Leading From Where You Are

Raylene Olinger

Throughout my career, I have known and had the opportunity to work with many wonderful educators. Some have held formal positions of leadership, and while others may not have held formal leadership positions they were highly effective leaders and mentors. I have aspired to follow their lead in the way they approached their work, both with students and with colleagues. Even so, when I think about leadership, I tend to think about leadership from a positional level.  In education, that tendency is to think about leaders as principals and superintendents.

Over the course of this last year in the SEED project, a new initiative began with SEED Facilitators. Facilitators were teachers or instructional coaches who were recognized in their buildings as teacher leaders. They were asked to work with administrators to support professional learning and facilitate a higher level of coordination with the SEED Project. This group met four times throughout the year and our learning together focused on leadership and the process of change. We asked them to consider the idea of leading from where they were, as we explored the idea of teacher leadership. Consequently, the way I view leadership has shifted away from the idea of the leader as a position, more to the idea of a leader as a mindset. The SEED Team would like to thank the 23 educators across the Northwest Colorado BOCES who made up our first cadre of SEED Facilitators; their work inspired us!

While strong leaders in formal positions of leadership are very important, teachers who think of themselves as leaders help to raise the bar for everyone. Their efforts to advocate for the profession, collaborate and problem-solve about issues regarding student learning, and to otherwise raise the collective capacity of themselves and their colleagues increases the social capital of the organization. School organizations in which there exists strong social capital, stemming from the productive interactions between teachers increase the overall capacity of teachers to influence higher levels of student learning.

In a recent blog post from Dave Stuart Jr, the idea of Humble-Boldness was brought to my attention. He cites that great teachers possess this humble-boldness, at once realizing that they aren’t the center of the universe, but that their actions do have a direct impact, for better or worse, on those students they serve. The humility to continue to grow as a professional, to self-assess and choose one or two things to work on each year, and to stick to it over the long haul is the mark of a professional. Yet, he notes that even with humility, boldness must exist as well.  In my favorite line of the post, “expansive studies show that student life trajectories can be shifted in brief, less-than-60-minute lessons. The classroom contexts we create matter. Simple moments of genuine connection can be transformative.”  In other words, specifically those of Todd Whitaker, “The best thing about teaching is that it matters. The hardest thing about teaching is that it matters every day.”

Yes, leadership matters, but leadership from within and between classrooms matters more.



Leana, C. R. (2011). The Missing Link in School Reform. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/programs/slcp/2011progdirmtg/mislinkinrfm.pdf

Stuart, D. (n.d.) Humble-Boldness: A Common Trait of the Greatest Teachers. Retrieved May 8, 2018, from http://www.davestuartjr.com/humble-boldness/