February ’17 Reading Update

Books I read this month:

  • 1984 by George Orwell – As you may have heard, with the recent political climate there has been an increase in sales of this book.  Since I never read this book, I thought now was a good time. I have heard of “Big Brother” and knew the basic premise of the story, but really didn’t know the specifics. I listened to the audio version of this book and was horrified by the comparisons I could make to what is going on under our current president. The idea of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-hearing government that controlled all messages and rewrote facts as lies for a manipulative populace was scary. I don’t believe I would have understand the many levels of this story had I read it in high school. The main character, Winston, struggled to come to grips with the lies and the control the government had over his peers, and ultimately over him and his thoughts.
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – This was recommended by one of my favorite book friends, Melanie, who’s recommendations I always like. This book was over 700 pages long, so I feel like I should get credit for reading MANY books for this one! The first 100 or so pages were a little slow, as you got to know JB, Malcolm, Willem, and Jude. But once the story really got into the Jude and Willem life-long relationship, with MANY trials and tribulations, I was hooked. I haven’t read many fiction stories with multiple male main characters, so this was a refreshing change for me. I fell in love with Jude and Willem throughout their love story. I was devastated by the sad twists and turns that came towards the end. When I finished the book, I had to sit and grieve my own loss, as finishing the book was really closure on my relationship with these deep characters.  What a fascinating story!
  • Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank: How to Prevail When Others Want to See You Drown by Rebecca Coda and Rick Jetter – I’m glad I read this book, but I can’t say it was a fun, uplifting read. This is one of the first educational books I’ve read that tells the darker, political stories that happen in education. The authors share real stories from leaders who have survived nepotism, cruelty, and emotional abuse by bosses and colleagues, all while in jobs where people said they were working “for kids”. I began to learn about this world when I first became an administrator. It is a reality in some, not all, educational settings. I think this is an important read for all administrators, if for no other reason than to be armed with information. The authors gives some relevant strategies for surviving these harrowing experiences.
  • The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook – What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce Perry  and Maia Szalavitz- I’ve heard Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade speak three times in the last year and he has recommended this book each time he spoke. I finally read it this month and I wish I had read it 10+ years ago. The book follows the treatment plans these doctors created to support children after major traumas. They detail the development of the brain, why we need to meet children at their emotional, not physical age, when treating them, and the importance of understanding infant and child development. As I was reading, I kept picturing one specific student in my mind. When I was a principal, this 1st grader had recently come to live with his grandparents after his drug-addicted mother was put in jail. I don’t know the specifics of the first 5 years of his life, but I know they weren’t great. By the time I knew him, he was diagnosed with ADHD, ODD, and was resisting just about everything in his classroom and at home. I wish I had known more about the brain development addressed in this book back then. I hope that today that young man has found the support he needed to grow up and be a functional citizen.
  • The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – When I saw a review of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. I read the author’s first book last year and enjoyed the fast-paced mystery. I liked this one even better, though it was creepy to read. From the initial home burglary, to the scary drama at sea aboard a luxury mini cruise, this was an eerie story that tortured the main character, Lo. There were too many characters to keep track of, from the guests to all the crew aboard the ship, but the “bad guys” were well developed and haunting throughout.
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Making Time for Classroom Visits

The next topic in my Time Management for Leaders Series is all about making time for classroom visits. I believe that outside of ensuring the safety of students and staff, the role of instructional leader is the most important part of a school leader’s job.

As I work with new leaders, I often hear frustration and stress from them about their inability to get into classrooms as much as they would like. In addition to the importance of maintaining an organized and focused calendar, as discussed in Calendar 911, there are some things a leader can do to make their time in classrooms efficient.

