To my Younger Self:
Looking back on my professional career, I am writing to share some recommendations of things I would have done differently and some affirmations of things I found to be particularly beneficial in my professional journey as a scholar, professor, and servant leader. I have now served in academia since 1996 after attaining my doctoral degree in educational administration from the University of Texas at Austin. My university work built upon my previous professional experiences as a teacher in elementary, middle, and high school; as a high school counselor; as an assistant elementary principal; as a middle school principal; and as an educational consultant for a regional education center. At the university level, I served as a principal program coordinator for three years and as a department chair and doctoral program director for ten years in Texas before retiring and moving to California where I now serve again as department chair and doctoral program director as a tenured professor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
When I consider things that I would tell my younger self to do differently, I would say, “Always, turn every conference paper presentation into a publication.” Too often, I was guilty of completing the conference paper presentation and then moving to the next project instead of following up with sending the paper for publication. I particularly recall two times that I sent papers for publication and received only minor changes and encouragement to revise and resubmit, but I had moved to new projects and didn’t resubmit with the minor revisions. It is important to share our work through publications to contribute to the national, regional, and state dialogue concerning educational leadership, and too often, I didn’t engage in that next step of publication. I remember hearing a presenter at a conference once share that as a district leader, they were more interested in doing than in publishing. I think I was often guilty of this mantra, and in looking back, I would encourage my younger self to remember the value of publishing in sharing lessons learned, to be sure to submit those conference papers for publication, and to follow-up if comments of revise and resubmit were received.
In terms of things that I would affirm as highly influential in my professional career, I would encourage my younger self to devote my attention to projects and goals wherein I feel a commitment and passion to make a positive difference. I feel that I did this through my work in partnership with local districts to implement grants for strengthening a college-going culture for traditionally underserved students, for engaging in the redesign and implementation of quality educational leadership preparation programs, and for seeking to meet the local contextual needs that arose such as increasing cultural proficiency and knowledge and skills in meeting the needs of English learners. Working with the many partnership grants that we were awarded was immensely gratifying, and I would encourage this work again.
I would also encourage my younger self to become involved with research networks and professional organizations, such as serving on the Executive Board of the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration, now International Council of Professors of Educational Leadership. These experiences were invaluable to my growth and provided the opportunity to engage in ongoing learning with other scholars who shared a common interest in improving the educational opportunities for all students. I would encourage my younger self to savor the wonderful relationships with colleagues that were formed as we worked together toward achieving a common goal. I would also encourage my younger self to love your students and colleagues. They will enrich your life. Finally, I would encourage my younger self to also take time to “smell the flowers”, to engage in those quiet moments of reflection, and to ever keep growing.
Letter to my younger self:
After 20 years as a teacher and administrator in K-12, it’s 1999 and I’m driving to my first Higher Ed assignment – a regional university in East Texas. Just before I enter the town, it begins to rain, and, there it is – a huge beautiful rainbow! What an affirmation that the risk I am taking is one of promise and hope. So, what should I do to let that rainbow of promise lead to a life of purpose? What can I do to affirm this foundation of potential?
Step 1: Engage: Build respectful relationships with others - engage with a diverse group of others with same and different beliefs and experiences. Engaging with the world around me contributes to growth. Always look for a bridge to our shared humanity.
Step 2: Enhance: Participate in every opportunity that comes my way. . . committees, conferences, publishing. Participating in a multitude of opportunities will broaden my reach beyond Texas and, more importantly, beyond myself to enhance my life professionally (example: research, teaching agenda) and personally. Always approach life expectantly.
Step 3: Enable: Enable others to reach their potential through mentoring and supporting their success. Always look for ways to support others.
Step 4: Enrich: Commit to life-long learning through being fully present as I listen and learn from others. There are no experiences that I will have that cannot enrich my life through deep reflection. Always seek the promise.
Step 5: Entrust: Be willing to entrust my future to the wisdom and guidance of a Higher Power. Always use the talents with which I’ve been entrusted wisely and with humility. Acknowledge, affirm, and activate these skills /abilities which have been entrusted to me to make the World a kinder, gentler place.
Step 6: Enjoy: Seek joy in the journey. . . Every step of the way.
I must remember to... Engage, Enhance, Enable, Enrich, Entrust, and Enjoy.
(Dr. Sandra Harris)