Assuming the role of principal comes with a host of challenges, including among others the very common “imposter syndrome.” This feeling of being an imposter feels like a constant, though it occasionally fades for short periods of time. I inherited a team of highly qualified teachers, one of whom has been teaching for longer than my years on earth. “Who am I to tell them what to do, and how to do it?!” In trying to overcome this complex I have done a great deal of reading and listening to inspirational lectures. Brene Brown has been one of the most influential voices in helping me be brave enough to tackle this steep learning curve.
Reading and gaining knowledge are very different, however, from putting the ideas into practice. It has still felt far from natural to ask the team to add to their practice of teaching, be it an all-school learning unit, or a change in practice. Much of the practice to perfect leading has been for small agendas and projects.
My school made the decision to move to online learning over one very short weekend and by Monday we were live. The preplanned platform was understandably primitive and included a lot of “learning as we go.” Within the week we had a working platform, with a schedule of live classes, and access to assignments directly from teachers. During Pesach break, we decided to make significant organizational changes in the lower school and teachers again dedicated time away from school to learn a new technology.
For personal inspiration I connected once again to my favorite influencer. In her book, Dare to Lead, Brene Brown states that to ensure success of a task, team leaders should keep in mind the acronym T.A.S.C:
Brene Brown continues this chapter with “as a leader give clear expectations and reasons why you want things done…this gives others a voice to question and share.”
This will look different in each scenario and task that needs accomplishing. In my school, the task of changing our online platform – in the middle of our online learning – looked like this.
In keeping with Brene Brown’s philosophy, teachers were given the reason why we were making this shift, they were able to ask questions, and as much as possible they were given answers to those questions too. There was a safe place for teachers to be able to process what was taking place, especially those teachers who were struggling to accept this change.
Seeing the positive results in using this process during times of uncertainty has given me the ammunition needed to overcome that “imposter syndrome.” While the team of mostly veteran teachers can teach me about teacher craft, they look towards their principal to lead and guide. This experience has also taught a valuable lesson in leadership. Leading a team of teachers is not too different from being a teacher in a classroom, the place where my heart will always remain. Students and teachers alike look to their leaders for guidance and clear direction. Both groups need to take ownership and have a safe place to process difficulties. Both groups benefit from providing feedback about any given process of which they are part. This clarity has been my personal silver lining in the clouds of uncertainty.
Rivkie Gottlieb is the Lower School Judaics Principal at Robert M. Beren Academy, in Houston, Texas. She has over a decade of experience in multiple educational settings. New in her role of administrator, she garners inspiration from mentors and learns from her mistakes as she navigates this exciting time.