I am the baby of my family. For as long as I can remember, this placement has meant constantly trying to make sure everyone was taken care of and happy. By the time I reached school age, people pleasing was common practice for me. I wanted to make others proud of me. I wanted to be well received and would do whatever necessary to be well liked.
This led me to being a socialite among my middle school and high school peers. Yet, in seeking the approval of others, I taught the people around me what to expect of my behavior. I believed living for others, and living up to what I thought they expected of me, was the right thing to do. In school, I thought my role was to say what the teacher wanted or expected to hear. I was good at determining the “right” or “correct” response, so teachers enjoyed my presence in the classroom.
This people-pleasing mentality followed me into my adult life, but it wasn’t as effective. Although supervisors liked and respected my ability to follow commands, my ability to push back or give critical feedback on an idea was constantly compromised. I often sat in silent disagreement because I was too scared of retaliation to challenge any idea. It was easier to compromise my own beliefs to keep peace among the group, even if I knew my ideas had validity. Being likeable was much more valuable.
Five years ago, I had my first tangible opportunity to become a teacher leader. Selected to be part of a statewide grant, over a three-year period, I was asked to develop my own thoughts and support them with evidence. Intentionally, the facilitator didn’t validate my ideas. She forced me to take my own stance, knowing this experience would set me up to brush against my own insecurities. Rather than responding with excitement that someone was interested and invested in knowing who I was at my core, I grew frightened and afraid, crying out for the approval I knew well. Approval was always my validation and these new rules were uncomfortable.
Slowly, at my own pace and through reflection, I grew more assertive and developed my own understandings with supporting evidence. By the end of year one, I could defend my positions, not only to those who agreed with my ideas, but also to skeptics who presented me a challenge. I could even have difficult conversations with my superiors without spiraling into a full-blown panic attack. I felt a responsibility and strong moral obligation to speak to those nagging feelings in my gut that wouldn’t go away.
What was most shocking — as I found and clarified my educational positions and became more comfortable being a public advocate for educators and education — was I became more confident in my positions in other areas, too. I learned to have tough conversations with friends rather than avoiding the awkwardness; I became an advocate for my daughter who qualified for additional educational assistance; and I learned to communicate my personal frustrations as opposed to smiling through adversity, pretending as if I was eternally happy.
Becoming a teacher leader ultimately helped me evolve as a human being. As others believed in me and gave me a platform to develop my identity as an educator, I grew more comfortable in my own skin. I became more complete as a person.
In the past five years, I have learned to celebrate the unique factors — the qualities and quirks — that make me who I am. Energetic, opinionated, and kindhearted, I have learned it’s OK to be disliked and for others to disagree with my positions. Sometimes I even welcome the dissonance that comes with disagreement.
The best part of this process was that my path to teacher leadership wasn’t rushed. My mentors allowed space for growth, while providing the structure that helped me challenge my perspectives, all the while refusing to hand-hold or diminish my own capabilities. The result is a newfound confidence that extends outward from my professional life. And, since the journey never really ends, I look forward to learning more about myself daily, both professionally and personally.