The Protagonist: Leading With Purpose

Are you a rebel or a leader? 

That was the challenge (and accompanying Harvard Business Review article) posed by a trusted colleague with her own streak of rabble rousing—solutions-oriented, of course.

Are you a rebel or a leader? 

That was the challenge (and accompanying Harvard Business Review article) posed by a trusted colleague with her own streak of rabble rousing—solutions-oriented, of course.

You can be a rebel without being a leader, but you can rarely be an effective leader without also having a little bit of rebel in you.”

Education is filled with plenty of rebels on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Often irritating and always self-promoting, they challenge sacred cows and ancient dogmas. Rebels challenge our perspectives and help clarify our thinking, but rarely are they known for leading the charge towards solutions. (The speaking fees aren’t nearly as generous for solutions as for problems.) Rebels push against an idea while leaders advocate for an idea.

So what about those of us in the middle? Those who agitate for solutions?

In the article that inspired this post, Nilofer Merchant called for a “neutral” term somewhere between rebel and leader: the protagonist.

A protagonist is a principal champion of a cause or program or action. The protagonist does not wait for permission to lead, innovate, or strategize. They do what is right […], without regard to status. Their goal is to do what’s good for the whole.

Despite my fiction allergy (currently in treatment; send book recommendations), The Protagonist is an apt description for a blog that will narrate the storyline while attempting to influence it.

Too rare are reporters who “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

This space will revive that spirit of storytelling.

It will challenge well-intentioned narratives, individuals, and movements proffering silver-bullet solutions from perches outside the K-12 classroom. It will celebrate teachers contributing to the collective expertise of their profession.

And it will invite you to contribute to the dialogue.

Chapter 1 — Union Leadership Produces Highest Number of NBCTs in the US* (Coming soon!). 

*The Seattle Times took a more subdued approach to the story, which didn’t make it in to the print edition. 

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  • JustinMinkel

    Vive The Protagonist!

    Kris, I think I got as excited while reading this “launch” post as I did when launching my own blogs. I love the title, the meaning, and the category of human being embodied in “Protagonist.”

    I immediately thought of a quote I love, spoken by King Charles II in The Libertine: “Anyone can oppose. It’s fun to be against things. But there comes a time when you have to be FOR things.”

    Looking forward to the conversations.

    P.S. I’ll do what I can to cure your fiction allergy (incomprehensible to me), if you’ll return the favor with my allergy to nonfiction.

    • BriannaCrowley

      Can O’ Worms…

      That is what you have opened my friend with your comment that you are open to nonfiction suggested reads! I have an allergy to neither fiction or nonfiction, but tend to have a 2(nonfiction):1 ratio. Usually I’m reading one fiction and 2 nonfiction at the same time. Here are my best recommendations for nonfiction:

      • Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers, Blink, or David and Goaliath–all are kind of mind-blowing and his style is to weave anecdotes and stories throughout while also carrying a strong thread (theme). So he has some fictional elements. 
      • Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I listened to this and an audio book and have just ordered a hard copy to re-read and annotate. Powerful stuff if you are a type A like me who is always setting goals and striving for change in my life. 
      • Gang Leader for a Day: Memoir of a doctoral student studying gang culture and poverty cycle in the housing projects of Chicago. Fascinating and deeply insightful into issues of poverty, community, and government assistance. 
      • Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (comedian): This is if you are truly looking for a light, laugh-out-loud read. I actually prefer the audiobook because it is read by the author himself who has the best sardonic voice I’ve ever heard. Without being a parent I appreciated his take on parenting. 

      Ok, I’m making myself stop. Maybe not all of these are a good fit for your style and time, but I hope at least 1 or 2 are! Let me know 🙂

  • KristofferKohl

    Let’s get it started!

    Justin, Thanks for the support and encouragement. The quote absolutely resonates with the spirit I want to capture in this space. 

