are an instructional leader because you are brave,courageous, and bold. You lead your teachers because you love them, deep down, even the ones who can never for the life of them remember to take attendance. You love them all anyway.
Learning is a business of people, and leading teachers is a beloved responsibility. To do it well requires an open heart, courageous actions, and a heck of a lot of audacity. My challenge to you this school year is as simple and complex as anything can possibly get: choose to love your teachers and give them a million reasons to love you in return.