The One Word Leaders Rarely Use

The great privilege I have is working with leaders and districts all over Canada and the US and seeing what it takes to create cultures of joy. Joy is the word I use and have begun to see more and more educators use this to describe their classrooms, schools, and districts.

I was humbled to help kick of Royse City Independent School District‘s year. They’ve adopted the theme of joy for this school year. The students opened the morning’s festivities, and then they shared this video.


The inclusion of the school board, mayor and other community members spoke volumes of the importance of public education in this region.

Six teachers were asked to share what joy meant to them. Each told a compelling story of what it’s like to teach in Royse City ISD. I wasn’t sure anyone needed to hear my message to add to what was already an uplifting, joyful celebration of learning. After I shared, Superindent Kevin Worthy ended the morning by giving every employee a $1000 that was funded by a surplus of funds. Kevin is someone whom I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over the past year or so and would rank him about the very best leaders I’ve seen.

While joy was the theme, the one word I kept thinking about was love. Love is not a word we use a lot. Occasionally teachers will say they love their students. It seems to be a more acceptable term when we’re talking about the relationship between teacher and student. It’s not so common when used with employers and employees. But I’d dare say Kevin loves the teachers and support staff of his district. Kevin is genuinely proud of those that work in his district and uses Twitter as one way to tell that story.

The many other great leaders I’ve seen also show a deep love and affection for those they serve. You can tell when they speak about them. There are managers and CEO’s whose gifts and strengths lie in administrating and strategy. These are necessary skills. But I’m not sure you can be a great leader in education without love. If we’re in agreement that relationships are at the core of what makes great classrooms, schools, and districts, love seems to be an essential. Caring for people both as professionals but also as human beings make for joyful work places.

Sadly I know of other districts and leaders who are devoid of any semblance of such care and affection. I’ve heard of a couple of school openings this year where it was basically a meeting to review the rules, goals, and challenges of the upcoming year. Not that this isn’t important, but it seems a bit premature when people have not seen each other for months. No time was given to celebrate, share and dream. It’s why a few years back I wrote what I’d like to here at the start of a school year. Contrast that with the end of the Royse City opening.


Please don’t focus on the gift. It was a chance for a district to say thank you to their employees. Whether you were a crossing guard or a high school physic teacher, you left that day feeling loved and valued. While Texas does not have teacher unions and has this freedom, I know district leaders in Canada I work with that share the same affection for their teacher and show their love in different ways.

I recall a post from Bud Hunt 6 years ago that resonated with me.  Love in education is important but not used very often. I guess because it’s not a typical part of the employee, employer relationship. Maybe, much like teacher and student, there’s an underlying assumption that tension and antagonism are dormant feelings waiting to emerge. I can tell you this certainly is true in many jurisdictions.  It’s an “us vs. them” culture where trust is gone. What’s sad is that often leaders do not see this and make no attempt to resolve this. Love is the last word I’d use to describe these places.

To leaders, is love a word you’re comfortable using? If so, what does it look like?