Failing Forward


Browsing through the DOE’s email to see what’s in the local news, I came across a story out of Fredericksburg that spoke to me about leadership in middle schools.  The Fredericksburg County School Board and the Fredericksburg Police department have teamed up to take action against bullying and instead show students what leadership really means.

“Leadership can be used in positive and negative ways … and when we look at leadership, it’s not the ones that are far ahead and managing people. They’re the ones that are coming alongside and helping people grow, and they’re influencing people to make better decisions for their lives.”

The certified trainers are working in association with John C. Maxwell to use their YouthMax Program as a way to teach students what positive leadership really looks like and how they, as pre-teens and teens, can be a positive influence on their peers.  While the article mentioned lessons on character development, confidence and other aspects of what makes a good leader; I was most intrigued by what they referred to as their lesson on “falling forward.”

Trainer Paul Gustavson explained, “You’ve got to learn to take those failures and make them learning experiences.  That’s all they are. Every failure you go through is an opportunity to learn.”  Paul’s message is pretty straightforward and one I believe middle schoolers should be hearing more regularly.  Middle school teachers know that this is the age where students are highly influential, forming their character and seem to be going in every direction all at the same time.  So many of the messages our society and the media send this group are about being the best and getting ahead.  At an age when they should be learning from mistakes, so many young people see even the smallest mistakes as full and devastating failures.  They see shame, embarrassment and all too often the value of what could have been learned is lost.

As I reflected on the idea of failing forward, I couldn’t help but to think about the support team required to help keep a leader on their truth north.  George describes this team as those who “keep you grounded in reality, and provide the support you need as you venture on your leadership journey” (2006, p. 117).  As teachers, can we do the same for our students?  I believe we should.  Educational leaders with a coaching style may be a good fit here.  They “believe people must learn from their own experiences, especially when failing” (George, 2006, p.195).  Students at this age do not typically respond to premature prompting to avoid a negative result.  Let’s face it, not everyone is going to respond to hearing, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot!”  Some of the lessons that have left the strongest impression on me (the ones I grew from personally) are the ones where I did touch the hot stove, but more importantly I was given the room to grow from the experience.  If a future leader can provide counsel to their teammates, the way that the folks on the Fredericksburg Youthmax Program are coaching their middle school students, then I think more people would embrace the idea of failing forward.


Leaders fail too, so how can they fail forward?  An educational leader who can improve the strengths of their teachers, as well as develop and maintain positive, strong relationships with them is better equipped to recover from failure (Seligman, 2011).  Having a support team is essential.  As a concluding thought, there is great value in allowing yourself the time and space to gain experience.  Somewhere along the way this will include failure and I hope that each of us can remember Paul’s message to the students, they’re learning experiences.  That’s all failure is really, if we remember to fail forward.


Dix, K. (2017, March 13). A positive direction for middles-schoolers: City police, staff and        schools work to fight bullying, promote leadership skills among youth. The Free                  Lance-Star. Retrieved from

George, B. (2007). True-North: Discover your authentic leadership. San Francisco,                      CA: Jossey-Bass.

Seligman, M. (2011). Building resilience.  Harvard Business Review, 89(4), 100-106.

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One More Reason to Love Dr. Sheldon Cooper

Chances are, you’ve seen the Big Bang Theory. According to Neilsen ratings, it was the most watched primetime television program of 2016, beating out even Sunday Night Football and it has been the most watched scripted television show for the past three years. It is a show about four cliché male scientists, who are brilliant but socially awkward, and their equally cliché beautiful neighbor who befriends them. I particularly love the show because it makes it seem “cool” to be a nerd. I wouldn’t say that any of the shows characters exhibit a tremendous amount of leadership. The actors who portray them, well that’s a different story.

Recently, the cast of the show made the news because all five of the original cast members had agreed to take a pay cut so that two of the other principle cast members could get a raise. This was a tremendous show of unity and, more importantly, leadership. Those five actors might not be the executive producers, but they showed textbook leadership according to Northouse. They recognized that there was inequity, and began the process of righting that wrong. They then used their collective influence until they successfully reached their goal and their cast mates received a salary more comparable to their own.

The thing that I think is more interesting, but is not being talked about quite as openly, is why those two actors make less money. And, to be clear, they don’t just make less money than their counterparts, they only make 20% of what the other principle actors make per episode. This discrepancy is particularly heinous because their screen time in recent seasons is almost the same as the rest of the principles, and one of them has been nominated for an Emmy four times for the role. The most glaringly obvious difference is that these two lesser-paid actors are women. Can anyone prove that their gender is the reason? Of course not! But we know that women only make about 80 cents to a dollar that a man makes. Even by those standards, these actors aren’t getting their fair share.