  • Take your work out of the office and into classrooms- There are many leaders these days who have set up mobile desks in order to work anywhere on campus at any time.
    • If you have a lot of low-thinking tasks to complete on your computer, consider if you can do them while sitting in the back of classrooms. Your presence will be noticed, you will get work done, and you will see and hear learning in action.
    • If you have a pile of low-level discipline referrals on your desk that require you to speak to students, consider taking the referrals out to classrooms. Observe a classroom for a few minutes, then pull out the student with whom you need to speak. This gives you time to see the students in the class where they had an issue, and then speak to them without them having to miss extra time out of class.
  • Set a purpose for your classroom visits – New leaders will often find a free moment to leave their office, but when they get into classrooms, they aren’t sure what they should do. When observing classrooms, a leader needs a purpose. Are you visiting
    • In order to look for evidence of a school-wide initiative or recent professional development (such as daily objectives or a student interaction strategy)?
    • to complete a formal observation?
    • to provide the teacher with constructive feedback about teaching and learning?
    • to focus on English Learners’ participation?
    • to observe the students with the most behavior problems?
    • to observe for alignment to state standards and appropriate level of complexity?
    • to ensure teaching and learning are taking place?
    • to determine what percentage of class time students speak?
  • Create a note-taking guide that aligns with your purpose – Based on all the different reasons listed above that you might visit a classroom, what you would write down to share with the teacher would be very different. It’s important for a leader to be prepared to capture the appropriate data in order to provide evidence-based feedback. Here are some examples:
    • When looking for schoolwide implementation of a specific strategy, you goal may be to capture the total number of classrooms using the strategy, and to what degree each room was implementing. You could them summarize this data for your staff without any teachers’ names included. This could be captured on a table you create ahead of time, or in a Google Form.
    • When completing a formal observation, you typically need blank paper (or wordprocessing document) to script as much as possible.
    • When visiting for general teaching and learning observations, it is best to select something specific to observe. In order to provide evidence-based feedback to teachers, having a narrow purpose and a clear note-taking guide helps. If you walk into a room without a purpose, your feedback may become disjointed.



Time Management for Leaders Series

Calendar 911

No More Inbox Ailment


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January ’17 Reading Update

I keep track of what I read each month for my aging and fading memory and for the fun of sharing my reading pleasures with others! Last year I wrote about my reading experiences each month in an update. By the end of the year, I had forgotten what many of the books I read were about, and my experiences didn’t necessarily remind me of the plot details of the stories. Therefore, this year, I hope to capture a short summary so that I can look back and recall more about the books I’ve read.

During 2016 I read 69 books. I hope to beat that record this year. Here is what I read in January 2017:

  • Someday Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham – After listening to Lauren Graham’s memoir last month, I knew I wanted to read this fiction book she wrote back when she was still on Parenthood. In her memoir, she said that many people think this fiction story is based on her life, but she said that wasn’t completely true. As I read, I pictured a goofier, curly-haired version of her as Frannie, the young woman in NYC trying to be an actress. I liked reading about Frannie’s auditions, friends, and celebrity encounters, which were entertaining because of how ridiculous (and probably realistic) they were! It was nice to see Frannie catch a break by the end of the book, both in her acting career and her love life.
  • The Together Leader: Get Organized for Your Success – and Sanity! by Maia Heyck-Merlin – I purchased this book after hearing about the program in a district’s presentation at the Learning Forward conference in Vancouver last month. At first, I thought the book was going to be just like The Breakthrough Coach program that helps school administrators organize their time to spend more time in classrooms and still have a life outside of work. However, this book was much  more detailed and went way beyond calendar and email organization. Maia takes you through how to set small and long-term goals, how to use those goals to set priorities, then use the priorities to plan your calendar of tasks. I think this would be a great tool for new leaders and anyone needing to create a new organization system to be more efficient and productive.
  • The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes – This book was exactly what I needed to read, as my sugar addiction is very real! It’s a dry, detailed look at the history of the sugar industry in America, and a summary of various research studies conducted to prove that sugar was not harmful (during the era where fat was bad!) and the new interpretations that tell us how detrimental sugar is to our healthy in many ways. I might need to reread this every year, to continue to battle my addiction to sweets. For my own health, I’m making a concerted effort to lay off the added sugar whenever possible.
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Marching for Equity

Last week I traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Women’s March on Washington. From the time it was announced and my friend Shelley invited me to join her, I knew this would be one of the first ways I would take action after the presidential election. I also knew that this fit right in with my word of the yearchallenge.


Everything that has happened since the election has challenged me- my personal beliefs, my beliefs about other Americans, and how I want to react. I vowed that 2017 was the year I would step up to the challenge and take action whenever and wherever I could.

