Written by Dr. Arron Grow associate professor in the School of Applied Leadership
Claudia Walker is a student in CityU’s School of Applied Leadership’s Doctor of Education in Leadership program. Her emphasis is organizational leadership. She has recently taken a mentor-type position in a school district that has the lowest academic scores in the state. Her new position will have many challenges. I asked her about her new role; how her doctoral studies are helping her in her work; and other questions concerning her experience and learning. Here is what I learned from my interview.
Being a Teacher Mentor – An Example of Leadership
Claudia serves now as a teacher mentor for a school district in Texas. Her biggest responsibility will involve coaching teachers on how to use more effective strategies to teach literacy to high school students. Ultimately, she will be working with teachers to plan different ways to improve instruction and student progress. She also meets with principals, instructional coaches, and other school personnel as needed to support professional development.
In my conversation with Claudia, she demonstrated that even if a person doesn’t have a position of leadership stated or implied in their title, this doesn’t mean they are not or cannot be a leader. As leadership speaker Mark Sanborn claims in the title of one of his many leadership-related books, You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader, Claudia is in a position designed to effect change and progress – this is the very definition of leadership. I was excited to learn about how she is leading in her new role.
Claudia has been in the service of students for a few years now. I asked her to think back on this time and share one of her best memories. She relayed a time while working with second-grade students and kindergartners teaching math skills. At that time, every small step of understanding was a great success. The class would have been challenging even under ordinary circumstances, but one student in the classroom made this class anything but ordinary. This young student had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. He did not have a good home life and he made life quite difficult for many teachers, but not for her. Her patience and demeanor with this student enabled her to find a way to help him be calm and teachable in class. Her success in reaching out to this student has been one of her most memorable successes to date, and no wonder, helping someone who doesn’t necessarily want to be helped would be a memorable event for any leader.
What motivated you to apply for the position of Literacy Coach?
I asked Claudia what motivated her to step out of her comfort zone and apply for a position as Literacy Coach. She said there were many reasons but the main reason related to her ultimate goal of working at the Texas Education Agency (TEA). She recognizes that even though the new position may seem fairly distant from the central office position, she knows that every journey must be taken one step at a time. Long term planning and goal setting is another attribute of leadership.
Though her ultimate desire is to help improve the educational system state-wide, she knows this is a goal that must be met one teacher and one student at a time. This is another important lesson for leaders to know; Covey referred to this as seeking first to understand. Claudia believes that working at the teacher and student level first will put her in a much better position to address state-wide needs and issues later on – and she’s right.
Speaking about what she learned in her leadership program, Claudia feels that the leadership characteristics and theories being learned in Peter Northouse’s book Leadership Theory and Practice are the most valuable. Though the theories differ, many have a couple of elements in common: keeping things simple and presenting training and instruction in ways that others (in this case teachers) will find most receptive. Both of these elements really underline, for Claudia, that she should always be seeking first to understand those around her on the most basic human level. One’s ability to communicate with another will always be connected to having a good understanding of who they are, their needs and values. Claudia Walker is an excellent example of this and we here at the School of Applied Leadership could not be prouder.