Lead With Integrity: Bringing Grace and Leadership Into the Classroom

Leading with grace and integrity is hard work.

A person of integrity doesn’t do the work for awards and accolades; they do the work because they are dedicated to the mission. Grace with integrity means doing the hard work without expecting credit.

A strong work ethic is assumed and not celebrated. No one will give you a sticker for coming to work every day on time—but some people expect it. A person with integrity is focused and manages time and tasks well.

They are the go-to person, and the one others always want for group work. The ones who get things done. This skill is ingrained in one’s actions and built over time. 

Leading with integrity is a daily task, and one that most won’t recognize or see. I have seen leaders who say they have integrity, but can’t consistently show up and display it.

They start the year with agendas and a detailed site plan, but fast forward three months and the agendas are done—and sometimes the meetings are as well. Educators put their lives into their work, and need leaders who show the same ethics in their work practice.

Graceful leaders with integrity show up every day, even when they aren’t feeling the best, because they know that someone needs them.

They are resilient in not giving up, in trying a new teaching strategy to support a few students, in repairing a relationship with a student who was hurt by a consequence, and in saying hi to that family member who is frustrated with how their child is doing in school and feels like it is all your fault. 

In short, they are the people who do the hard work even when no one is watching.

In her book, Lead with Grace, school leader, author, and keynote speaker Jessica Cabeen provides frames that will empower anyone–teacher, principal, parent, or superintendent–to lead with grace.

Throughout this book, you’ll read stories and strategies that will allow you to walk away with key practices and exercises that will build confidence so you can extend grace with others. 

In this blog post, Cabeen offers insight on how to lead with integrity. 

Lead Forward Strategy: Create Your Own Training Plan

Are you ready to take your leadership with grace to the next level? The soft skill of integrity takes the most resiliency. Practicing a strong work ethic and becoming skilled at getting things done takes patience, persistence, and a strong plan.

What is your goal?

Dreaming big means taking small first steps. Building a leadership style with integrity starts with creating a big goal and then taking small, actionable steps. What is your daily intention? What do you want to try to do better today than yesterday?

Train for it.

Trying to reach a specific student or looking to enhance your capabilities in certain communication skills? Do the research. When you’re training for a race, you don’t start with a ten-mile run. You lay the foundation first. Training for a goal is no different. Read articles, books, and blogs, and ask others how they started. Create a plan and start on Day One, not Day Twenty.

Pace yourself.

Leading with integrity can be emotionally and physically exhausting, and having a strong work ethic can be confused with working 24/7. If you’re a great manager, you might find yourself taking over responsibilities that belong to others. But that’s a symptom of controlling, not leading. When you start to take over instead of supporting, you will begin to see emotional and physical stress in your life.

Lead Forward Strategy: Stay Dedicated to the Dream

People, the work is hard, but it is worth it.

Stay focused on what you and your team have set forth as goals for the year, and stop taking on just . . . one . . . more thing. Leading with grace and integrity and utilizing soft skills such as focus and confidence means you stay clear and tight with the right work, and say no to anything that blocks your way.

Find your why.

What is the overarching reason you do what you do? Figure that out and hold onto it. Keep it in front of you. That is your motivation for reaching the goals you set.

Stay grounded in the what.

Be cautious and don’t let other people’s ideas pull you away from your original intention. Build your plan for achieving your goal, include your “why” to give you the motivation, and then stick to it. While it is completely okay to take a step back and come at the idea from another direction, make sure that step back doesn’t move you away from what you started out to accomplish in the first place.

Celebrate your who.

Mini-celebrations are required in this work. Make those mini-celebrations about the “who” behind your “why,” and make them part of your team. Data retreats, student celebrations, and shout-outs to families—with data included—are little ways to celebrate the journey toward the big prize at the end.

Moving Forward In Integrity

Integrity in our work is what we do when no one is watching or in our darkest hours. Leading with grace and integrity allows us to continue to find light in the darkest of places and shows others that we are the same person no matter who is or isn’t watching. 

Ask your closest friends what words describe you. Perhaps some of these will sound familiar: dependable, reliable, good listener, caring, persistent, resilient, strong in character, caring, servant leader . . .

If you hit the mark on a few of those, you already utilize integrity in your personal life. Transitioning these skills into your professional life means taking your life’s mission and making it part of your professional mantra.

If your personal goals include ensuring that every student leaves the classroom or school knowing someone cared about them, then lead every day with a kind heart and make sure that you have meaningful and intentional conversations with others on a daily basis.

If your passion is to ensure that all students have access to viable and rigorous coursework, then lead the work on your feet, spend time in classrooms, work with teachers in PLCs, and share data early and often with students, staff, the central office, and parents. 

Reflect back on your biggest learning experiences. Did you learn because of the obstacles? Or in spite of them because of the drive, discipline, and relentless pursuit of what you wanted?

Our training in integrity has brought us to the position we are in now, and it will lead us to continue to impact and influence others in whatever we choose to accomplish.

Leading forward means you continue to do what is right, in both darkness and light.

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