Do You Have to Channel Your “True North” to be a Teacher Leader?

In a room full of teacher leaders who are busy thinking, planning, and doing leadership work, who is focused on the people at the center? In your own practice, are you action-oriented, visionary, analytical or empathetic? Explore the Leadership Compass and reflect on the implications of your “go to” direction.

The Leadership Compass protocol is a common exercise used to surface individual work styles, preferences, and leadership tendencies. I recently facilitated this process with a group of 21 teacher leaders in the newly formed APS Teacher Leadership Academy. The results, while perhaps not shocking, are worth noting:

  • 12 identified as “Norths” known for being action-oriented,

  • 4 identified as “Easts” known for being visionary, big picture thinkers,

  • 4 identified as “Wests” known for being detail-oriented and analytical,

  • 1 identified as a “South” known for being caring and leading with empathy.

As the facilitator I immediately joined the lone South in her quadrant of the room. I feared that left in isolation she would “go with the flow” and join another directional group, because after all “Souths” are people-oriented and tend to crave relationships and collaboration.

A few days later I served as a guest for a webinar where over sixty teachers in the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) gathered and engaged in the same exercise in a virtual setting. While there was representation of all four directions in the virtual room, “Souths” were still few and far between, and “Norths” were the most prevalent (followed closely by “Easts”).

These two experiences left me wondering:

  1. Do you have to channel your “true north” to be an effective teacher leader?

  2. In a heart-centered profession like teaching, why do fewer teacher leaders identify as “Souths”?

  3. If “Souths” dominated leadership groups (or were at least equally represented) how might this change the nature of teacher leadership work?

As I reflect on my own leadership journey, it is only in the last few months of launching and beginning to facilitate a small cohort of teacher leaders, that I feel I am able to tap into my “inner South” with adults. Three years ago, when I began working in a hybrid role as a Teacherpreneur with CTQ, I identified primarily as a “South.” But over the course of the last three years I found myself relying on “North” and “East” attributes to complete projects, advocate for student-centered education policy, and openly share my classroom practice with others.

While ultimately people, namely students and other teachers, are always at the core of the work, I found myself thinking less about relationships and more about task completion and future visions of the profession. Is this the price of teacher leadership?

While we each possess elements of all four directions (and often struggle in this exercise to select a primary style), it was fascinating to watch the majority of teacher leaders in a group move to the “North” of the room and efficiently begin charting the strengths and limitations of their action-oriented personalities.

While action, driven by an ambitious vision and analytically executed, is a key lever of teacher leadership, how often are we leading with empathy in our work beyond the classroom?

Curious about where your own leadership compass points? Try this self-assessment and share your results, as well as the implications for your work, in the comments.

Image Source – Compass Study by Calsidyrose CC by 2.0

  • LoriNazareno

    Far East

    I LOVE this post and, as you know, I LOVE this activity! I learned so much about myself and my colleagues from engaging in this acitivity. It definitely made me a better teacher and leader. And regardless of the assessment, I always trun out to be and East…a far, far east.

    You pose a very interesting and important question, “How often are we leading with empathy in our work beyond the classroom?” In my experience I have found that those who have difficulty with leading with empathy and creating relationships have a very difficult time building teams and influencing others. Leadership is a team sport and in order to lead one must be able to connect with others and influence them to either join your team or make a decision that supports your work. Rarely do folks do either of those if they don’t feel some sort of connection to you. A mentor of mine once said, “If you call yourself a leader but look around and nobody is with you, you might want to call yourself something else.

    As with all things, I believe that this comes down to balance. We must have a balance of skills both in ourselves and on our teams. Tapping into our ‘north’ helps us get things done; heading west helps us get it done right, south makes sure everyone is heard; and east makes sure the task is aligned to the bigger picture. If any of those are missing, it can be VERY difficult to get things done.

    I am interested in  what others think.

    • JessicaCuthbertson

      Balance & Teamwork

      Hello Far East Friend! 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting — every time I do this activity I learn different things about myself and others, and it’s always fun to watch group norms and dynamics evolve from this exercise. 

      Two points you raised really resonated with me — balance and teamwork. I couldn’t agree more, that “ Leadership is a team sport and in order to lead one must be able to connect with others and influence them to either join your team or make a decision that supports your work.” This is something I’m really thinking about as this cohort evolves knowing that several of the teachers identify as “Norths” which could create some blind spots if we’re not balancing our work with the other directions. I think the most effective teams I’ve been a part of represent balance of these four work styles. Knowing my cohort is somewhat under and over represented in some skills I’m thinking about how I facilitate experiences that challenge teacher leaders to hone in on their analytical, visionary or empathetic strengths. 

      Participants are also taking the StrengthsFinder and I’m interested in lifting up what they learn about their strengths in conjunction with their leadership compass preferences and sharing that with the whole group to support their leadership plan development and journey. 

      Happy Friday!