In my school building, I often stop to admire a picturesque mural of a black ship in a blue ocean and to recall the wise words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”
In difficult times, it’s important to remember that we grow into leadership roles. As educators, our ability to lead in our classrooms and our schools develops as we take on challenges successfully. Doing so does not require us to know everything, but we must know one thing well: ourselves.
Grammatically “Know Thyself” is a simple declarative statement and a clear command, but the journey to self-actualization is anything but simple or clear. I argue this command speaks to the resolute mindset that a leader needs to captain the ship through rough waters to safely reach the harbor.
School leaders must first formulate their absolute values. Why is this important? It is easy to be manipulated, tossed and turned in strong waves without the leader’s clear absolute values, such as community, caring, risk taking, or emotional safety as plot points to chart the course.
Storms present themselves in our personal and professional lives, but if we know our absolute values, the course to arrive might change but not the destination. I know that my absolute values are excellence and high expectations. Through the hallways, comments reverberate such as:
“Mrs. Saddler expects you to arrive on time.”
“You have Mrs. Saddler? She expects you to work hard.”
“Mrs. Saddler expects your best.”
From my 24 years of classroom teaching and maneuvering through challenging seas, I know high expectations and excellence apply to any context, whether to the principal, teacher leaders, custodial staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and all other school employees.
Everyone works in unison to achieve the mission even in choppy waters. Leaders must be resolute, assertive and self-assured beacons to influence others to follow toward the set destination: a school that strives for success via meaningful inclusion and high expectations.
I also believe strongly that to “Know Thyself,” school leaders must anchor themselves in school/life balance as one of their personal absolute values. As a new teacher many years ago, I struggled to be a good teacher and maintain a healthy personal life as well. At first I failed, but I did not give up.
I eventually came to understand what we all know — that the teaching profession has a high turnover rate mainly due to the unexpectedly high demands. I realized the irony that in order to survive in the profession and become a great educator, I needed to prioritize my personal and family life.
As I move into the eve of my 24th year, guided by my values, I am now the mentor who listens to a new teacher’s frustrations, offers advice, shares strategies, communicates the importance of living life to the fullest in and outside of the classroom, and acts as a beacon to keep our eyes on the prize.
As we reflect on 2022 and move towards the future, I wish all my readers a hopeful 2023. May we all strive to be the best versions of ourselves and to live our values no matter what storms may come — and in doing so make ourselves ever more skillful sailors.
Shana Saddler is a veteran Farmington Hills teacher. For comments or questions, reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.