As a self-proclaimed introvert who does not do well in large crowds full of strangers, I also knew that the experience, though well-worth it, would be a big challenge for me.

I traveled to D.C. on a red-eye that was arriving the morning of the inauguration. While I wish I had been on one of the planes full of women in pink hats heading to the march, my plane including many people excited to attend the inauguration, and there was a sea of red hats imprinted with a certain phrase about America that I will not type. Coming from the very liberal state of California and the echo chamber I’m still fighting to see beyond, this was truly one of my first experiences hearing people talk about this election in very different ways than I have been (with my friends, family, and colleagues). I have to admit I was shocked when a woman literally called Trump “a god sent to save us” and said that “CNN was truly the worst fake news” she had ever seen.

I appreciate this experience if only for the fact that it gave me a real-life glimpse into the beliefs of the Americans who did vote for Trump and who, even after his first dizzying week in office, still believe he is the right person for the job. It also solidified my gratitude that I was able to use vacation days to leave work, travel across the country, and take part in something greater than just the election.

After landing in D.C. and meeting up with my friends and seeing the inauguration and the protests that had broken out around the city, we braved an Uber ride from Arlington into Adam’s Morgan to check out the Women’s March pop-up shop. We thought we would be able to pop in and pop out with some memorabilia to get us ready for the march the next day. Little did we know what we would find:


There was a line of people from the shop all the way down an entire city block. We walked to the end of the line and found out that people had already been in line 1-2 hours and the line wasn’t moving fast or often. This was the first time that I realized how big the march might truly be.


We stayed in line for awhile, admiring the local businesses that were giving away free coffee to the people waiting in line out in the cold. It was fun to feel the positive energy all around us, especially knowing we had just seen videos of angry protesters across the city. This one street was full of happy, engaged citizens who had traveled from all over to join forces and collectively say that women’s rights are human rights.

The next morning we could feel a buzz in our hotel, as women all around us were gathering up signs and warm clothes and heading out for the big event. That buzz became exhilarating as soon as we got within 2 blocks of the rally location. Everywhere you looked, there were people, mostly women, smiling, laughing, carrying signs, and preparing to march for so many causes personal to each individual.

Upon arriving, we saw some young girls with bags of free hats. These were the infamous pink hats (with another name). I took a hat because the crowd was already a sea of pink hats and I was feeling odd, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear it. Then I opened it up and I saw this:


I was so blown away by the message that was shared by the woman who donated her time, energy and supplies to make this hat for the march. After reading her important message, I knew I would proudly wear the hat she made, and I would not let my own crowd-related anxiety bother me because I am lucky to have never experienced the trauma that she has dealt with. This was also the moment that I appreciated why women had chosen to take back the word that Trump has used to describe sexually assaulting women. This was one of the messages of the march- his words do not have power over us.

The message with my hand-made pink hat shows how personal this march was to each and every person who participated. At first, I was marching because:

  • I believe that women’s rights are human rights.
  • I believe that empowered women empower women.
  • I believe that no one has the right to determine how a woman handles her own body.
  • I believe that no American should suffer losing her or his civil rights because of political decisions.
  • I believe that our current government needs to know that actions against civil liberties will not be tolerated (even if the liberties in question are not being taken away from me).
  • I know that I feel safe to speak my mind because I was born into white privilege. I want to use my safety to speak up on behalf of others who don’t have a voice, who are scared to speak up, or who are unable.


As the day progressed, I was also marching to honor the struggles and challenges that so many people, especially women, and even more so, women of color, face day in and day out. I was marching to hear their stories, to try to understand an ounce of their pain, and to let them know they were not alone.

I was also marching for my students. I’ve been an educator for 20 years, and I have worked with students from many races and ethnicities, from varying levels of poverty or wealth, and from a multitude of backgrounds. But here are a few who stand out right now.

