In education, if we don’t watch it, we can fall into the “I know what’s best for you” mentality. Yes, we know what the state requires us to teach. Yes, we know the content that the students don’t know. However, what we don’t know sometimes, is the student.
I participated in a career day recently. I was asked to “teach” the students, but at the end of the day, they taught me. I went into the day planning to talk about my career in education and my current position of Chief Academic Officer. In the first session, I quickly realized that I was looking into the faces of teenagers who were not interested at all in what I was saying. At that point, I decided to go in a different direction.
I asked who in the room wanted a career in education. Out of the roughly 15 students in the room, maybe 4 students raised their hands. The other students looked at me as if to say, “There is no way I want to teach!” At that point, I knew I had to share my career so the four students could hear what they needed to hear, but I also needed to share my life with the other students so they could get what they needed.
My role as Chief Academic Officer was interesting to those four who are interested in education. I even had one female student in the room whose goal was to be a superintendent. She explained that she loves to learn and wants to be in education to help others learn.
For the other students, I asked what they “wanted to be when they grow up”. Most of them knew what direction they wanted to go in life, but some did not. I then told them a portion of my life. I shared with them how I earned by college degree and began working in the career field of my dreams. I then shared how life changed and how the things that mattered to me changed… which resulted in a career change. At the age of 25, with a husband and pregnant with my first child, I decided to put my life on a different course. I changed careers from news broadcast to education and have never looked back.
For the students who didn’t know what they wanted to do in the future, I wanted them to know that it’s okay. Sometimes, you can think you know and things change anyway. What’s most important is that you follow your heart, do what you love, and everything else will fall into place.
I reflected on what I learned from that day. Because it’s not often that I am in a classroom interacting with students anymore, it was a valuable experience. I learned that we can have exceptional plans for our day. We can think we know what the students need. When we stand before the students, we can either go with the plan no matter what or we can pick up cues on what they really need and go in that direction. My lesson learned… let the students lead.
Paula Patterson is a Superintendent of Schools who shares practical points on leadership.