The power of a note

During my first years of teaching, I occasionally got a small yellow post-it note in my box.  All it would say was “See me.”  That was enough for me to panic. I would replay the past few days and think about how I must have done something wrong.  More times than not, I hadn’t done anything wrong.  My principal just wanted to ask me an easy question.  That feeling I got in my stomach when I saw the note was not something I wanted to subject other teachers to.

When I left the classroom, a friend gave me a package of pretty note paper. That year I wrote notes to teachers about the good I saw in them.  I was so nervous,  I would write a rough draft before writing the notes on the pretty paper.  I placed the notes in teachers’ boxes and would later find them taped up next to the computer or on a bulletin board.  I came to realize that teachers want and need to be acknowledged for the good that goes on in the classroom.

In the years that followed, I also started writing notes to the students about the good that they were doing in the classroom.  I can remember watching a student struggle and struggle with a math problem and then finally figure out the solution.  I gave this big 8th grader a note with a comment about how proud I was of his hard work as I left the room.  The teacher told me that he kept looking at the note as he continued to work.  I believe that it is easy to dismiss verbal praise, but it is harder to ignore high quality positive feedback when it is written.

As I entered into my new role as a SAM, I knew that I wanted to continue the note writing, but my role did not allow the same sort of system.  I was stumped.  Then Twitter brought me the answer.  Jimmy Casas mentioned that he was starting his day with two notes to staff members each day.  He was inspired by Jeff Zoul.  I am not writing two a day but my personal goal is to get to every staff member by Christmas.  My notes quietly acknowledge the greatness of each of my staff members.  It’s wonderful to add joy to another person’s day.  One paraeducator was so inspired that she now writes thank you notes to others on the staff.

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Leading by following?

Can you lead by following?

This question is one that just keeps on nagging at me, especially as I have entered leadership roles in my schools.  First, I think one of my favorite videos on leadership is Derek Siver’s Leadership from the Dancing Guy.  This video really drives home the importance of having followers.  I believe it takes real guts to do what someone else is doing, especially if it is different.  Anyone can lead, but if no one is following you then you are just on a walk.

This year this answer to this question has become a resounding YES.

The first time I heard the “yes” was while I was visiting with someone from central office.  His piece of advice was not to overshadow my principal, but be a resource for teachers to come to.  He, of course, suggested the servant leadership principle.

Not even a day later, this article surfaced on my twitter feed.  Not once or twice but several times.  I think it was the universe’s way to emphasize the importance of being a good follower.  I continue to reread this article when I have doubts about my role in the school.

I’d like to believe that I am leading at my school by being a resource for various teachers and staff.  I am also leading by admitting that I make mistakes and I apologize for them.  I am leading by noticing the hard work my teachers, students and staff do every day.  I am leading when I empower students with the skills they need to be successful in the classroom.  I am leading when I make the principal look good.

I may not be the principal, but I am a great follower.