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Leaders Give Us Permission to Be Great

By Jonathan Petrick, AVID Staff Developer, Elective Teacher, and Coordinator
Ramstein Middle School, GermanyJonathan Petrick and one of his former AVID students, Aris Soltani

Back in 1991, I traded my baseball cleats for track spikes. Simply put, I was horrible at baseball, and our multiple coaches taught us the game by yelling, providing negative encouragement, and not really focusing on building the self-esteem of each player. At the insistence of my older brother, Doug, I decided to sign up for the track and field team the following spring. After a few practices, I noticed a distinct difference between the two coaches of their respective sports. One was encouraging, positive, a bit peculiar, and made it fairly easy for those of us running the distance events to push ourselves to the absolute physical breaking point in practices—it was hard work, but fun. On the other hand, I recalled our baseball coaches spending most of the practice yelling, providing little feedback, and “putting down” the majority of the team for not meeting their unknown expectations. As running continued through my college years, the sport provided me opportunities to encounter numerous leaders—some who I really admired and others who were mere managers at best.

As I reflect upon this experience with my “educator hat,” there is clear distinction between leadership styles: a manager (one who fills a position based on rising through the ranks or because no one else will do it) and a leader (one who directs, guides, plans with purpose, and encourages his or her subordinates to achieve their best every day). In my 13th year of teaching, I find that without leadership, a school will fail to progress to a highly functioning school or become stagnant as a result of thinking their best achievements have already occurred.

During the past two years as AVID coordinator, I often feel my true responsibilities shift mid-year as a result of endless documents, trainings, and looming deadlines, thus changing my focus from “our group” to “what’s next and when is it due?” (Think of my baseball coach, minus the yelling and belittling—a manager!) Feeling like I had missed my true intent as a coordinator, I changed my approach. I needed to learn from others who had already refined their leadership abilities.

In my search to locate what qualities true leaders exhibit and provide a template for leadership as an AVID coordinator and teacher-leader, I elicited responses from a group of highly successful individuals in the field of education and within the United States Army. I ended up with a list of qualities that define leadership and questions that leaders should periodically ask themselves as they work to guide others.

Qualities That Define Leadership

  • Passionate about the mission and its goals
  • Compassionate for staff who are veteran and new to the process
  • Selfless character that will guide the decision-making process; putting the goal ahead of the person leading or supporting group
  • Integrity to do the right thing when no one is looking and invoke the same quality in his or her peers
  • Unwavering commitment to student success based on the overall goal or mission
  • Sound interpersonal relationships with teachers and other adults in the educational community who will allow the “hard choices and decisions” about quality instruction to be implemented in the classrooms

Questions for Leaders to Ask Themselves

  • Am I passionate about how I am leading others in support of the overall goal or mission?
  • Am I supportive and understanding of people who I work with and work for?
  • Are my decisions best for the whole group? …Organization? …System?
  • What are the possible outcomes (secondary and beyond) as a result of each decision that we make?
  • How do I support/coach others to be the best instructional and support staff possible?
  • Am I modeling the behavior of what I expect from others?


Whether you are an administrator, AVID coordinator, or teacher-leader, ask yourself by using the checklist above, “How can I lead others to greatness and be effective myself?” Simply put, great leaders enable us, “The chance to spend time and energy supporting great teaching and learning, rather than begging for permission to act. The chance to create schools that can unlock the talents of teachers and leaders and begin to realize the new possibilities of 21st century schooling (Hess, 2013).”

Remember that as a leader, you have options: coaching third base or the cross country team.

Hess, F. M. (2013). Be a cage-buster. Educational Leadership, 70(7), 30–33.


Want to read more blogs from Jonathan? Check these out!
Zoe's Top Five Rules for New AVID Students and Elective Teachers
If Not You, Then Who?

Jonathan Petrick is a Staff Developer, Coordinator and AVID Elective Teacher for Grades 7-8 overseas. He was the teacher speaker at the 2014 Summer Institute in Sacramento, CA. You can watch his speech here. In addition to teaching in Germany, he facilitates AVID Best Practices for teachers in the Dept. of Defense Dependent Schools-Germany (DoDDS). Jonathan makes it clear that "collaboration and humor are the tools that ward off insanity and keep the AVID Bus moving forward for Student Success at Ramstein Middle School. He enjoys playing the "6 Word Memoirs Guess Who?" game with his tutors and crafting the perfect roux for his stellar chicken gumbo.  

You can contact the RMS AVID program or Jonathan by clicking here.

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Reader Comments (5)

We've all had "leaders" like the baseball coach who made our life difficult. But, we knew somewhere out there we would eventually come across a cross country coach who would lead us to be the best we could be. Thanks for sharing.

January 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCollege prof

These questions are the compass every educator should use to get themselves back on "track" -- sorry, couldn't help myself. And what better time than the New Year? Thank you sir for your thoughts and insight.

January 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTexan

Well said. The "Questions for Leaders" list, when answered honestly, can and should serve as a road map of what to keep and what to toss in our daily practices in the world of education. If we truly examine our motivations then we will begin to understand why we succeed and why we fail, both as individuals and as organizational leaders. "Unlock the talents of teachers and leaders"-- be the coach who gives permission to be "all you can be"! Thank you for this great reminder, Mr. Petrick.

January 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRetired Educator

Great way to look deeper into what a leader is. I have always said to be a great leader is not to lead up at front but from behind with guidance and support. Another great blog! Love the words. Keep them coming!

January 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRIVERSIDE AVID

Great post. I find the distinction between manager and leader very compelling within the field of education. The term "manager" brings focus to a major problem within education of all levels. Are we managing students? Which is simply only controlling and administering children as a product in the classroom or are we as educator's nurturing and leading children to think critically.I am certain we can all vividly distinguish teachers who were managers or leaders within our journey of education.

January 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEducator

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