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A Gaggle of Geese: A Guide to Gallant Leaders

February 20, 2023

What is a leader? Some may feel it is defined by a single person, others may consider it an approach to teamwork. While a vast number of people may agree that good leadership is essential to the function of an organization or community, the traits and theories behind effective leadership may vary. These principles are the capstone to successful collaboration. Main qualities of a leader are the ability to reflect, openness to learn and thinking flexibly. While leadership posters often boast a majestic picture of the bald eagle, the type of leadership that is more successful is not the watchful eye of a solitary eagle, rather the community of a gaggle of geese. Ironically, although many school mascots are an eagle, the type of school leadership that is truly effective has the spirit of a flock of flying geese.

One of the most prominent features of geese is their sense of community. Geese do not graze or travel alone. There is an increased visibility which offers protection as there is strength in numbers. Relating this distinction to a school setting, leaders need to be visible and involved. An effective leader cannot be tucked away in their office. Their presence has an impact on students and on teachers. School leadership thrives when all members of the school are united. A group of geese are “in it together,” regardless of the type of weather or circumstance. When a staff community sticks together, there is more engagement within the whole school dynamic. Individuals can look to each other for support and feel empowered with the connections. The significance of interconnecting with colleagues as it relates to long term teacher sustainability. When a community is unified, it demonstrates the investment in the climate and culture of the school. A positive school climate contributes directly to overall success in the school, for both students and staff. When individuals are together, it builds more safety and trust. When there is trust, more openness exists. All other aspects of professional development build upon the foundation of community.

Glancing at a gaggle of geese, one could not decipher which specific one is the leader of the pack. There is no alpha who dominates the flock. Rather, there is purpose in the distributed leadership. When flocks of geese graze or fly together, they are perceived as a collective whole. There is not even one that is set apart, instead they all are part of the unified group. Geese are often seen flying in a V-formation. This aids the geese in achieving the common goal of reaching their destination because the wind friction decreases from the uplift of the other birds’ wings. As the goose feels friction from the wind, it quickly needs to realign its position and reorient itself within the formation. Leaders within a school also need to self-reflect and analyze what is working by using data. Data collection could be derived from conversations and observations, along with more formal methods such as surveys and assessments. The objective is to collect evidence to determine what needs to change and then be flexibly astute to make those required changes. The ability to reflect and readjust repeatedly makes for an effective school leader. Updating our own beliefs from what has been typically done in the past along with being self-aware are significant elements of a productive leader.

Another constituent of effective leadership is goal-oriented behavior with underlying trust in others. Moving into the vertex of the flying V formation, there is one bird flying in front as a guide. However, when the front goose gets tired, it rotates to the back, and another goose in the flock takes over the position. There is distributed leadership and empowerment for others. There is flexibility and humbleness in recognizing one’s needs and limitations. The decision is made giving priority to the advantage of the entire group, rather than a desire to maintain a title. The focus is on the goal, not on the role. Instead of holding back the group by slowing down, geese provide an opportunity for another to take over. The result is a seamless transition of responsibility without disruption of what is truly important. Within a school setting, there also needs to be distributed leadership. The delegation of roles and responsibilities are crucial to the effective functioning of a school. A plan for effective school leadership, including delegating responsibilities, ensures that the work is done with quality and consistency. A second key component in this example is trust. When individuals feel, they are trusted to do their job without micromanagement, they feel more empowered in their role and confident to make future decisions. All members of the group need to feel their role is impactful and their perspective is valued. Within the V formation, everyone has an important role and responsibility. A micromanaging leader disengages and discourages teachers from stepping into a teacher leader position. However, the sense of autonomy and trust is impactful not only on the teacher, but on the entire school.

A prominent leadership quality is the ability to appreciate, encourage and motivate especially while working towards a common goal. This is another noteworthy trait in geese. While flying, when a goose notices that another is slowing down, they will honk for encouragement and uplift them to increase speed. In a school setting, support and encouragement are vital to feelings of motivation and appreciation. While the communication and collaboration style may vary from each person, it is important to provide helpful feedback. This can also translate into the classroom as teachers provide constructive and inquiry-based feedback. A strong leader maximizes any opportunity for positive engagement and conversations. Small moments can have big impacts in building rapport which helps to establish alliances for a distributed leadership model. These seemingly casual interactions aid in opening the lines of communication and promoting an overall positive school culture.

Leadership in schools can also be apparent in mentoring and team relations. These relationships thrive with support and alliances. We can once again look at geese and their teamwork in assisting a lost or injured goose. While traveling, geese are attentive to see if one is missing and then two other geese follow it down to take care and protect it. They wait together until it is able to fly again, and then create a smaller V formation as they join the rest of the group. This demonstrates the value of each individual and genuine care for each other. This also represents consistency in procedures and a safe holding environment. Within a school setting, mentorship is built on mutual respect and care on a personal level. When we invest time to get to know each other as individuals first, we can then grow together professionally. Mentorship is a leadership role which leads by example. A new teacher may feel lost as they adjust to the new setting, but with the support, guidance and care of a mentor, the journey of the school year will be much smoother with more opportunities of success.

I believe leadership is not the role of a single person, but the effective ability to inspire, support and work cooperatively as a team. When individuals collaborate with a unified vision, they achieve more and experience many additional benefits along the way. A team of people supporting, motivating and guiding each other as leaders will accomplish more. Good leaders invest in building relations and distribute responsibilities with a common goal. School leaders don’t fly alone, they encourage everyone to soar. Like geese, everyone can fly higher with the right leadership.

About the author

Asima Bhatty is a compassionate, culturally responsive educator and SEL Facilitator for a public elementary school in Arlington Heights, IL. A lifelong member of Omicron Delta Kappa: the National Leadership Honors Society, and current Teacher Leadership graduate student at Northwestern University, she exemplifies lifelong learning through reflection, growth and collaboration. She is passionate about uplifting others through a social emotional learning approach. After five years of teaching in the classroom and instilling values of positivity and emotional intelligence, Asima is spreading her message to other teachers with hopes of sparking creativity and generating joy into our important work. She has led professional development courses in the areas of SEL and Culturally Responsive Teaching. Asima is committed to nurturing students to become optimal learners, empathetic individuals and empowered future leaders.