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Leadership Lessons Learned in the Army

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A Veteran's Day Perspective from Christi Jefferds, Military Intelligence Lieutenant in the Army 1987-1990, and now the Principal at Piner Elementary in the Kenton County School District in Kentucky.

I have always known that service to our country is important. After all, I was raised with President Kennedy's famous quote echoing in my consciousness: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." I served as a Lieutenant in the United States Army for three years, and while I may no longer wear a military uniform, I still serve my country every day as an educator. On this Veteran's Day I would like to share some lessons I learned while in the Army that help me daily as a school leader in the Kenton County School District.

1. Lead By Example

We have all heard the quote "If you are going to talk the talk, you had better walk the walk." In very real terms, this means that what I do is more important than what I say. My staff and students will be the first to notice if I make rules for others that I do not follow myself. For example, asking teachers to connect and communicate with their students and their families is an expectation I set for my staff each year, while holding myself to the same standard. No matter how busy life as a principal can be, if I have asked my staff to return communications within a 24 hour time period, then I must lead by example and meet this expectation myself. In the Army, soldiers roll up their sleeves and work until a task is finished, and I have found that teachers do the same-with me right by their sides. We serve dinners at Fall Festivals, work at extracurricular events, analyze student data, and investigate academic curricula together. Educating our students is a team effort, and as a part of that educational team I must constantly demonstrate that I am willing to carry my weight and contribute to the overall good of the school.

2. Take Care of Your Troops

The most important resource we have in the military and in education are the people we work and interact with each day. It is vital to make sure that my teachers and staff members have what they need for success. That includes training, tools, educational resources, professional development and a leader who cares about their well being. Teachers are human beings, and it is vital that I know my staff as people, colleagues, and friends. Their personal lives affect their professional work and a trusting two-way relationship promotes positive outcomes for the whole team.

3. Take Care of Yourself

This may be the one of the most challenging lessons to model as an Army veteran and principal, but one of paramount importance. All branches of the Armed Services promote mental and physical well being. A healthy lifestyle is critical to individual and organizational success. No matter how dedicated we are to our careers, it is necessary to take a break from work every now and then to spend time with the people we love, do the things we enjoy, and make sure we get the exercise and nutritious diets we need to stay in good health. Not only do we need to take care of our troops, we as leaders must remember to take care of ourselves.

I am grateful for my Army experiences that have shaped me into the leader I am today. Those key lessons of leading by example, taking care of one's troops, and taking care of oneself have stood the test of time, and have proven to be universal truths in leadership, whether in the Army or in the field of education. Although I no longer serve as a member of the armed services, I know that today I serve by leading education professionals to help shape the future of our great country.

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