What I’ve Learnt About Leadership

A number of weeks ago now I presented at a local Women in Educational Leadership meeting. I was asked to present on what leadership means to me. I’ve been meaning to share my presentation. Here it is. I guess I just wanted to let readers know that I’m alive. Just swamped with work at this point of the term and have had to neglect the blog somewhat. Hoping to get back to it soon. Thanks for sticking with me.

Thank you. Good afternoon. My name is Karla and I am the Drama Teacher at SCHS. I am here this afternoon, along with my other esteemed female colleagues to share with you my leadership journey.

I’d like to speak simply and honestly with you today. I originally had written this convoluted, metaphoric, aspirational and let’s be honest, wanky speech about pyjamas weirdly enough. I even considered wearing a pair but the more I attempted to turn this metaphor into something meaningful the more it strayed from what I felt the speech was supposed to be about and I guess, what I’m about.

My leadership journey has been one of discovery. I have made the realisation in the last year that I am a leader. I have potential to do great things as a leader. That being a leader is a huge responsibility. I’ve learnt that leaders are strong, resilient, passionate with strong convictions, determined, unfazed. They are humble, self-critical, perfectionists. They often stand alone. They take risks. They fail. They aren’t always recognised. They are brave.

Teachers are all those things. Teachers are leaders. You are a leader. You stand in front of a class every day, with those big, innocent (and maybe not so innocent) eyes staring back at you, waiting for you to tell them what to do. You are the only person in the room so who else is going to take the lead? You lead unknowingly because you would have never considered defining yourself as a leader.

In the past year I’ve dared to believe that I am a leader not just a teacher and now I am here saying it to you aloud. This is a big step in my leadership journey. Just believing that has changed my approach to teaching enormously.

Leadership to me, right now, is about self-belief because my biggest battle has always been with myself. I struggle with my confidence.

I came to SCHS in 2007 fresh out of university. It’s my first school and I’ve now been there for six years.  I remember I was naïve, inexperienced but enthusiastic. I saw potential for Drama to grow. I attempted to expand its profile in the school with public performances, excursions to the Sydney Theatre Company and The Belvoir. I gave it the love and attention that I felt it deserved.

Those initial years of establishing yourself as a teacher are really hard. Your confidence and self-esteem take a battering, your personal integrity is challenged, and your beliefs are changed. I thought I had to know it all and do it all on my own. I felt isolated and unsupported yet I wouldn’t ask for help because I didn’t have the confidence to ask. I felt like I thought people would think I was stupid. There was however, to my amazement in retrospect, a never ceasing ability to get up in the morning and go to work because deep down inside the passion and desire I had (have) for bringing drama into the lives of my students was (is) so important to me. Looking back, there was something there inside me it just needed the right outlet to blossom. Standing proud within your own integrity, following your passion, relentlessly and with resilience is a fundamental quality in a leader. I couldn’t articulate it then but I can articulate it now and I know you all do this every day.

I believe “There is always time to be what you might be.” I owe a significant amount of my understanding of leadership to my Principal. He is a huge advocate for Professional Learning and each year we hold a Leadership Conference in Week 6 of Term 2. We stay at a hotel somewhere, get satchels with notes and get the usual conference spread of coffee, tea, lunch and those fabulous mini mentos in a bowl. He believes in making us think of ourselves as professionals. That we are more than just 9-3 with a highly challenging and deeply intellectual profession. It is through his leadership that I have dared to believe that I am a leader and that I have a greater responsibility to lead my students and other staff in all that I do but even more so as an advocate for Drama. He’s helped me to articulate my potential and place greater value on the influence that my colleagues can have on my teaching.

It’s this understanding of myself as a person, as a leader and this belief that I have something to offer that has pushed me to make greater connections. To move beyond my classroom and share my knowledge to support others. “Man is not an island” and as such I have moved to make connections with other drama teachers worldwide through blogging and with other teachers through professional learning networks such as Twitter. Thus how I met many of the ladies up on stage with me this afternoon and graciously accepted the opportunity to speak to you today. The amount of support and encouragement received from these women and others has given me greater courage to exceed my own expectations and be more than I am because we can always “Dare to be more.” Why I lived in isolation for so long is beyond me.

It often feels like I’m dragging myself through mud. I work in a theatrically illiterate, low-socio economic community. The Arts is not valued. All the more reason to make it valued. For many of my students Drama in high school may be the only opportunity they get to experience the Arts in their lives and that is my driving ambition with which to become a better leader, a better teacher.

For me, leadership is about passion, potential and progress. None of which would exist without self-belief. Every day you lead your students to learn the wonders of your subject. Nobody else, in any other profession has that privilege and it is a privilege. Teach honestly and with passion. Don’t just teach. Lead.

Tell me about your leadership journey? What does it mean to you?



  1. Hi Karla.

    Really enjoyed this post. For some reason I have never really thought about all teachers being ‘leaders’ – at least as that term. I suppose I reserved it for those in the school executive. But, I like how you describe the traits of genuine leadership – the capacity to influence, to respond to change, to be resilient when faced with challenges of all sorts, to problem solve, to bring out the best in those around us – then surely this is what each teacher has the potential to do and be each day – regardless of their title. And while there is a great responsibility involved, when that leadership role is taken seriously, it also brings with it rewards and a feeling of pride. Thank you for reminding me of the great role of teachers!

    Have a great day.

    Carla @readwritelearn

  2. Awesome speech Karla! I think I can honestly say that you had an impact on me when I watched you discuss your path in leadership, I feel like i can accomlish anything if I set my mind to it…
    You are an inspiration!!! – (BTW totally looking forward to Grease, I’m bringing Craig’s sister and mother along)…

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