In a book seeking to give advice on leadership, I value honesty and practicality. How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority by Clay Scroggins @ClayScroggins is a book with both of these ingredients. And by reading it as an educator, I see a book with lessons for teachers on how to lead from the classroom.
An Honest Disclaimer
Speaking of honesty, I was given this book for free and asked to review and promote it. I agreed because, though I had only recently read How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority, I have been familiar with the content for some time. Clay Scroggins is the Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church and he first shared this content back in 2014 on the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast Part 1 & Part 2. It is because I understood the main idea of the book that I would agree to such an arrangement…I have principles.
Realizing I Was Not In Charge
When I took my first teaching job, I realized how little I was actually in charge of. The curriculum was assigned to me. The classes were assigned to me. The students were assigned to me. The criteria for evaluation was assigned to me. The schedule was assigned to me (which led to my daily bathroom time being assigned to me). Yes, I was the math instructional leader during my math classes but it was pretty clear I was not in charge.
That is the beauty of this book. It should really be called How To Lead Right Where You Are, because it takes away all of the excuses. There is no list of “Things to do when I become a leader”. Instead, start doing those things, because everyone is a leader…right now.
The Four Behaviors
This book is built around four behaviors that can be leveraged to help a teacher lead themselves, their classroom, their school, their district, even the profession from their current position.
1. Lead Yourself
Pretty simple, but it is the eternal lesson from the airplane safety instructions. You need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping with someone else’s mask. If you are not leading yourself well then your attempts to influence others (John Maxwell’s definition of leadership) will be seen as hypocritical.
This behavior can be seen in how a teacher is organizing their classroom, staying healthy, implementing district initiatives, etc. For example, It is easier for a teacher to ask students to get their work in on time if turned in assignments are graded and returned in a timely manner.
2. Choose Positivity
There is no shortage of news regarding the problems within education. It is easy to find. What I know, though, is that teaching is awesome, teachers are awesome, and guiding students to learn new things is an awesome thing to experience. See what I did there? I just chose positivity. Makes you want to go teach something doesn’t it?
I like that Clay identified this as a core behavior because it is so disheartening to hear the negativity that can be heard about teaching and teachers. Even more disheartening is that it is sometimes even said by teachers. The energy that is created through choosing positivity ripples throughout a school making it easier to collaborate and do the job of teaching. For example, the new curriculum provides an opportunity to rethink and improve our course versus causing us to throw everything out.
3. Think Critically
Clay is pretty quick to point out the distinction between thinking critically and being critical. Thinking critically comes with a purpose while being critical shades the way the world is viewed. Being critical might be what happens when someone does not Choose Positivity.
Instead, to think critically means having an eye on something for the purpose of making it better. For example, I am a big fan of one sentence philosophy statements and using practice to iteratively refine the statement so that it can help guide daily classroom decisions that are made.
My first statement was simply “to help students succeed in math”. Not bad, except when I noticed that there was a student in the class who was doing great on my written learning celebrations (aka tests), but was quick to point out the shortcomings of others. According to my statement I was doing a wonderful job, but thinking critically, I was called to refine my statement. My second statement was “to help students succeed in math and in life”. Thinking critically allowed me to see how I could take what I had and make it better.
4. Reject Passivity
The fact that you read this post this far means you probably embody this behavior because you are doing…something. The more I read research about the development of teachers the more I am convinced the problems in education can be solved by teachers.
Sometimes I am asked to come to a district and provide an opportunity for professional development. More often then not, somewhere in the crowd of teachers is the expertise that they sought after in hiring me. But it is not just about the district looking from within. It is also about teachers making their expertise available through intentional action. Clay has several suggestions and examples in the book for how to gracefually make your expertise available to those in authority.
In the end I gladly recommend How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority by Clay Scroggins @ClayScroggins to anyone who feels called to leadership where they are at…especially if they are in the classroom!
And if you are someone who feels called to love others through through the teaching and learning of math education, then follow me on Twitter and stay updated on future posts on Amidon Planet!
Buying the Book
The book can be found wherever you buy books. My suggestion is to head to your local bookstore (e.g. Square Books in Oxford, MS and buy it there (even if they have to special order it). The book may cost a little more but the money stays local and local bookstores in your community are a good thing.