Interestingly, in addition to the additional salary that they will receive due to the aforementioned pay cuts, the two women are rumored to be demanding parity for the final two seasons. Contract negotiations basically require a person to promote themselves and justify their worth to the company. But the research says that women are seen as less hirable if they self-promote (Rudman, 1998). This means that negotiating is a catch-22 for women. The very act of negotiating her value makes a woman less valuable. Teachers might not get paid a tremendous amount of money, but that realization makes me glad that my government job will never require me to argue my own worth.


Northouse, P. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Purcell, C. (2017, March 3). Here’s how much money the cast of the Big Bang Theory makes per episode. Retrieved from

Rudman, L. A. (1998). Self-promotion as a risk-factor for women: The costs and benefits of counter-stereotypical impression management. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 629-645.

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We are born colorblind

A heartwarming news story caught my eye recently and reminded me just how much we can learn from young children. Over the years I have heard many sweet conversations take place in my classroom of 3-6 year olds. Inevitably at some point during the school year one or two children made the realization that they had different colored skin. I sometimes observed kids placing their hands next to each other and attempting to name the color. Pronouncements like “brownish” and “more grayish” were often made and then it was back to business as usual. But more often than not, my students did not see race, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic status, gender or anything else as a barrier to friendship and compassion. Children are born “colorblind” in every respect.



Once I overheard a rather heated argument between three kindergarteners and when I asked about the problem they each very carefully explained their positions. The two girls had decided they wanted to marry each other since they were best friends and the little boy told them that they wouldn’t be able to because only boys and girls could marry each other. One of the girls told him that she really could marry her best friend because her aunt had married hers. The boy was adamant, telling the girls that his parents had told him so and that people could go to jail if they did that. Children are born bias-free. All of their initial prejudices come from the adults in their lives.

While much of the culture outside of school walls has become unkind we can look to our students for guidance. They are the best example of the universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity and how we must rely on our differences to understand the world around us. But we cannot forget that they are growing and watching and learning. As educators we have both an opportunity and an obligation to model and offer children an environment in which they learn lifetime values. We can infuse multiculturalism into our classrooms and create school environments where all students can thrive together and understand that individual characteristics make people unique and not ‘different’ in a negative way. We can teach our students that there is great strength in diversity but they cannot learn that unless they are welcomed into an environment in which the adults are both accepting and inclusive.

With all of the political rhetoric swirling around us today, it’s easy to become deflated and hopeless. It’s easy to openly criticize our rather controversial president within earshot of our students. And if you’re like me, you might have a particular problem with the current administrations’ position on race relations. So how do we rise above it all and be good role models for our students? We can use the current political climate as the tipping point for educators to recommit to teaching values and to work with our professional staff to continuously improve a learning environment that facilitates the awareness, appreciation and inclusion of diverse beliefs and cultures. After all, preparing students to live and work in an integrated world and contribute to improving society fulfills the intended purpose of all educators.

As Michelle Obama said in one of her last public speeches as first lady:

“Our glorious diversity, our diversity as the faiths and colors and creeds, that is not a threat to who we are — it makes us who we are … To the young people here, and the young people out there, do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter, or like you don’t have a place in our American story, because you do, and you have a right to be exactly who you are.”




The National Diversity Council
NBC news and politics
CNN politics


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Leaders That Can Admit They Have Made a Mistake

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick admits he ‘must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up’


Do leaders make mistakes? When leaders make mistakes, who is responsible for pointing out their mistakes? In any business or structure environment, the leader is always looked to as the person with the answers to all questions and guidance during tough situations. Often they are expected to make the correct choices on big decisions that will affect business growth and employee’s lively hoods. One of the qualities of being a good leader is being able to determine when they have made the wrong decision and they take ownership and move forward to try and correct their mistake. Becoming an effective leader requires reflection on past mistakes, taking responsibility for past mistakes, and using those previous mistakes as a learning platform to make changes and avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Recently, I read a news post by Recode, which talked about the CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, apologizing for comments and yelling at one of his drivers. The driver made a complaint to Travis Kalanick about how new work policies have negatively affected his income. From reading the article and watching the video, the CEO blames the driver current condition on him and feels that the driver needs to take responsibility for his actions. The CEO failed to understand and relate to the drivers concerns. Later after the driver posted the video of their encounter, the CEO admitted he was wrong and furthermore acknowledged that he needs help with being a better leader.

