Ambition is Not a Dirty Word

I love to lead.  There, I said it.  I think that working with people, using language and actions strategically to boost motivation and skill, and guiding teams to take on big challenges is terribly exciting and important work.  When you ask school administrators why they left the classroom, more often than not they will tell you a story about how they resisted the invitation, how they had to be coaxed over time.  Ultimately, you might get some acknowledgment about the opportunity to have greater impact on kids, but even that comes begrudgingly.  In education, leaving the classroom is, to a great degree, the unpardonable sin.

I have always known I would become an administrator.  Who admits to that?  Administrators are supposed to pretend that they never really considered anything but teaching.  I suppose for a lot of school leaders, they genuinely never planned on becoming an administrator.  We call it “turning to the dark side” when a teacher leaves the classroom, and I premeditated my crime!  My premeditation was so severe, in fact, that I spent my last year going through the National Board Certification process to help build my credibility as a leader of teachers.  I was already out of classroom when I was formally notified that I had received my Board Certification.

So let’s just come clean.  I got into education to lead.

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely loved my time in the classroom.  I love the act of teaching and I love talking about teaching.  Mostly, I love interacting with students each day.  Their energy and enthusiasm – or even their disdain – bring an urgency and authenticity to the work.   Teaching is a beautiful, if not the beautiful, profession.  Yet I have to recognize that no matter how well intentioned my decisions or genuine my respect and admiration for teachers, I’m not really part of the teacher club any more.  I left the classroom.

And to be honest, we need more strong teachers to do the same.

Let me give you an example.  Both my mother (in Arizona) and sister (in DC) are 3rd grade teachers.  They are both tremendous educators whose skill in the classroom is rivaled only by their love for kids.  It shouldn’t be surprising that at some point when I talk to either my mom or sister, the conversation inevitably turns to education, and when it does, we often talk about their principals.  It’s not always pretty.  Let’s just say that not all principals are created equal, and that effectiveness variability has a huge impact on the professional and emotional lives of teachers and students both.

Leadership in education shouldn’t be an accident.  It shouldn’t be an afterthought.  We’re need to develop a cadre of effective, equity-minded school leaders that are not apologetic about the decision to leave the classroom.  If their ambition is rooted in a genuine desire to provide powerful learning environments and programs for kids, then that ambition is good for teachers too.


2 thoughts on “Ambition is Not a Dirty Word

  1. Thank you for this post, Daniel! I agree that schools need strong leaders who care deeply about equity. But I do wish that we could create and develop more pathways for strong, ambitious teachers to stay in the classroom if they want to.


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