November 12

Leading “Greatness”

When I set about the work of writing Plan Like a Pirate, choosing greatness as a central focus was a no-brainer for me. From the moment I decided to serve in the capacity of meeting the social, emotional, and academic needs of children, I committed myself to carrying out my responsibilities in a way that meant I would strive for greatness in every single action I took within my classroom. 

I believe that every teacher and leader begins their career with this same goal, but sometimes, as the demands of our profession and the needs of children evolve, it can be easy to find ourselves disillusioned and disconnected from the work we once loved. This is especially true now, as we face teaching and leading in the throes of a divided country, and in the midst of a pandemic, no less.

In their book, Lead Like a Pirate, Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf charge those of us in education with the task of finding ways to create schools that students want to run into rather than out of, and educators and leaders everywhere are consistently aiming to create these kinds of spaces, in particular, classrooms are the exact places we want students knocking down doors to get into.

When everyone at school centers their focus on being great for kids, Beth and Shelley’s vision easily becomes a reality. Great teachers are the fire within great classrooms and an inspiration to some really great kids–kids who recognize that not being at school means missing out! But, great teaching doesn’t just happen. Great teachers learn from great leaders who are models of excellence, who are visionaries, and who themselves plan for unmistakable impact every day of the school year.

Modeling Greatness

Clearly, there is much at stake when educators take their focus off greatness and allow things like discontent, mediocrity, and complacency to set in. We risk loss of confidence, purpose, and perhaps even worse, our joy. We have to find ways, especially during difficult times, to remain steadfast in our aim for greatness in all things at school. Just like students need to be nurtured and shown how to develop a growth mindset, teachers also benefit from observing others who can model what it means to possess a greatness mindset. Great leaders can help educators rediscover their purpose and refuel their passion. For those who lead, finding ways to encourage, model, and inspire greatness in others is imperative to the success of our schools and the ability for everyone inside them to thrive!

Being Visionary

In 2018, I had the pleasure of mentoring a fabulous student-teacher who gave me a beautiful plaque at the end of our year together that read, “The future of the world is in my classroom today.” That plaque still hangs on my wall and has become one of my most favorite discussion points with students at the start of every new school year. Together, we talk about how each classroom in our school is its own tiny microcosm of society filled with the minds that will solve the problems of our future. Because the future literally sits in front of educators every single day, educators can’t afford to be anything but visionaries in the classroom. Teachers need leaders who themselves engage in visionary thinking and who can help foster the kind of thinking about teaching and learning that doesn’t just change the dynamic of our classrooms but that has the power to actually shape the future.

Planning for Greatness

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a regional conference where Cathy Lassiter, author of Everyday Courage for School Leaders, gave an amazing keynote speech. In her presentation, Lassiter spoke to her audience about the importance of never feeling as if you have “arrived” in education, that you have come to some spot in your career where you simply can’t get any better. I sat up to listen because, by all means, I never wanted to feel that way about myself. I believe no matter how great a teacher we might become or how successful we envision ourselves to be, we will always have work to do in improving ourselves as educators. We have to accept that to be great means we can never stop learning about ourselves, our profession, and we can never stop planning for our own greatness. But not everyone knows where to begin when it comes to setting professional goals for themselves. Many educators long for the kinds of leaders who involve themselves in the growth and development of their staff, who will do whatever necessary to support them in designing their own path to greatness. 

The Impact of Our Greatness

Striving for greatness begins with setting goals for oneself, yes, but for educators, it also involves a focus on our students’ goals, too. In Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess asserts that “striving for greatness is the ultimate act of unselfishness.” This means we are ready and willing to go for broke to deliver on our promises of helping our students to fulfill their own dreams, so we’d better bring all we’ve got when working to meet the needs of our students, putting their goals above all else. No doubt some of us will leave indelible marks on our students’ lives through the work we do for and within them. Great leaders can offer teachers the kind of support necessary to make sure students leave school with memories of inspiration, empowerment, encouragement, and love rather than hurt-filled, irreversible scars.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what others think about our desire to be great. What matters is our own attitude towards becoming the best we can be for kids. Our great teaching and our great leadership begins within, stemming from the passion we have for students, from our love of our profession, and from our desire to leave great legacies behind us. Together, educators and leaders focused on greatness really do have the power to change kids’ lives.

Please join me Saturdays at 9:30am CT throughout November and December in the #LeadLAP chat to explore more of Plan Like a Pirate!


great teaching, leadership, professional growth

Dawn Harris

Dawn Harris

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