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February 5, 2020

5 min

Dr. Jessica Spallino

Recognizing Jade Fernandez, Our Head of Schools, as a True Leader

Leadership is a complex endeavor that demands continuous personal and professional growth. Some work diligently at it, while others may possess some intrinsic qualities that can make it a less arduous undertaking.

As a growing leader within my own organization, I have relied on some of my own intrinsic qualities along with ample trial and error, painful mistakes and collaboration with others in ensuring progress within a growing organization.For many years since the inception of our organization, I have relied solely on my own limited skills and abilities and those of my co-founder’s to oversee growth and operations of our program.

This can be easier as you are only reliant on yourself in getting yourself to complete things the way you need or want them completed. But obviously, this has its disadvantages as well. Once the organization grows and the demands of workload and oversight increases, it is required to not only assign responsibilities to others but support them in completing work in a way that is properly aligned to the organization’s short- and long-term objectives.

The leadership path within our organization has been rich with trials and tribulations, but ultimately with growth. We have three founding members: the CEO, CBO and the Academic Lead. Due to a saturated market, we opened our doors with significantly less students than we anticipated and found ourselves scrambling the first two years. We had aimed to offer so many components from the beginning, that nothing was delivered with the substance and quality we hoped. Through these tough times, the three of us stayed committed to our vision for the organization and fought through the first couple of years of pure challenge and adversity and eventually fully refined our vision and began to grow.

As enrollment began to grow, the need for expanded leadership increased as well. Our founding Academic Lead (and now Head of Schools), Jade Fernandez, was tasked with overseeing growing instructional staff along with enhanced academics to ensure academic growth. Jade’s experience was primarily in superior instructional support for students in an independent study environment and knowledge of overall systems. Her ample experience in the space made for an excellent professional to build the instructional component of the program as the organization continued to grow.

As Jade was immersed in this role, there was significant hesitancy apparent in her leadership ability among her usual peers. Jade is humble and hard working by nature and clearly identified with her peers more comfortably than she did with her leading counterparts.

As Method Schools continued to grow and mature, the signs and pain points of Jade’s growth rate as a leader was of concern and we realized we’d either to turn outward to recruit a leader or be patient and work more closely in coaching Jade in her growth as a leader. As I observed Jade more closely in her leadership endeavors, a few key areas of needed development became clearly visible:

First, she needed to gain the level of confidence that she was an expert and absolute authority not only within her organization, but in the overall education space. Through many coaching sessions, reaching her staff through the gained knowledge and expertise, was the way she felt comfortable leading them, rather than simply stating she was their leader and assume they will follow.

Second, she had identified as a teacher for so many years and with such a deep passion and commitment to teachers and students that stepping out of the loyalty to her base was something that appeared to be quite uncomfortable for her. The best way for Jade to become comfortable was to utilize her kind and supportive nature in helping other teachers become better. Through that means, she was able to find a level of fulfillment in that she hadn’t neglected her loyalty to her fellow teachers but had found a way to help them grow in ways beyond she could have as a peer.

Third, she needed to be exposed to more experiences and scenarios where she acted as the leader and with the support she needed as new to the role. We worked on finding as many opportunities as possible where she could be exposed to the professional aspects of the organization and the overall industry with the new leader perspective. This empowered her to actually see herself as a leader in the space she had been working in for so long as a teacher.

As these three key areas continued to be refined, Jade started to think, act and execute as a leader. She developed a rapport with the instructional staff that was built on many of Jade’s intrinsic qualities and others she was tasked to develop. Because this rapport was constructed through many of her natural qualities, the culture and relationship with others was authentic and reflected Jade’s comfort level and efficacy as a leader.

In observing Jade’s continuous path to leading others, I have identified the following attributes that Jade either possesses innately or has worked hard to develop. Though not all attributes would be applicable to all leaders, they have served Jade well within her own capacity and our organization.

Jade has a natural ability to consistently understand and share the feelings of another. She utilizes this in any situation and allows it to help guide critical decisions. She relies on this trait regularly in supporting others and it has helped to create a supportive and unified culture.

A natural mindfulness towards every action taken along with the ability to admit mistakes and weak spots is something Jade has possessed for the twenty years I have known and observed her. No matter the situation, it is assured that you will receive direct honesty from Jade. This level of conscientiousness has helped to create a model for all others to follow.

Jade’s deep professional knowledge is the primary tool she’s utilized to transition to leadership. Independent study has many requirements that require alignment along with professional judgment. Jade is not authoritative by nature but is comfortable within her scope of expertise and helping pothers with it.

Jade demonstrates a persistent dedication and enthusiasm for the progress and growth of the organization. She is always thinking and implementing ways to grow students and teachers and this tireless dedication moves the organization forward in big ways and small.

Performance that aligns to the organization's vision and the insight to make critical decisions within the big picture is essential for leadership success. As a veteran teacher, Jade wasn’t always aware of the big picture. Through consistent exposure to the big picture and the empowerment to make decisions and develop initiatives within it, Jade has become a key ambassador of the organization’s vision. This increased awareness has empowered her to help others align their practices and initiatives to the overall vision of the organization.

For any organization to continue to compete, change is essential. Change is not easy for many and Jade was one that accepted it but wasn’t a key advocate of it. Through her deeper understanding and experience as a leader, Jade began to not only more readily accept change but on the constant lookout for things that needed changing and improvement to better serve students and teachers. She continues to work on this with her instructional staff to build a culture of change and versatility to best serve students.

These are attributes I will continue to look for in future leaders as these have served our Head of Schools quite well. I also hope to continue to add new attributes to this list as growth continues and additional leaders are developed. Many attributes may be commonly shared among leaders, but every individual will likely bring some of their own and that is what makes for a rich and diverse culture and organization.

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