Leadership Confessions

Teacher teaching

Sometimes, the pressure for school leaders to know all the answers is overwhelming. Most of us have been taught that to be a good leader we have to lead from the front, never alongside and never behind those we serve. As a teacher, I would often tell my students, “I don’t know the answer to that but I’ll find out.” Yet somehow when I became a leader, that shifted. In my first year as a principal, there was more that I didn’t know than I did know. It would take me hours sometimes to track down the right answer, find a resource, identify the right person, or build a better system. I was a middle school ELA teacher and instructional coach in a school that had just adopted a new math curriculum. I often found myself in a tailspin trying to support my math teachers with effective instruction and implementation.

Somehow, I had equated my staff’s confidence and belief in me with my ability to know everything and answer every question. I didn’t feel the need to be perfect, but I did feel like I had to look like I knew what I was doing for people to follow me.

I wasn’t hired to be the principal because I knew all the answers. I was hired to be principal because I had a passion for kids, I set high expectations, and I held myself accountable. My inability to lead with humility and transparency around the things I didn’t know often eroded relationships. In a short amount of time, my staff began to feel like they couldn’t trust what I said either because it would change, or it was inaccurate information. They also couldn’t trust that I was asking the right questions on their behalf. As a result, my team would often go to the Dean or Assistant principal before coming to me.

School classroom

After a rough first year, I quickly learned that I needed to embrace my vulnerability. I began to openly share my blind spots and my commitment to overcoming them. Telling my staff that I was an ELA teacher at heart and I knew very little about math instruction turned out not to be a deal breaker. Math teachers invited me to their rooms to learn more; we problem-solved together during our Professional Learning Communities, and the instructional coaches spent considerable time teaching me what to look for, and how to better support teachers. Students saw me learning, growing, and making mistakes. Our entire culture shifted and people quickly began to see me as an honest and humble leader who was always willing to learn.


My advice to any leader feeling the pressure to know it all is to:

Drop the perception of perfection and be vulnerable.

Trust that your team will still follow you even with your imperfections.

Remember that effective leaders don’t have to know all the answers, they just have to have the grit to find them.


By: Joy Treadwell, Ph.D, CT3’s Chief Program Officer

CT3 transforms the quality and culture of education for youth, especially those in traditionally disenfranchised communities. Check out CT3 Education programs such as No-Nonsense Nurturer, Real Time Teacher Coaching, and Real Time Leadership Coaching to find out more about Professional Development for Teachers and Leaders, classroom management strategies, and building relationships with students and their families, and properly addressing important issues in the classroom and school.
Category: Culture, Education, Relationship Building, Students, Teaching