In this situation, what caused the leader to self-reflect and admit that he needs help on being a better leader? Does CEPO actually feel that he needs guidance on being a better leader? Is he admitting that he needs help because the altercation was posted online resulting in millions seeing and hearing about the incident, and consequently, the CEO is in fear of losing his business?

Being a leader is like anything else in life, you are going to make mistakes. As a leader you are expected to take calculated risks and the reality is at times, those risks will lead to failure. A leader that opens oneself to vulnerability shows his followers that he has the confidence to accept challenging oppositions and is not afraid of failure. A good leader not only understands his failures, but is also able to analyze the mistakes that were made and move forward. Making mistakes is part of the leadership experience and it helps to contribute to your growth as a leader, and as a person. Followership does not expect perfections from their leaders, however they do expect them to be honest and admit when they have made a mistake. Leaders that admit to their failures help to build a culture of trust among their followers.


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Lollipop Moments (Everyday Leadership)


Have you ever just thought about what is leadership? How does leadership fit into our everyday lives? Leadership is a term we often believe only belongs to individuals that are in some type of supervisory role. Have you ever considered yourself a leader? Have you ever imagined how you effect someone else’s life while not even recognizing or remembering that you have?
Drew Dudley talks about this in his TED video about Everyday Leadership. He discussed “Lollipop Moments” as to how they are related to everyday leadership. He defines “Lollipop Moments” as moments that you said, or someone did something that you or someone felt fundamentally made your life or their life better. Chances are you do not remember when you were someone’s “Lollipop Moment”. However, I am sure you remember the exact moment when someone made your life better even when they did not realize it.
Most of the time in life we do not take the opportunity or the time to let people know how they have changed our lives. We do not take the opportunity to let them know that they possess those great qualities of leadership, even when they are not trying to.
As I reflect back over my life, I remember many “lollipop moments” throughout my life. Each moment helped to mold me into the person I am today. One special “lollipop moment” that influenced my life was my pastor telling me how great I was as presenter. At an early age, I often would say that when I grew up I wanted to become a preacher. As a child, after church I would play around and pretend that I was a preacher. One Sunday, the preacher was actually listening and came in and had a seat. As I continued, he had the biggest smile on his face. After I finished, he called me to sit next to him. He then shared how great my presentation was. His small statement encouraged me throughout elementary, middle and high school. Even though I did not end up becoming a preacher, I ended up becoming involved in leadership opportunities through school. I credit my pastor’s small statement all those years ago with my being where I am now in my life and in the graduate program. I always share my personal “lollipop moment” with my pastor to show how much I appreciate his statement and how it has guided me throughout my life.
If you have the chance and you remember your special “lollipop moment” and if possible make sure you share that moment with that person so that can see how they possess the qualities of leadership even if they are not trying to. Finally, remember that someone is always watching you and you could be their “lollipop moment.”



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Dream Big, Princess.

Those eyes.  That smile.  She is my entire reason for being.


What kind of world is she going to grow up in?

Teacher. Babysitter. Singer. Princess. She’s told me she wants to be so many things when she grows up.  My response each time, just as my own mother responded to me, is a kiss to her forehead, a hug ever so tightly, and a whisper in her ear: “You can be anything you want to be, sweetheart.”

Shakeshaft, Nowell, and Perry (2007) wrote, “The way we are treated from birth onward, because we are either female or male, does help to determine how we both see and navigate the world” (p. 340).  What will my little girl’s eyes see as she grows up?  Will she continue to see a world where females and males are treated differently simply because of their gender?  Or will she live in a world where “glass ceilings” don’t exist?  As her mother, I truly hope for the latter.

I want her to be anything she wants to be.  I want her to be treated equally and given the same opportunities in life that her male counterparts have.  I want her to be a leader among her peers–a strong voice, a trusted opinion, an equal partner.

But how realistic is this really?  Have I started off lying to my daughter at such an early stage of her life? There is an abundance of research, studies, and literature out there that talk about the role that gender bias and stereotypes have on women in leadership positions.  Glass ceilings have been constructed and gender barriers are in place.  Opportunities and pay differ greatly depending on one’s gender.

Judith Warner (2014) adds:

“Although women have outnumbered men on college campuses since 1988, they have earned at least a third of law degrees since 1980, were fully a third of medical school students by 1990, and, since 2002, have outnumbered men in earning undergraduate business degrees since 2002. They have not moved up to positions of prominence and power in America at anywhere near the rate that should have followed.

In a broad range of fields, their presence in top leadership positions—as equity law partners, medical school deans, and corporate executive officers—remains stuck at a mere 10 percent to 20 percent. Their “share of voice”—the average proportion of their representation on op-ed pages and corporate boards, as TV pundits, and in Congress—is just 15 percent.

