What makes a leader out of a teacher? Courage.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) and The Wiz (1978) both happen to be two of my family’s favorite movies. Watching Dorothy (played by Judy Garland or Diana Ross) “ease on down” the yellow brick road just doesn’t get old to us. In fact, my husband and I even eased on down the aisle to that song for our wedding, and the soundtrack is currently on rotation in my car. True story.

As a child, my father’s favorite part of the original Wizard of Oz was the Cowardly Lion’s monologue after he arrived at the Emerald City with Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Toto. As with all good teachers, his passion for the monologue became my passion for the monologue and I eagerly awaited the scene each time I watched the movie.


What makes a King out of a slave? Courage!

What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage!

What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage!

What makes the Sphinx the Seventh Wonder? Courage!

What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage!

What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the ape in ape-ricot?

What have they got that I ain’t got? (Courage) You can say that again!”

I had the opportunity to attend several teacher-leadership conferences over the past year, and as I reflect on the conversations that I have had, the theme of courage keeps emerging. Maybe it continues to emerge because teachers need reminding. Maybe when we look at teacher leaders in virtual spaces, in our districts, or on our campuses, instead of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead,” being on repeat, the message that is on rotation in our head is saying, “What have they got that I ain’t got? (courage) You can say that again!”

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, all of the characters realize what they were searching for on the outside was always there on the inside. It’s no different for us.

Here is a reminder of some of the ways you may be exhibiting courage, and that you don’t need someone else to give it to you.

When You Need To Use Courage in Education

  • When you are a new teacher in a professional learning team and your team thinks you have nothing to offer.
  • When you are a veteran teacher on a team with younger teachers and your team thinks you have nothing left to give.
  • When you suspect a student may be a victim of abuse and you have to report it.
  • When you are an administrator or a colleague and you have to give honest feedback that may not be received well.
  • When you report an injustice to a supervisor, but nothing is done and you are deciding what you can do next.
  • When someone is making a derogatory comment about someone, and you are deciding whether or not to speak up.
  • When you don’t fully understand a concept and have to raise your hand to ask for help.
  • When you are asked to teach new standards, learn a new teacher evaluation system, or incorporate the next initiative, and you don’t know where to start.

Dealing with people takes courage. Learning takes courage. Life takes courage.

Unfortunately when you exhibit courage, it doesn’t come with any guarantees. The probability of receiving rewards or wounds is the same. That’s not new information, but we must be reminded that living in fear is costly. The Cowardly Lion lived in a constant state of fear, hiding from the unknown, not wanting his dark secret of cowardice to be discovered. His fear left the roaring lion that lived inside of him imprisoned.

Therefore I urge you to starve your cowardly lion this school year. There is some student, some new teacher, or some innovative idea that needs you to come roaring out of hiding.

And be reminded that the courage educators display on a daily basis is all the courage needed to realize the dreams we have for our profession.

Live courageously. You already have it in you.

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