Are Leaders Born? Are Leaders Made?

Are leaders born, or are they made?   Yes, and Yes. Leaders are born, AND leaders are made, is my response. Some believe that only some of us are made to be leaders.  I would argue, that we are ALL made to be leaders.

I had the privilege of working underAmy Erb, an amazing leader, at my last school, who was working to transform our school into a Leader In Me Lighthouse School. She threw up a bulletin board at the beginning of a school year, reminding her students and staff of this design for leadership with the saying displayed, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall – There’s a Leader in Us All.”  The truth of this saying resonates with me, because I believe each one of us is a leader by design as we are leading our own lives. It’s from this position of self-empowerment, that I can encourage my students to take charge of their learning, as they rise up and lead their lives past their current circumstances. If left uncultivated, it’s like a seed unplanted, or planted and not watered.  My friend, Don Sturm, described leadership as a seed that we water and nourish. Education, he likens, is the way of nurturing that seed for our students. This leaves me to wonder, am I keeping the weeds out of my classroom? Am I providing ample light to shine on the seeds I am charged to nurture? How can I move beyond being a watering can for my students, to setting my students up for success in an Artesian aquifer system, where they are not dependent on me for their sustenance? Educators, like parents, are trying to work ourselves out of a job. We want students to step into the highest level of leadership for themselves, as self-actualized humans. The only way they can get there, is if we help them find their leadership capacity to begin. This is my desire. I want every student to leave my classroom family believing in their leadership over their own life, which will change the world.

We don’t have to have a line of people following us or a microphone in our hand to be a leader.  Sometimes leadership is just the quiet kindness in sitting next to a heart who felt lonely and invisible, as Trudy Ludwig described in The Invisible Boy.  The motive for leadership should not be in getting others to follow us.  The motive should be in leading our lives to pursue what is right for us, and realizing that the world will be better if we act beyond our own desire for comfort.  This is what Jen Betton touched on when she wrote Hedgehog Needs a Hug.  

To me, this looks like kindness.  Kindness is not something we are born leading in, but its capacity IS within each of us.  We are not born thinking of others, and leading with empathy, like a muscle, it must be trained, but nonetheless, the muscle is there.  We all are capable of leading with more kindness, empathy, and helping others to find their voice. If I hold the notion that it’s someone else’s job to be a leader, and it’s someone else’s calling to call out the best in others, I will miss my impact on this world.  Yes, some of us may have a greater level of influence, with a larger following, or a louder microphone, so to speak; this should not stop any of us from finding our own seed to nurture, and just watch as the buds of leadership bloom from our lives. How will you call out the leaders around you today?

Leading with love,


My Treasures

Books are missing.  I run my classroom library on a trust system, but I ask that students sign out the books they borrow and kindly return the books when they are finished.  This past week, we were preparing for an event, and looking for specific titles, which were not on the shelves, yet they had not been checked out either. I always said, a stolen book was okay, because at least it may get read.  I had to question my belief this past week, when a favorite book from my classroom library went missing. It’s a picture pop-up book, and let me remind you, I teach fifth grade.  What does a fifth grader need with a picture pop up book?  I don’t know what they need with it, but I am committing to quit worrying about the matter. At each section, when my students arrive, after I have greeted each one of them at the door with a hug, high five, or our special handshake (many of them have chosen a unique handshake between the two of us) I greet the entire class with the same phrase EVERY DAY, “Hello, my treasures,” I say.  This daily greeting, pronounced over my treasures three times each day is not just a verbal affirmation, but I want it to be an echo of my heart. Yes, I was connected with that book. Yes, I have memories of sharing that book with every class I have ever taught, with each of my own children, and during my internship at Stephen F. Austin. My shelves seem a bit bare without that prized book. I had it since college, and it still bore my maiden name on the inside cover, but the book is just a book.  I want my students to know, that when I call upon them each day with the affirming greeting of “my treasures” that I mean it. THEY are my treasures. Yes, I am a bibliophile, through and through, and I will probably miss the book for a long time, but I need them to understand that they are the prize that I have already earned, and greater than any treasures of this earth, pouring into their lives is my greatest gift. When I step through my doors to #CelebrateMonday, I most importantly, celebrate their lives, and the beauty of impacting their lives.  I will let them know that I still hope they will help me find my prized book, but most importantly, I will let them know that if it is never found, my heart is still full because THEY TRULY are MY TREASURES.



