When I accepted my Principal of the Year award at the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators’ (OASSA) conference earlier this month, I spoke about the importance of female representation in school leadership. I also shared how preparing my remarks for the event was incredibly challenging because of how strongly I feel about this work and my desire to honor it appropriately.

The process to receive this award also made it challenging. I had to fill out paperwork, submit evidence, and demonstrate that I was deserving and worthy. It’s a process that has changed me in unexpected ways.

After OASSA publicized the nominees for this award on social media, I didn’t say much about it. I downplayed it. I was afraid to say I was worthy. I was afraid that people would think I was not deserving. It’s hard to admit this publicly, but I think it’s important that I do. I was fortunate to talk to Sara Crooks at the OASSA Women’s Leadership Conference. She was the Ohio Assistant Principal of the Year last year, and I told her how I was feeling. She encouraged me to move forward in vying for this award. What she said to me was this: “There will always be someone who thinks you aren’t deserving, but you know that you are. You stand in front of women, and you tell them to not be afraid, to stand in their power and be proud of their accomplishments. You can’t tell them to do that and then be unwilling to do it yourself.” She was right.

As a woman in leadership, it is important that I step into the spotlight—flaws and all. I am no longer worried about whether someone sees me as undeserving. In fact, I hope that my colleagues, staff, and especially my students, see me as incredibly flawed, as someone who makes a ton of mistakes but who is still able to experience a lot of success. Perfection is not a prerequisite for excellence. If you are hanging on to the idea that you need to be perfect, consider this permission to let that go.

One thing that no one tells you is that success is as uncomfortable as the work it took to get there. However, when you stand in your own power, your own spotlight, you give others permission to stand in theirs and to celebrate themselves. With my award, I want to give female school leaders permission to win, to feel outwardly and unapologetically proud of the work they’ve done and what they’ve achieved despite challenging times.

I am sure at some point every leader has wanted to stay away from the limelight because things have been so difficult—especially these last few years. But we should be doing the opposite. We should be stepping into the light. We should be amplifying our voices and telling our stories. Because when we amplify our voices, when we tell our stories, we show our kids and our staff how to amplify theirs.

A Mindset Shift

In recent years, educational leadership has become increasingly difficult, and I know school leaders have felt like we are under attack. That’s because education is under attack. According to a recent survey released by NASSP, one out of two school leaders claim their stress level is so high they are considering a career change or retirement. Three quarters of school leaders report that they needed help with their mental or emotional health last year. These figures show us that we must not only support but celebrate one another.

Have you seen the video of Kara Lawson, the women’s basketball coach at Duke University, talking to her team? If you haven’t, watch it. It’s so good. She says that in life we often wait for things to get easier before we do something. You think to yourself, “Once I get through this, it will be easier… It will never get easier. What happens is you handle hard better…If you have a meaningful pursuit in life, it will never be easy…Don’t get discouraged through this time if it’s hard…It’s supposed to be.” The work of educational leadership is the hardest work there is because it’s the most important work there is.

I think about the 15-year-old version of myself who did not see women in leadership roles. That young girl did not see herself reflected in positions of power. I often think about what she would think if she saw me now. I know she would be proud, but I also think that if she saw me complain about how difficult this work is, she would be angry.

Reflecting on my opportunities in the context of 15-year-old me has shifted the way I view this work. It’s not that I have to lead in this moment, it’s that I get to lead in this moment. I get the opportunity to lead during an incredibly difficult time and to make a difference. I get to be the role model that I didn’t have. I get to be a force of compassion and humanity.

To my brilliant, powerful, kind, amazing women colleagues and friends who have inspired, challenged, and accepted me, I am in awe of you and the work that you do. As women, our voices matter, now more than ever. I am proud to have stood up and accepted this award—for myself and for all of you.

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