To Educate is to Lead: Empowering Counselors as Leaders

To Educate is to Lead: Empowering Counselors as Leaders
Timothy L. Cross, The Lawrenceville School

Two decades ago with my Classics diploma still curled into a scroll, I assured myself there was no shame in not wanting to become a Latin teacher. Nothing of note had been written in Latin in a couple millennia plus no exciting discoveries in grammar or syntax were making headlines. In reflection, I realized that teaching Classics was too slow an expedition because I didn’t see the opportunities for growth for me. I still wanted to help students develop and mature, and I thought back to how my greatest moments of personal growth during high school transpired beyond the classroom. Now, partnering with students through the ever-mutating college process has provided me the opportunity to join their journeys while ensuring that every day brought progress–both for them and for me. With all that is going on in the world, I recently needed to remind myself why I counsel students: to walk stride-for-stride with them toward their goals.

The etymology of the term “education” comes from the Latin verb ēdūcō, ēdūxī meaning “to lead forth, draw out.” The definition depicts physical movement: an educator driving a learner from one place (of not knowing) to another (learnedness). Thus, to educate is to lead. Educators must recurrently generate and sustain movement toward a shared goal among colleagues or students; I believe this because complacency begets obsolescence while the unpredictability of the world—and the college process—is constantly evolving. The etymology of “education” shows me that all educators are, by definition, leaders.

Within this philosophy, students, counselors, and directors are all learners. Because counseling is a form of education, it is the responsibility of college counselors to aspire to and facilitate growth. However, generating and sustaining such movement isn’t simple, and the capacity to learn everything isn’t feasible. There’s a famous quote about wisdom that Plato attributes to Socrates that roughly translates to wisdom is “knowing that I know nothing.” Accordingly, I believe there are three keys to the movement counselors should aim to establish:

  • Acknowledge that you, as an educator, can’t possibly be omniscient.

  • Maintain a growth mindset to learn what you don’t know and to discover what has not been visible to you.

  • Empower and depend on your colleagues and students because they can lead you to your (pl.) goals.

The first two points are easier than the third because they don’t rely on other people. However, education depends on the interactions and transmission of knowledge between people and cannot simply exist within an individual. The primary function of a school is to educate (lead) its students. If education requires us to lead students in learning, we need to promote counselor growth because research confirms that educator learning correlates directly to student learning outcomes.

“People support what they help create,” Dr. John DeFlaminis (Executive Director of the Penn Center for Educational Leadership) declared three times in a cold December lecture while I was in graduate school. His concept of distributed leadership—described as the shared interactions between leaders and followers that focuses on the context of the situation without regard to titles—strengthens the bond within an office or partnership with a student and kindles movement between individuals. In any given moment, the situation may dictate that the leader and follower switch roles, a practice that often occurs in the college counseling process. For instance, when counseling students, I'm not the expert on who they are or what they want to do; they are. I must empower them to lead me through parts of the process, providing them ownership of our collaboration and allowing them to generate and sustain movement themselves. In doing so, the progress of learning habitually reproduces on both sides of the relationship and creates a culture of leadership in which we all achieve growth.

Despite all the uncertainty that comes in the college process and has unfolded throughout the dual pandemics and war in Ukraine, you are still a leader. If you are scared to be one right now, I hear you: that’s understandable and natural. However, you’re a counselor because you have the knowledge, tools, desire, care, strength, and ability to help your students and colleagues grow. Tap into that. Our interconnectivity with others makes us better, so let’s keep each other moving on this journey together.

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Katie Gayman - Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Love the message - especially the theme of distributed leadership and the gift of counselors learning with and from our students.

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