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Be a Follower

Scott McLeod recently challenged bloggers around the world to create a post for Leadership Day 2009. This request could be used to address students, teachers, administration, community members, policy makers or any other various audiences that we might reach through this medium. I would encourage you to check out the other posts that have been created for today. I am positive that you will be inspired!


On a slightly different theme, I have been thinking a lot lately about being a follower. We often hear expressions that put greater emphasis on the leader, the person who is in the public forefront of a particular public issue. Yet, there is certainly a greater percentage of the population who do not consider themselves to be leaders. Some say that they are not followers either. I would encourage you to be a follower, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a leader. Now, why would I choose to encourage following on Leadership Day 2009? There are a myriad of people in society who see themselves as leaders, and a fraction of those people are considered by others to be leaders. In order to be a follower in the education and technology fields, I believe that you have to complete a personal checklist.

1. Evaluate your role in the learning process. Before you can subscribe to one school of thought or another in the education debates facing our nation today, you have to know your role and involvement in the education spectrum. Are you hands on in the teaching and learning process? If you are an administrator, do you really know what is going on in the classrooms in your school building? As a parent, are you engaged in on-going two way communication with the teachers who work with your child daily? As a community member, are you supporting the education process in your neighborhoods? As a student, do you take advantage of the opportunities that are afforded to you and seek other chances to expand your learning? As a teacher, how often do you honestly reflect on the effectiveness of your practice in encouraging students to set and reach high learning goals for themselves?

2. Know what’s going on in the news. In order to be a follower, you must be able to make informed decisions about the education policy and trends that are facing education in the world today. You need to understand the outlines of the No Child Left Behind Act. You should be aware of how national and state financial crises are causing deep cuts to the education budgets for many states. These cuts are causing losses of teacher positions, technology funds and per student spending. Make sure that you are abreast of the debate for national standards in core content areas, which would usurp a state’s rights to set their own curricular standards and expectations at each grade level. Know the testing policies in your state and how they affect students at different grade levels. Many times as parents, and even teachers, we seem to know what policies and procedures have the greatest impact on our day-to-day lives and those of our students. It can be difficult to see the broader vision of how each level’s challenges and successes make vertical impact. Community members who do not have children in our nation’s school systems must also be keenly aware of these accountability procedures; for if a school fails to meet these state and national standards, the consequences will have short and long term effects on a community as a whole.

3. Defend your position. If you are a teacher or administrator currently working in our nation’s schools, I cannot express the importance of taking time to honestly reflect on your own teaching and learning. Don’t just do things the way you have always done them or because that was the way you were taught. Those are not reasons; they are excuses. If those are your defenses and reasons for the methods and materials that you use when talking about your teaching practice, I feel sorry for your students. Examine how and why you choose the methodologies for instructing your students. Are they research-based? Are they creating multiple paths for success for all students? Are they appropriate for the age and developmentally abilities of your students? Are they aligned to what expectations have come before and what will come in the future for your students? Most importantly, are you preparing your students for the future in which they will be living, working and hopefully thriving? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then I would love for my own children to be in your class. If, upon reflection, you cannot answer “yes” to all of these questions, it is time to step back and work on a new strategy. This would give you an excellent opportunity to research different methods and ideals and to become a well-researched follower. Even if you aren’t planning on being on a panel or serving as a keynote speaker at an upcoming educational conference, you should still be solid in the foundation of what and why you do what you do.

Even if you don’t think you have time to be a leader, I would encourage you to consider these three items. Know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Be aware of what trends and policies are facing our field and our children now and in the future. Be able to pro-actively defend yourself and your decisions and their basis in sound educational practice. So, be a vocal leader. Be an empowered follower. Just don’t be indifferent!


5 Responses

  1. Kelly:
    Excellent most and gives us a lot to think about. Thanks for taking the time to do part II.

  2. Kelly – As always your thoughts are insightful and thought provoking. I believe it is vital for us all to be leaders, followers, collaborators and co-conspirators. I also believe it is important for us to be able to recognize when to assume each role. In my school I need to be a leader and strong advocate for change and in my PLN I need to assume the role of the follower as people like yourself become my Sensei, my mentors. After 33 years in education, I have observed many who know how and when to assume which role and they are the more effective educators. Conversely, I have seen some who struggle with following or leading or collaborating and they tend to lose credibility and effectiveness.

    Thanks for sharing. You are always a good read.


  3. I love the term “empowered follower”. Thank you for these insightful thoughts and the idea that even followers have responsibilities and power.


  4. Kelly, with amazing teachers and leaders like you I often feel like an “empowered follower”. I so appreciate you and your insights and the additions of every other leader/empowered follower in education.

  5. Hi Kelly and thanks for commenting on my post. It has allowed me to discover your writing.

    I like this idea of following. What you write describes another form of leadership – servant leadership. It is about serving in order to lead others toward organizational goals. Servant leadership focuses on collaboration and trust.

    It’s an old concept, brought to light about 30 or 40 years ago by a man named Robert Greenleaf. Here is a place to go to find out more if you are interested:

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