  • I think about a student I had who was HIV positive. She contracted the disease in utero, from a mother who was a drug addict and was dead by the time I taught this student in 8th grade. I wonder if she is still healthy and I worry that she will not have access to affordable health care knowing her pre-existing condition.
  • I think about all the Mexican-American students I’ve worked with over the year. So many of my students were born in America, but live a dual life- one foot in Mexico and the other in American. They speak two languages, live in two cultures, and are now scared they will be kicked out of their homes when “the wall” is built. Some of these students cross the border regularly and this wall is terrifying to them. Some of them worry about never seeing their families again.
  • I think about a colleague of middle eastern descent who, as an educator, has experienced ethnic-based stereotyping and harassment from other educators.
  • I think about students for whom the right to a free, public education has been a gift that has brought them amazing, life-changing experiences.
  • I think about LGBTQ students, who fear for their lives and worry that they might not be able to get married, a right that was so recently won.
  • I think about students, especially black males, who worry whenever they see a police officer.
  • I think about students who often only eat two meals a day- the breakfast and lunch provided at school.

The 500,000 people surrounding me throughout the Women’s March on Washington were all marching for different reasons. One of my favorite parts of the march was seeing and hearing those reasons. The songs and chants that would just start up in the crowd gave a window into why people chose to join this movement. Hearing one person call out, “Tell us what democracy looks like,” and then hearing the entire crowd around us respond with, “THIS is what democracy looks like” gave me chills. We sang “This Land is Our Land” and “Lean on Me” multiple times throughout the day.

Here are some of my favorite signs.



I was honored to be able to join my friend and her 13-year old daughter in this amazing experience. When I see pictures of the marches from all over the world, I am so happy that I was there, in D.C. (below!), with so many others. I am proud of my fellow global citizens who took the time to stand up for what they believe in.


Many other people have written about this topic with more eloquence and/or depth than me. If you would like read other pieces that I enjoyed, see below.

As part of my get-outside-the-echo-chamber project, I have also read articles that did not look favorably on the march, as well as articles about the March for Life that took place just the other day. I continue to challenge myself to see other sides of these big issues. Right now, I do not see this as a political (Democrat vs. Republican) issue. I am using my voice because I see civil liberties in jeopardy. They have always been in jeopardy for some people (who don’t look or sound like me), but I see it clearly now and cannot ignore it any longer.

This experience changed me. It lit a fire in me. I am determined to step up to the challenges I see before me, ready to use my words and to take action based on my convictions. I am fired up and ready to go (another chant heard throughout the march!). Stay tuned for more in my year of challenge.

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No More Inbox Ailments

Next in the Time Management for Leaders Series, I want to address email. Email can be the bane of our existence. We need it, we love the speed and efficiency of it, but we hate the volume and tediousness of it as well.

Most people in my life know that I hate to see that blue number above someone’s email icon on their phone. When I see a number like 10,322 (unread messages), I start to sweat and have trouble breathing. I am proud to keep my Inbox under control (and under 10 messages most of the time!). Here is how I do it.

  1. Do not be a slave to that little “ding” on your computer and/or phone  ( turn off notifications on as many apps as possible, including email at times). Set aside specific times of day to read and respond to email. Based on calendar 911, you can schedule this time into your day as needed to get started. During your specific email-reading time, follow the tips below to achieve the smallest Inbox you’ve ever had.
  2. When you read an email, make an immediate decision about it. If you need to respond,
    • write the response and send it
    • write the response and save it in drafts to be sent later (be sure to make a note on your calendar about when to send it)
    • schedule time on your calendar to complete the response (and necessary research, collaboration, etc.)

    If you do not need to respond,

  • delete the message (if it is junk, unsubscribe or mark it as junk so it never reappears!)
  • forward the message to the appropriate people
  • file the message in the appropriate folder within your email system (see #3)

3. Create folders with your email based on the type of messages you need to save. Folders can be the names of people (your boss, your team, etc.), topics (schedules, Twitter, PLC, etc.), or events (Back to School, Open House, Homecoming, etc.). They can also be task-oriented (Do This Week, Completed, Save for Reference, etc.). Folders are used to get messages out of your Inbox that you have dealt with, but that you need to save. Beware that saving every message just creates cluttered electronic filing cabinets!

4. Every six months, block out 30 minutes to go through your folders and archive or delete messages that you no longer need. In my school district, our email system has limited capacity and our inboxes often get so full we can no longer receive messages. If I saved everything, I would never get another email again! While this may sound tempting, this can be quite damaging when you miss important tasks. Even if your system (like Google) has a much higher limit, I encourage you to do this. Email folders can be just like dusty file folders in filing cabinets – full of unwanted and unnecessary stuff.

