Sun behind mountain, with blue sky

Walking Beside Each Other, In the Heat and In the Breeze

Kenny ChiltonLeadership Lab, Leadership Programs, Pedagogy Of Leadership®, Student Leadership

by Kenny Chilton, Elementary Educator, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School TX

Somehow, leaving the 2023 Leadership Lab leaves me more inspired and activated than I was as a participant in 2022. This is unexpected. Going into the Lab, I was excited to do things like help people see the value of the Heifetzian “crucible,” to lean further into my own discomforts and growth areas, and to aid people in developing plans for implementation in their own schools. 

What surprised me was how much I learned via osmosis from my fellow Scholars, the faculty, the lab group I was with (go Berdy’s Bunch!), and every participant I met. I can say with confidence that the Pedagogy of Leadership® has become an integral part of my practice and life outside of teaching. 

I proclaim that the way the faculty led the group this year was nothing short of magic, at which point I can hear a chorus of protests from the faculty that it is not magic. It is an immense lift from a high-functioning team that leans into what they preach. I saw the faculty take on challenges with expertise and care for their students. The commitment to the participant experience and takeaways has changed the way I view my work. I have always thought my students were the most important part of what I do, as we all do, but I have seen a new level of commitment and responsiveness that will affect how I teach moving forward. We have different relationships to the concept of feedback; the Lab embodies how feedback can and should exist as a nutrient that feeds every teacher’s and leader’s practice. 

Experiencing the way the heat is turned up at the Leadership Lab is one thing; seeing the way the heat is carefully stoked with intention is another. The Lab gives people the chance to experiment with what stands in the way of teaching leadership to students. When we think about productive learning experiences, we have much to learn from the way the gcLi faculty can avoid manipulation and find the very real areas that people need a slight push into their productive zones of disequilibrium. Repeatedly over the course of a week, faculty lovingly nudged people to see those things for themselves and challenge them. I learned from watching people deal with biases they have, brainstorm around perceived logistical challenges, and figure out how to work within a system instead of against it. I hope I can carry this intentionality, beget from empathy and listening, into my own communities. 

Sunny day in desert, a road in middle of it

It would feel remiss to not include a story, as storytelling is often used in the Lab as a tool. I grew up with less than fortunate means. My parents, both immigrants, worked hourly jobs, constantly providing in the face of extreme shortages. On top of that, being an outsider in a small East Texas town comes with its own set of unique challenges. On the many walks, I took with my dad to the grocery store in order to save gas or because our only car was inoperable, he always made sure I walked beside him, instead of behind or in front of him. When I asked him about this, he explained the importance of seeing each other’s pace and being able to sync up. I would have assumed that the adult, especially in instances of safety and survival, should walk in the front, leading me to the store. Instead, we walked beside each other. That way, we see each other’s needs. I am excited to walk beside my students and colleagues as we both model and explicitly teach leadership. 

All of this to say that the Leadership Lab has once again been the best professional development I have ever attended. The gratitude I carry for this group of faculty members is immense. In a time when there is a societal need for leadership, educators and administrators should urgently be flocking to the Lab. As I return to the very real Texas heat, I am holding onto the cool Colorado breeze, the view of the mountains from Fountain Valley’s campus, and the pressing calling I have to help my students see themselves as leaders.

Kenny Chilton is an elementary educator and aspiring school leader in Austin, TX. Kenny currently serves as a 3rd grade teacher at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, and has previously worked as a math department chair and an educator in various elementary grades. In his current role, Kenny enjoys integrating service projects and experiences outside the classroom into student learning, as well as centering social justice and leadership in the curriculum, helping students see themselves as people capable of making an impact from any age. Kenny’s background in theatre comes in handy as he seeks to make connections between what students are learning and the world, much like any good play seeks to do. Kenny was a participant in the gcLi Leadership Lab in June 2022, where he developed plans to expand his sphere of influence beyond the classroom. The work he is proudest of over the last year includes helping reshape the SEL curriculum for the Lower School at St. Andrew’s, developing a system for live feedback for the Head of Lower School based on the system in place at gcLi, and leading the development of community norms for the faculty and staff in the Lower School. When he is not teaching, you can find Kenny playing with his two daughters and wife, playing Dungeons & Dragons or recording his D&D podcast, playing any sport outside, or getting lost in a good story.