The Unexpected Leader

A second-grade girl at a new school is pulled out weekly from her class to work on learning to read. She’s mostly friendless with little confidence from countless years of being bullied on the bus and the playground; she hides from the spotlight and anything that will make her appear different from her peers.

A few years later, the same little girl is diagnosed with a learning disability. She tells her mother, “I thought I was stupid.” Though no formal plans are put in place, this little girl starts to emerge from her shell as she learns how to adapt to her learning style. Despite being told she could never play an instrument due to her disability, she joins the marching band as she starts to expand her horizons while growing her confidence.

Great leaders usually do not start off with a plan to become great. Like a piece of coal, a leader is put under pressure and either crumbles or rises from the ashes as a diamond.

In both my personal and professional journeys, I have been this once shy and little girl.

I never intended to rise as a leader, however, I did. The pressures I have endured have molded me into the leader I am today. During the last four years, my administrative leaders, as well as other teacher leaders and my Twitter Professional Learning Network (PLN), have grown and challenged me to become the best version of myself as a person and as an educator. I have been encouraged and have been afforded many extensive learning experiences to be able to bring those concepts and practices back to my own classroom. Though I may not have a leadership title, I have faced the pressure and arisen as a leader. I may not be a department or committee chair or have an administrative title, but I still lead from my classroom.

As a leader, practicing what you preach is vital. If I say something is a worthwhile endeavor, you can be sure I am going to back that up with my practices with my own students. I’ve also learned that sometimes the loudest voice is the one that does not speak. Refraining from gossip and negative, unproductive discussions is a daily challenge, but staying positive to lift others up is what keeps me motivated. Showing appreciation to those on your team shows that you care which then builds trust.

Finally, and in my opinion most importantly, becoming a great leader involves networking with other educators to advocate for educators and our profession. Growing my Twitter PLN has been a key component for me in this aspect since I do not live in a largely populated area. Getting involved with local, state, or national teacher association, contacting government officials, or connecting with educators at conferences can all be ways to discuss current events and hot topics in the education world.. Then, it is taking those conversations and turning them into action.

These are all traits and habits I have learned from other fellow educational leaders. These leaders inspire me and challenge me so that I continue to grow as an educator and person. Though there are sure to be many high pressured situations I will face, this little girl has her heart set on shining bright like a diamond.

Whitney Choate is currently in her eighth year as a secondary special education teacher and is also an instructional technology specialist at Cape Central High School in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Learning and Behavioral Disorders and a Master’s degree in Autism. Whitney hopes one day to be a full-time instructional coach and earn her doctorate in education. Twitter: @ChoateNotes