5. Avoid the “reply all” nightmare email chain. When you are sending out a message to a large group (such as your entire staff or district), put your own name in the “To” line and then put everyone else in the “BCC” or Blind Carbon Copy line. This way, even if someone hits “reply all” their message will only come back to you.

  • A side note to this, if your colleagues are unfamiliar with email etiquette, as the leader you are responsible for modeling this and supporting them in their learning. If your staff is known for inappropriate email banter, set the example with your emails and follow-up with individual face-to-face conversations.

6. Create rules for emails. In my job, we use Outlook so it’s easy to create rules to send certain emails directly into a folder. We get a daily message that says if our spam filter is holding any spam messages for us. Because I don’t want these message to clog up my Inbox first thing each morning, I set up a rule so that they go directly to my Spam Filter folder. Then, when I have time and my important emails have been handled, I can check that folder to take action. I also set up rules for the ListServs I am on. I enjoy receiving and reading blogs and newsletters via email, but I like to read them on my own time. If they immediately go into a folder, my Inbox is not overloaded and I make time to read them at my leisure.

7. Be sure to delete your junk and deleted messages regularly. I also make a point to go through my Sent Mail regularly and delete many messages. I often save Sent Mail that is important (for documentation, reminders, support, etc.), but I get rid of all the minor messages exchanged throughout a week.

8. Do not ignore email. It will pile up and get unmanageable quickly without a system. If you are going on vacation (or will be out of office for full day workshops), schedule a response to be delivered to anyone who emails you so that they are aware of when you will return and respond. If you are overwhelmed, revisit your calendar and use that to schedule time to support your email responses.



[Time Management for Leaders Series]

Calendar 911

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Calendar 911

I’m starting a blog series called the Time Management for Leaders Series. My hope is to offer support to new leaders, leaders in new positions, and leaders who seek to grow their organizational skills in order to better support the important work of teaching and learning. Many of the topics I hope to cover have come out of authentic coaching conversations I’ve had with new leaders.  If there is a topic of interest to you, please let me know in the comments (or on Twitter!).

Time is something that we never have enough of, no matter our role. New leaders often struggle to maintain an effective and efficient calendar. The more organized your calendar, the more time you will have to do the important work you need to do as a leader.

If your calendar needs some 911 support, look no further than these tips.

  1. Use your calendar to tell the story of your leadership. Instead of large blank holes on your calendar, look ahead at the upcoming month and make a plan.
    • Schedule classroom visits now so they take priority.
    • Write due dates for all important tasks on your calendar (in the FYI section, see more below).
    • Begin with the mandatory work you must complete (formal observations, safety plans, team meetings, supervision, etc.) and schedule those before optional events.
    • I first wrote about this tip in a Things I’m Loving Friday issue 
  2. Make appointments with yourself to complete time-sensitive tasks. If I know I have to submit my site plan (or safety plan or fill-in-the-blank task) by Friday, I schedule time on Monday to work on the plan. I also schedule time on Tuesday or Wednesday to review my work or make revisions based on feedback, in preparation for the final deadline.
  3. Work smarter, not harder! If you know that your team needs and appreciates a reminder email before each team meeting, plan the time to write those emails. The emails can be pre-written and saved in your Drafts, to be sent on the appropriate date. Be sure to add a reminder in your calendar on the appropriate date so that you send them (or use the delayed delivery option in Outlook or other email systems).
  4. Don’t be afraid of the recurring feature on your calendar. If you have a weekly, monthly or annual meeting or task, schedule it to recur at the appropriate time. If you do this once for each reoccurring event, you will save time in the long run. If you keep missing the PLC meeting for the team(s) you support, schedule those as well.
    • I also do this with staff birthdays and other culture and relationship-building events that are equally important for leaders.
  5. Use the color-coding features to meet your needs. My calendar includes items that are blue (for mandatory meetings and events), green (for informational events that I will attend if I’m able, or just to be aware that they are going on, but that I may not attend), pink and private (for personal events after work hours or on days off; this could be things like exercise as well, which, if it’s not scheduled, often doesn’t happen!), and yellow (for staff schedules – my secretary enters the vacation/leave days of my staff on my calendar as a yellow FYI for me to be aware of).
  6. Use the “All day event” feature as an FYI. On most calendars, when an event is all day, it shows up at the very top of the day. I put FYI events and reminders in that section of my calendar, so they don’t show up like appointments midday. These can include: deadlines, birthdays, reminders, notifications of other things happening around campus/ department/ district, etc.
  7. Give others access to view your calendar. My team and I share our calendars so that we can easily schedule team meetings without 12 unnecessary emails and to see where a team member is if he or she is out of the office when we are looking for him or her.
  8. If you have support staff, give them access to view and edit your calendar. If you are out of the office, the staff who view your calendar can say to a visitor, “I’m sorry, she is in classrooms observing teaching and learning right now and is unable to meet with you. I’d be happy to schedule a meeting for you during _____ or ______ time”.
    • An important note for new leaders working with support staff for the first time: Take the time to sit down with your new support staff and go over how you want to use your calendar and what his or her role will be in support of your calendar. Be clear about how items are added to the calendar, what the color codes mean, and when and how changes can be made.