In fact, it’s now estimated that, at the current rate of change, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in our country.”

If this is true, my daughter will be 75 years old.

This is unacceptable. As a society, we can take action.  We can change this mentality.  Shakeshaft, Nowell, and Perry (2007) wrote, “We need to acknowledge our backgrounds and training, understanding that we had no control over what we were taught by society, school, and family.  We do, however, have control over our actions today” (p. 347).

We need to remove the barriers.  We need to break the glass ceiling.  There is just as much research, studies, and literature to prove that women are clearly capable of holding leadership positions and rightfully so.  Thankfully, there is a shift happening, ever so slowly.  More people are realizing the value that women can bring to any table.

Crystal Hoyt writes,  “In sum, despite the glass ceiling, women are showing a greater presence in top leadership positions.  With changes in organizations and the developmental opportunities for women within them; greater gender equity in domestic responsibilities; greater negotiation power of women, especially regarding the work-home balance; the effectiveness and predominance of women-owned businesses; and changes in the incongruity between women and leadership, we likely will see more women in elite leadership roles” (p. 281).

We still have a ways to go. How long? It’s unclear.  Will these biases, stereotypes, “ceilings” continue and affect my daughter’s daughter’s daughter?  I hope not.  But I can say, whole-heartedly, that I look forward to the day when my daughter comes to me and tells me she wants to be a leader.  I hope to be able to say to her: “Dream Big, Be Big, Princess.  Wherever your dreams and heart may take you, go.”


Hoyt, C. (2007). Women and Leadership. In P. Northouse (Ed.), Leadership: Theory and Practice (4th Ed). (pages 266-283).  London: SAGE publications.

Shakeshaft, C., Nowell, I., & Perry, A. (2007). Gender and Supervision. The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Warner, J. (2014). Fact Sheet: The Women’s Leadership Gap. Retrieved from:

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Freeze or Get Down


Evelle and Gale Snoats

When John Goodman’s Gale and William Forsythe’s Evelle, in the 1987 Coen Brother’s classic Raising Arizona, walk into that dusty farmer’s bank for one of their standard bank robberies they face a test of their leadership skills. They need their followers (the people in the bank being robbed) to follow their directions-freeze and get down. It seems like a simple enough request that I’m sure Gale has shouted out at numerous robberies. Freeze and Get Down! Don’t question, just do. It just happens that at this robbery he is asked to clarify his message. As you can see from the clip, he doesn’t know how to handle a follower asking him to clarify his message.


Watching this clip after reading about followership made me think about Robert Kelley writing that he decided to put a stake in the ground and say to the world, “We need to pay attention to followers.” Leaders don’t exist without followers.


Whether he wants to be or not, the old man in the bank is being forced to be Gale and Evelle’s follower. If you were to sit down with Gale and Evelle to discuss the types of followers that are outlined in The Art of Followership, I feel confident that they would prefer The Sheep. I think most bank robbers would select sheep followers that are passive and look to the leader to motivate them. The sheep is the go-to in most bank robbery movies. But maybe Gale and Evelle are more into Yes-people. The yes-people are positive, always on the leader’s side, but still looking to the leader to make the decisions. The yes-people are positive and full of energy. Yes-people are the doers, they might even help the brothers load the money into the getaway car! I can’t imagine that Gale and Evelle would want Alienated followers. These followers think for themselves but have a lot of negative energy. Not good in a robbery situation. They would not be willing to follow the brother’s lead. They might be willing to work with the Pragmatics, they might eventually come around but that could take time and time is not on your side in a bank robbery situation. I can’t imagine that Gale and Evelle would think that they would want a Star Follower as star followers think for themselves, are very active, and have positive energy. But I would urge them to think of the old man in the bank as their star follower.


The old man IS following. He has his hands up in the air for heaven’s sake! BUT he is asking questions of his bank-robbing leader. He is challenging the leader, and offering constructive criticism to help Gale clarify his message to the other followers in the bank. While Gale is unhappy to hear this at the time of the robbery, you can see from the look on his face that he has never before thought about how he was delivering his robbery opening line. It took a Star Follower to point out the inconsistency of his message. If Gale and Evelle take the Star Followers questioning to heart, it will help the brothers to deliver a clearer message at their next robbery. This will help them become better bank robbers until they inevitably end up back in lock-up in a prison in Arizona.



Riggio,R.E., Chaleff, I., Lipman-Blumen, J. (2008). The Art of Followership: How Great Followers Create Great Leaders and Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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