#OneWord2018 in Reflection


As I reflect on the seminal events of 2018, I  hold my #OneWord2018, fire, dear to me, and feel that it served me well, but it did not start out with strong hopes.  

The year began with me finishing my winter break, and with new year voracity, I proclaimed my #OneWord2018 to my #PLN on Twitter with excitement and high hopes, but to my chagrin, a series of events left me wanting to rethink my word.  My son wanted to warm the house and build a fire for us while his daddy was at work and we were soaking up the last of our break from school. Realizing we were out of kindling, he decided to put his chopping skills to work, and the hatchet found his hand instead of the wood for kindling.  This led us to the urgent care for stitches to ring in the bloody new year. Just a week later, school was back in session, and I needed to get a meal together quickly. The ignitor was out on our grill, so I had to manually light the grill using a lighter, which is not something you want to take too long to do. Distracted by my phone call, I lost track of how long I had spent between turning the propane on and striking the lighter, flames jumped out of the grill several feet, and singed the front of my hair and the sweater that I later had to toss into the trash.  My hair was pretty trashed, as well, but I had to remedy that problem in another way, so I donned some bangs for a few months. It seemed I was taking my #OneWord2018 too literally, so I inwardly pledged to keep the rest of my “fire” commitments to an emblematic sense, and I believe I managed to do so!

The year dawned, with Victor Hugo’s words ruminating about my mind, “To learn to read, is to light a fire; every word spelled out is a spark.” To light a fire I did, as students made leaps before my eyes and made the quantum jump from the stuttering stage of pre-phonemic blending to emergent readers in a matter of months, and the fire was almost palpable.  In May, I left this fire to be tended by other educators, and passed the torch of early childhood onto my most trusted peers, and prepared to step into a new flame for the upcoming school year, which I quickly learned must be tended to with great care, because the retardants of life were trying to squelch these flames quicker than I could kindle them. I accepted the position of a fifth grade reading teacher, and discovered many a ember, barely still burning, and began to gingerly blow on these flames, trying to arouse the desire to read within students’ hearts who had succumbed to the cold ashes of life as non-readers and forsaken the hopes of literary flames as not for them.  Some students, it seemed, had no desire to light a fire to learn, when they were still trying to find the warmth of food, shelter, and belonging. In my zeal to light their fire to learn, I have to help them first learn that they belong and that they matter. I do not hold optimism with ignorance, because I am aware of the daunting challenge before me. Witnessing the pain of this emptiness again and again is a blow to one’s own fire, but messages like this student’s keep my flame burning.

Not all of the fires were dim, thankfully, some students came to me already on fire for learning, and we fed on each other like wildfire. My own fire burned brighter than ever, as I encountered many readers who came to me with flames already burning brightly, and my task was to increase their impenetrable energy.  

The flames of teaching have nearly burned out in my own life in years past, but have been burning stronger than ever since I became a connected educator.  On days, where every setback brings a cool rush of despair, I know where I can go to fan the flame in me. I am especially thankful for my friends on Twitter and my #PLN, with whom I connect daily on Voxer through #4OCFpln.  I met this fiery league of colleagues through a series of book studies, #2MenAndABook, led by Matthew Larson and Ricardo Garcia on Voxer, where a band of educators unite with the common goal of becoming stronger for the students we serve through literary discussions and burning up the status quo.  These friends have all found the fuel of connection, and fan my flame daily. If I did not have these connections, I am certain that in my aim to teach with passion, I would lose all of my breath fanning my students’ flames, and my own fire would turn in on itself until ashes to ashes, I would fall down. My fire will burn brightly with me as I embrace 2019 with the tenacity with which I warmly accepted 2018, and the year goes out as we step into 2019, but this fire will not die within me.  


Jessica Chandler