What else would you add to this list of Calendar 911 support? 

I learned a lot of my calendar skills from bosses, who were hard-working and successful leaders. I have also been trained in The Breakthrough Coach and have recently discovered The Together Leader, both of which are more formal programs that teach these time-management skills.

[Time Management for Leaders Series]

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Quotes That Resonate, Volume 5

Whenever I read, I take note of certain quotes that truly resonate with me, as a learner, a leader, as a writer, and as a reader. Here are the quotes that have resonated with me lately. I’d love to hear about what quotes resonate with you, my readers.

“…[women] often feel that we are not ready for the position. We will prepare, and prepare, and prepare, while men will step right into the challenge whether they are prepared or not.” ~ Sharon Contreras, Superintendent, in “N.C. Superintendent’s Philosophy on Being a Woman and a Schools Chief: ‘You Just Do The Work‘”

I have read a similar quote about men and women before, but now that I am participating in the AASA Women in Leadership Initiative, this idea is resonating with me more than ever. Why is it that men have total confidence to apply for and accept positions for which they may not be qualified, but women wait until they are overqualified? How can we coach more women educators to step into higher level roles? How can we support more educators, especially women and people of color, to feel more prepared to lead?

“Women make up 76% of teachers, 52% of principals, and 78% of central-office administrators, according to federal data and the results of a recent national survey. Yet they account for less than a quarter of all superintendents, according to a survey conducted this summer by AASA, the School Superintendents Association. But that number represents improvement since 2000, when 13% were women.” ~ “Few Women Run School Districts. Why?” by Denisa R. Superville, Ed Week, 11/16/16

As noted above, I’ve been reading more and more about women in leadership positions and I’m noting the issues more and more. This article did go on to say that California has higher averages of women superintendents. I’ve been fortunate to work for 4 female superintendents in my career thus far and have never questioned whether or not a woman could be superintendent, because I’ve seen it over and over again. I’m grateful for the inspirational women who have been and continue to be my mentors.


CC licensed work: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/leader/?image_type=vector

“The more I thanked them for hard work, the harder they worked… I’m absolutely convinced that positive, personal reinforcement is the essence of effective leadership”. ~ Captain D. Michael Abrashoff, It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy

I’ve been reading this book ever since I heard the captain speak at the ACSA Leadership Summit earlier this month. His leadership advice often sounds like common sense, yet is so often different from what we see and hear from so many leaders. I love this simple idea. The more you provide specific, positive feedback to staff members, the more they will strive to earn more of your feedback and praise.

“So leadership is, by its very nature, not just the purview of those with formal authority over others. One can also lead from a basis of expertise, ideas, and personality or character, and, in principle, these sources of influence are open to anyone. This means that leadership by its very nature is distributed.” ~Viviane Robinson, Student-Centered Leadership

This quote struck me because the broad definition of leadership and the potential for distributed leadership to already exist! I have read many books and articles about how leaders can practice distributive leadership through empowering others, but without this clear, articulated definition of the influences of leadership we all have the potential to use.


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