Leading through Celebration of Successes Big and Small

There are many successes that can go unnoticed in our lives everyday. This afternoon I cheered in jubilation upon confirming that, after research via online discussion boards, measuring, catalog flipping, and web browsing… the 36 plastic plastic tubs I purchased for our district’s wade into FIRST Lego League Junior were a bonefied perfect fit for the after-school program’s materials to be distributed after break! My colleagues and a few Science Center high school volunteers were bewildered by my hooting, fist-pumping, and immediate move to share the discovery/victory via Twitter with FIRST and those that follow their hashtag:

Eyerolls and raised eyebrows withstanding, I felt my reactions were vindicated this evening while watching this TED Talk by Drew Dudley titled, “Everyday Leadership” as part of the NSTA’s Professional Development Cadre Team own PD. In it he talks about the reluctance for many to embrace the title, “leader” in part because of its association with the misconception that leaders are only those who have accomplished world-changing achievements most would never dare to undertake. Dudley noted that “when we convince ourselves that these are the only things worth celebrating we devalue the things we can do every day, We take moments where we truly are a leader and we don’t let ourselves take credit for it, or feel good about it.”


Plastic bins are not going to be seen to most as a big deal. In fact, I’ll likely forget about this tweet and the reply to the forum post I previously checked out during my own research sharing my solution as time marches on. But for those out there mentoring an FLL Junior team for the first time, trying to figure things out through their own forum and Twitterverse investigations, this share is going to move the needle. It’s going to save them time so they can focus on the more important aspects of mentoring. It is also most likely going to go unnoticed by me. It’s a moment that takes on the spirit of what Dudley defines through his own personal vignette as a “lollipop moment“: A moment in which we make someone’s life better through something we say or did. Sometimes you catch it, and sometimes it happens in what would otherwise be a forgettable moment to ourselves.

This past November NSTA received tremendous positive feedback on a workshop co-facilitated by me, Ted Willard, and several other outstanding cadre members from across the country. Feedback wins for me included comments about the facilitator “doing a great job of delivering the material.” One evaluator expressed gratitude for the instructor’s “kindness” and another the “ability to justify and reinforce key points through classroom experiences.” Empathy and authenticity matters!

The blended work environment I live puts me in the spaces that do this kind of professional development with my Burlington colleagues almost everyday. Their  recognition and move to a student-oriented, “sense-making” space is what drives me. Gratitude is never expected… after all we don’t expect our younger students to thank us when they have their own “a-ha” moments… though as in Drew’s story when they do share it hits home.

I can continue to grow by explicitly “celebrating” more successes I observe, instilling others with the mindset that they can lead this kind of learning in their classroom, and be a leader themselves amongst their fellow faculty. By acknowledging and supporting a fellow educator’s efforts and growth toward the preparation, instructional practices, and shifts in assessment needed we can instill greater confidence in those that find the New Vision for Science Education intimidating or even unattainable.

I’d also like to practice what I preach by thanking my table-facilitators, Rachel Manzer, Aaron Mueller, and Shannon Kenyon. They also received explicit praise for the support, feedback, and insights they provided to the participants they stuck with through the entire two-day experience. Having expert eyes and ears in a large ‘classroom’ clearly made all the difference to the participants and they are well on their way to sharing their own expertise with larger audiences as well.

About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
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