GUEST BLOGGER: Getting Your Ticket Punched

by Mark Hennes | Oct 02, 2017

Quote of Note
"Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could."
- Steve Jobs

Our guest blogger this week is Dr. Rhonda Brunner. Over her 25 year career in K-12 education, Rhonda has been a classroom teacher, building principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent. She recently retired from her position as the Assistant Executive Director at CAIU. She is now the Associate Professor for Educational Leadership at Shippensburg University, where she is teaching in the graduate school, preparing school and district-level educational leaders.

They may exist, but I don’t know anyone who ever said, “When I grow up I want to be a school administrator.” For some of us the decision merely evolves. In fact, I don’t recall making a conscious choice about what I wanted to be when I grew up. By nature, I nurture. (Interesting word choice, I know). As cliché as it may sound for an educator, I truly love kids – the more challenging, the better. When I was in high school and teachers asked if we had post-graduation plans, I never hesitated to respond that I was going to be a teacher.

When I got my first teaching job, I honestly remember thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I get paid for this!” I loved it. I spent hours creating what I believed to be the most positive learning environment for my second-grade students. I scoured book stores to find the just-right book for my lessons and drove to the community library each week to provide a wide variety of book choices for my students. After a few weeks on the job, however, I decided that I needed more training in teaching my students to read so I applied to graduate school and began class the next semester. I found another passion – literacy. I voraciously read professional development books and attended countless workshops on the topic. I earned my Master’s Degree in Reading and began offering professional development to my district colleagues on literacy-related topics.

One day when I was at the district office to deliver a training, my superintendent stopped me in the hallway to chat. He complimented me on my leadership in the work I was doing with the staff and said that my drive and initiative would serve me well as an administrator. He encouraged me to consider going back to graduate school to earn my administrative certification. I recall being somewhat surprised and amused, but definitely flattered, and telling him that I loved teaching and didn’t have aspirations to become an administrator. He responded that love of teaching manifests itself in different ways for an administrator. He also said that I should “get my ticket punched” so that if the opportunity arose, I would be certified and therefore able to seize the opportunity. (To you sports fans, I know that other connotations of “getting your ticket punched” result in less desirable fates, but I was confident of my superintendent’s intent).

“Leaving the classroom” for administration wasn’t appealing to me because I loved my work and knew I was making a difference in my students’ lives. I was successful as a teacher. I was confident in my abilities and had positive rapport with my students and their families. I felt respected among my colleagues. I reflected on his words, but knew that I was ready for a new challenge. I enjoyed learning and had found graduate classes to be great professional development for me as a teacher. Since completing my Master’s degree, I had been thinking about how I could become more skillful as an educator. My superintendent’s advice was the nudge that I needed, so I began to research potential graduate programs.

Meanwhile, my superintendent and other district administrators continued to support me and provided opportunities for me to grow as a teacher leader within my district and in our region. I was nominated to serve on committees and receive awards and was supported in grant writing and through special assignments. I felt valued and professionally challenged.

I ultimately made the decision to enroll in a principal certification cohort program with the thought that if, after the introductory course, it wasn’t a good fit for me, I wouldn’t continue. That was not to be the case. I found the first class inspiring and professionally stimulating. As I continued in my studies, I began to notice areas for school improvement that I hadn’t considered before. I discovered that there were things I wanted to change in my school…things that I couldn’t change in my role as a classroom teacher, but could if I were an administrator. I realized that as an administrator I could effect greater and more far-reaching changes than merely those within the confines of my classroom. What perhaps began as an offhand comment by my superintendent instilled confidence in me. I believed that he had faith in my aptitude and I began to see potential to impact the greater good.

In later administrative roles in urban, suburban, and rural school districts, I have encountered teacher leaders who are master educators with leadership capabilities … educators who identify and solve problems, challenge the status quo, and, above all else, inspire others to do better. I have challenged promising educators to “get your ticket punched”. It is our charge as leaders to seek out teacher leaders who have the fortitude and tenacity to lead our next generation of educators and to serve our next generation of students. It is our responsibility to inspire this new wave of leaders.

My superintendent lit a fire in my belly that is still smoldering and, years later, ignites from time to time. When I received my first teaching job I planned to remain in that same role, teaching the same grade, and continue to refine my skills with the goal of becoming a Master Teacher. My superintendent inspired me to do more. I am grateful for my superintendent’s support, advice, and faith in my abilities and for the opportunities he provided to allow me to test my wings. I pledge to continue to pay it forward to our new generation of aspiring leaders who are working to get their tickets punched. I challenge you to do the same.

Get It Done

  • Seek out and identify potential leaders in your school or district
  • Affirm that their current efforts are important and valued
  • Convey confidence in their abilities and potential
  • Challenge them with growth opportunities
  • Celebrate their successes and help them learn from setbacks
  • Inspire them to expand their learning and sphere of influence

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Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CAIU, its directors, or its staff.