- The transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly is comparable to the development of an aspiring leader.
- Do not be afraid to ask to experience new and different leadership tasks.
- Be available to help and support at any moment there is an opportunity.
- Go beyond and outside of your campus to gain leadership experience.
A year ago, we bought our kids a butterfly set as a gift. It came with a large plastic cup, five caterpillars, food, and a large netted container. The kids were so excited to see the transformation of the caterpillar and checked on the plastic cup regularly. We had to continue to remind the kids that the caterpillars didn’t change overnight. We got instructions to educate us on the complex process involved in the transition from caterpillar to butterfly.
In just a few days, the caterpillars began to spin a web-like matter all over the plastic cup. Then they hung upside down and built their chrysalis. I couldn’t believe the amount of work involved for the caterpillars to change into their new form. Once a caterpillar was fully in the chrysalis, the kids transferred each one to the netted container. After about a week, each butterfly slowly broke out of their cocoon. Then they began to acclimate to their new body and environment. As a family, we brought the netted structure outside and released the butterflies. After thinking through the entire transformation process, I couldn’t help but wonder, how does the growth of a caterpillar compare to development of an aspiring leader?
Each year, on our campus, we have teachers interested in becoming administrators. I have the pleasure of meeting with them to go over the process of becoming an assistant principal, such as enrolling in a master’s degree program, participating in an administrative internship, describing the duties involved with the position, and potential leadership opportunities.
Over my eight years as an administrator, I have witnessed a variety of candidates who have taken very different paths on how they prepare for their leadership journey. For those who have been successful in the advancement process, similar to the caterpillars, they were active in their transformation and growth as a leader. They did not sit back and expect the opportunity to come to them. As I reflect on my own journey, here are three strategies I used to activate growth and advance my career as a young leader.
When we are starting the journey as a leader, we can’t assume everything will be provided for us. We have to knock on some doors, be available when called on, and expand our reach beyond our campus.
Activate Growth as an Aspiring Leader – Strategy #1: Knock on the Door
I knew if I wanted leadership experience, I couldn’t stay in my classroom. I needed to get out and ask for opportunities. There were plenty of days when I went to the front office, the administrator’s office doors were closed. My belief is, if you don’t knock, no one will open the door for you. Although it may be uncomfortable to ask permission to observe or experience an administrative situation, you have to be persistent.
As a new leader, we can’t be afraid to ask to experience new and different leadership tasks. A door should not get in the way of the search for growth. Sometimes my administrators said yes and other times they said no. Every time they said yes, I had a quality leadership experience and a new perspective on the job. These opportunities were instrumental in my leadership development and provided me with invaluable knowledge of the position.
Activate Growth as an Aspiring Leader – Strategy #2: The Best Ability is Availability
A sportscaster, Jim Benz from Fox Sports North, stated, “The best ability is availability.” Although Jim was using this statement for a basketball game, it applies to aspiring leaders. One day during my off period, I was walking down the main hall of the campus and realized there was a weird smell. After some investigation from the administrators, it smelled like natural gas on the far side of the building. The students began to complain to their teachers about the smell and stated they felt dizzy.
I walked over to my principal and asked how I could help. I was provided a portable radio and asked to assist in the evacuation of the classrooms. The fire department was called immediately and we started the evacuation process. The fire department quickly determined there was no gas leak. The construction workers from a nearby road hit a gas pipe that released the marker smell—which was mixed with natural gas—into the air but the natural gas was turned off. Our school ventilation system brought the marker smell into the campus.
Since I provided my availability to my administrators, I learned how to evacuate a building successfully, work with the fire department, and execute the campus emergency plan. As aspiring leaders, it’s extremely important to be available to assist in any way possible at any time.
Activate Growth as an Aspiring Leader – Strategy #3: Don’t Stop at Your Campus
It’s important to get out of your classroom to gain leadership experience. However, that shouldn’t be the endpoint. Participating in district committees and meetings is vital in the expansion of your knowledge, experience, and connections. As an aspiring leader, I was provided the opportunity to be on our District Based Improvement Committee (DBIC) and a campus representative for our district board meetings.
As a member of the DBIC and board representative, I was able to learn valuable aspects of the district and be visible to important district leaders. The topics covered in these meetings were extremely enlightening and each experience helped me understand the many facets of education, including budgets, social issues, district policies, and procedures.
Similarities Between a Caterpillar and Leadership
So, what are the similarities between a caterpillar and leadership? If you want to grow, you have to initiate the work and the leadership experiences, which may cause you to feel like you are flipped upside down, uncomfortable, and mentally exhausted. However, although it may be challenging at times, you will be transformed into a more complete leader in the end. When we are starting the journey as a leader, we can’t assume everything will be provided for us. We have to knock on some doors, be available when called on, and expand our reach beyond our campus.
Come Back Better with Aspire to Lead
If you are looking to grow aspiring leaders in your district, check out my session “Aspire to Lead,” which correlates with my soon-to-be-released book. In the session, I share a guide for aspiring leaders to enhance their leadership capacity through goal setting, creating a system of action steps, and using the A.S.P.I.R.E. model. Through the use of stories of past failures and successes, I show educators ways to transform their leadership journey and actively obtain the experiences and tools needed to enhance their leadership skills.
- Construct leadership goals
- Understand the A.S.P.I.R.E. model
- Design a system of action steps
- Reflect on ways to impact a campus and/or a district
About Joshua Stamper
Joshua has had the great pleasure of working as a middle school Assistant Principal for a North Texas School District for the past eight years. He’s been able to serve at four campuses and in two school districts. Before entering into administration, Joshua was a classroom Art educator and athletic coach for six years working with students in grades six through eight
In addition to his administrative position, Joshua is the host of Aspire: The leadership Development Podcast, author, leadership coach, education presenter, and Podcast Network Manager for the Teach Better Team.
You can follow Joshua on social media @Joshua__Stamper and visit his website at joshstamper.com
(Featured on TeachBetter.com/blogs on April 6th, 2021)