    As for nursing our cross-afflictions to certain genres of reading…

    For you (and everyone who will listen lately!), I recommend Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. It was the most eye-opening read in recent memory. I was awakened to the reality of a justice system in the US that legalizes and perpetuates racial and socio-economic segregation. At around 250 pages, it won’t take you too long to get through. 

    For a lighter read, check out Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind. The book is a series of essays composed by creatives and knowledge workers who navigate the demands of 21st century information overload with the art-making that fuels their soul. I intended to read this one essay at a time over the next month, but I finished it less than three hour after it hit my doorstep. 

    So what’s the piece of fiction that’s going to get me hooked? I’ve been told The Circle (Eggers), A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving), and The Fault in Our Stars (Green). Your recommendations will go to the top of the list!

    • BriannaCrowley

      First of all…

      I LOVE the premise of this new direction. I read the Harvard article that inspired it and immediately saved to my Diigo account–what a great resource. 

      Secondly, I’m going to add the books you mention to my 2014 “Hopefully” list because I’m always looking for perspective-changing reads–especially about social psychology, culture, or social justice. Also, I’m using January to be more aware of my habits so that by the end of the month I can set some intentional goals for 2014–some of which I think will be around focus, time management, and space for creativity. 

      Finally, I must LOUDLY second the recommendation for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. From just that one read (which I finished in one day) I am now a devoted fan to all John Green literature and am slowly working my way through them. If you are at all interested in YA literature, I also recommend Brutal (Michael Harmon), A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Mark Haddon), and Speak or Wintergirls (Laurie Halse Anderson). Each is a brilliant dive into the teenage mind with some great plot devices and aching characterization. Adult fiction? Gone Girl (Gillian FLynn) or And the Mountains Echoed (Khaled Hosseini). Any of those should help your allergy 😉



      • KristofferKohl

        Thanks for the strategy and recommendations!

        As soon as I read your reply I made sure that we were friends on Goodreads. Looking forward to keeping up with your reading this year! 

        I have loved everything that Hosseini has written and expect nothing less from his latest. Can’t decide where to start on the list of fiction you recommended since I have heard so much about each of them, so it will probably come down to whatever I can pick up from the library soonest. I’ll keep you posted on my progress if you keep making recommendations. 

        Also, I’m going to give the 2:1 approach a try — seems like a reasonable compromise!

  • BillIvey

    Hopefully a Protagonist!

    That’s the role to which what I aspire, a set of ideals which I hope to live up to. My school gives me a fair amount of latitude on our blog, and I try to walk the fine line you so ably describe. Others, of course, get to be the judge of how well I succeed.

    Our blog currently features “Gathering Research,” which is on the face of it about a meeting recently held at the National Association for Independent Schools but which is at its core about social justice. See what you think!

    • KristofferKohl

      Following in your (big) footsteps


      Your model is actually one that I have co-opted! I have always been struck by your skill in deepening discussions while keeping them focused on solutions and areas of compromise. You find the nuance and pull out the bigger, essential questions that force readers to confront their perspective and ideals. 

      The Gathering Research post serves as an excellent example. I was also struck by the somewhat homogenous composition of the expert panel. Did the meeting turn out to have the ‘different aim’ that Dr. Chubb suggested in replying to concerns? Did anyone raise the question about the lack of pracitioners on the panel? You would have been terrific!

      • BillIvey


        I appreciate your support, kind words, and thoughtful remarks. There has been surprisingly little discussion about the Prominent Research Gathering, though a few people have contacted me privately about trying to get more voices out there. I don’t know of anyone else who has mentioned the utter lack of classroom practitioners. Dr. Chubb does have a new blog out about some aspects of what they discussed, and NAIS has put out a sort of news release about the questions that came up during the discussions. With those in mind, I’ve just written a new blog on the topic for which we haven’t set the publishing date yet, but won’t be up any earlier than Friday as we already had a new one in the queue for tomorrow.

  • SandyMerz

    Without Regard for Status

    How relevant to the teacher leader movement – in which those who traditionally have little status are trying to do what is right – often without getting permission.

    Long live neutral terms.