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Women's Leadership Circle

Long time no blog... I thought I would have SO much time on maternity leave. Ha! It turns out that newborns need constant holding, swaying, feeding, bouncing, changing and shushing, leaving nary a free moment to reflect on teaching, learning and leadership. Given that this is my 3rd maternity leave, it is a bit silly of me not to remember that... alas, Luke fell asleep and let me put him down and I have time to talk about something I have been up to since last spring: coordinating a (somewhat) monthly meeting for women independent schools interested in leadership and personal growth. Here is how this came to be...

One of my favorite workshops that I faithfully attend every year is CATDC’s Women in Leadership. It is invigorating to spend the day in a room filled with educators, passionate about leading schools.

It is a day away from our normal routines, to spend time listening to stories of reinvention, connecting with like minded educators and reflecting on personal growth. At the end of the day last year, I was a bit sad because I didn’t want that energy to dissipate upon returning to work.

Before leaving, I chatted with Carol Swainson, awesome educator and one of the panelists. We found that we felt the same way about not wanting to wait a year to feel the feels again. We agreed to stay in touch and try to bring people together sooner. We emailed the attendees, chose a location and a topic and Women’s Leadership Circle was born.

The goal for Women’s Leadership Circle is to have an opportunity to continue the conversations started at the workshop. We want to create a space for women in independent schools to talk about leadership by facilitating conversations, perhaps framed by articles, videos, books or topics in popular culture, in a group where all members are committed to growth and helping each other to grow. We also want meetings to be fun. To that end, there is always snacks and wine.

After Carol moved back to the Bay Area to head K-8 at Bentley School, my friend Azizi Williams, Assistant Head of School at Sequoyah School, agreed to be my partner in facilitating the meetings.

While there are about fifty educators on our mailing list, we typically have a small gathering of 7 - 10 women. We would love if more people would join us, but we are sensitive to the many demands on our time. Between work, after school events, family, self-care and LA traffic, we know it is difficult to imagine squeezing one more event into the calendar. Also, despite the drought, we have a remarkable gift for picking rainy days for our meetings. Hence our philosophy: come if can, no guilt if you can’t!

Here is a recap of what we discussed at the meetings we have had so far:

Meeting #1 - April 2, 16
We met at R+D (Rubies and Diamonds in mid-city (in the rain). Our conversation centered on mentorship.
  • Who inspired you to pursue a leadership role? Who mentored you? Who continues to inspire you?  How have these people shaped your philosophy for leadership?
  • “...if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.” Often we have a symbiotic relationship with our students, as they learn from our example, they also inspire us to be true to ourselves. In your experience, how do you see your path to leadership as modeling for students?

Meeting #2 - May 16, 16
We met at EVO Kitchen in West Hollywood. We used the chapter on gossip from The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership to inspire our conversation. Right off, the book’s definition of gossip was a challenging and interesting topic for discussion: “It is not gossip if the statements can pass this two part test: Is there any negative intent? Would you be willing to speak directly and in exactly in the same way to the person?”
  • How do you agree or disagree with the book’s definition of gossip?
  • What is one nugget you will take away from the chapter?
  • When is eliminating gossip difficult for you?
  • Is it gossip if the person you are speaking of hurt you? Or is talking about the person really a way to make the other wrong and gain validation? What is the difference between venting and gossip?

Meeting #3 - September 22, 16
We met at Harvard-Westlake Upper school and continued using The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, but chose the chapter on Living a Life of Play and Rest.
  • Given both the pace of the school day and the typical parent community that seeks out independent schools, is it possible to to leave work at work?
  • Which of our hobbies actually constitute play? What types of things do you like to do that are play?
  • How might an improvisational spirit change our mindsets at work? In what ways might we insert improv?
  • The chapter talks a lot about including play in the work day. The idea of work-life balance seems to imply that play is part of the life (outside of the workplace). How might amending our concept of work to include play, laughter and rest improve our overall work-life balance?
  • Are we modeling the behaviors we want for our students re stress management, sleep, exercise? What might have to change for this to happen?
  • What is currently making us feel pushed to work harder? What is causing us stress at work that is impeding play and rest? Is anyone willing to try an exercise from pg 221?
  • How might we laugh more in faculty meetings?

Meeting #4 - October 23, 16
We met at Sequoyah School, again in the rain. Our conversation was focused on the Badaracco’s idea of Quiet Leadership. Quiet leaders are practical, realistic, and patient. They acknowledge limitations and work behind the scenes. They “address serious problems and live by their values, but without damaging their careers and reputations.” Most often they abide by “preparation, caution, care, and attention to detail are usually the best approach to important, demanding challenges.”

  • Quiet leaders are realistic about what can and can’t happen in an organization. They are ready to react to things going crazy or in their favor. They are neither naive or cynical, they see organizations as flexible and make room for unexpected outcomes.
    • Question: Describe some limitations of organizations that prohibit the ideal from occurring.  How might the perspective of the quiet leader help/hinder dealing with those limitations?
  • Quiet leaders are “well aware of their own self-interest, and they worked hard to protect their reputations and careers.” Often their motivations are mixed - a balance of considering the greater good and self-interest.
    • Question: We work for nonprofit organizations whose missions are to improve the lives and educations of children. When is it okay to work in our own self-interest? When must the greater good take precedence?
  • Quiet leaders aren’t in a rush to make decisions, knowing that time allows for people to “discuss their situations with others and think things through on their own. Time gives people a chance to assess their real obligations and gives sound instincts a chance to emerge. It lets them observe and learn, look for patterns, understand some of the many, subtle ways in which individuals and events interact, and look for small, subtle opportunities in the flow of events.”
    • Question: Do we always have time on our side?
  • In another article by the author, he asserted that quiet leaders tend to stay and fight rather than leave organizations looking for better options.
    • Question: When have you been faced with the dilemma of when to try to work towards change and when to look for new opportunities?

  • Is this work more difficult for women or well suited for women? What are the gender stereotypes we have to overcome to lead in this way?

  • Talk about a quiet leading fail.