By Amanda Riegel, Excelle Director
One of my biggest goals in creating Excelle was to build confidence in women, yet a colleague challenged me by saying, “How can you give confidence to others?” I agree that it must be grown from within, but I believe that women can gain confidence from a collective. Accordingly, Excelle’s model focuses on women in partnership, meeting monthly in cohorts and in pairs, gathering strength from both “seeing and being seen.” Excelle women show vulnerability, yet we are empowered by the process of recognizing similarities in our common experience, especially as women. Leadership is often executed in isolation, yet knowing that close colleagues are working in tandem gives women reassurance, allowing everyone to feel elevated and empowered.
We acknowledge the complexity of our multiple roles (personal and professional).
We have all heard the phrase that school leadership is more “lifestyle” than “vocation,” but when you layer in the multiple roles that women often hold, the picture becomes even more complex. Being in charge of a school or division brings necessary stress, but adding on the responsibilities of parenting, aging generations, maintaining a household, sustaining personal relationships, planning for time “off”…it is no wonder that women feel that there are not enough hours in the day. Excelle women realize that each of these roles takes emotional time and energy, and we remind each other to make space to recharge. We celebrate “me” moments, times when colleagues have invested in themselves, gained achievements, or simply shared images through What’sApp that bring immediate smiles. The 30 Second Dance Party buttons that arrived on everyone’s doorstep in the new year reminded us that making time to move and giggle is always worth it, even for just 30 seconds!
We lean into the social-emotional aspects of leadership.
School leadership is a relational endeavor. Managing personalities and navigating family and personnel dynamics take a high degree of emotional intelligence. Excelle women have learned to trust their instincts in dealing with complex dynamics, identifying the root cause of conflict, and building trust through empathy and kindness. Investing in relationships takes time, and we share clever strategies of how to build community, yet we also embrace intense moments of emotion together. We throw out our agenda if someone needs the space to be raw and vulnerable. We pause when a family member passes, when a Board Chair doesn’t take the lead, when one’s child has a developmental trajectory that becomes an administrative decision…We name the elephant in the room and offer support for its ripple effects.
We empathize with the underdog.
There are more leaders in education who do not look and feel like us, and we feel a responsibility to maintain a higher level of excellence than colleagues who do not represent various aspects of diversity. As such, we gain strength from sharing personal and professional experiences that have made us feel compromised or overlooked. We celebrate the diversity of our Collective, and we recognize each others’ blindspots with respect and common humanity. Excelle women have a keen awareness of equity. We value direct conversations, yet we communicate our truths with sensitivity and humility. Above all, we understand that the honesty and confidentiality we share is earned. We all affirm that engaging in deep and meaningful conversations around Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging is necessary and hard, yet many of us still have questions that we are not comfortable asking in a group setting. Excelle has fostered individual relationships as trusted confidants who give each other “permission to stumble,” valuing truth and honesty, always.
We understand that strength comes from interdependence.
Many women are adept at multitasking, but smart leaders have learned how to delegate with intention. They take the time to recognize the strengths of their team and assign responsibilities accordingly. Surrounding oneself with top talent and publicly recognizing the achievements of others sets a tone for cooperation and motivates teams to shine. Excelle women embrace the benefits of distributive leadership, and they are mentors in a variety of settings. One Head has even agreed to serve on the Board for another member. Indeed, we encourage Excelle women to lean into each other, leveraging relationships to benefit the larger collective. We share professional introductions, job postings, candidate referrals, and recommend resources. “Monday Hour One” has been a popular online training tool for managing impossible calendars. We wish that our head got a commission for recommending that one- it is that good!
There are 22 powerful and dynamic reasons that busy women set aside 90 minutes to gather together each month…and all agree that they are worth the investment. Confidence CAN be contagious but ironically thrives best in environments where humility abounds.