The Leadership Initiative invited its members to reflect on different aspects of leadership, bringing to light unique pathways, approaches, challenges and lessons learned. TLC hopes that through this series you get to know these diverse individuals and take away an appreciation for their journeys and leadership skills and its impact on the lives of children, families, their staff and communities.  

Spotlight: Michelle Boyd, Classroom Support Coordinator, Kennedy Children’s Center, Bronx. NY

What is your personal mantra?

What one thinks and what one says, that is what becomes reality. I have seen in my life that it is really important to share my truth and how I am feeling because I have seen how things have come to fruition based on how I am thinking, based on my perception. So what one thinks and one speaks is what comes into fruition.

How would you describe yourself as a leader today and what kind of leader do you want to become?

I come from a background of two social workers in my family and I have a foundation in child life psychology so intuitively my style of leadership starts with looking inward at the people I lead. I want to discover and understand who is that person, what makes up that person, what is important to that person. I do this on an individual level and then through a team dynamic lens as well. It is important as a leader that I know my teammates well and grow in my understanding of them.

As I develop further as a leader, it is especially important now with everything that is going on, that I pay more attention to my role in advocacy. I want to understand and work on the ways that I can advocate not just for my school but also the community that surrounds my school.

What is the biggest or most significant challenge that you face in your leadership?

Currently, I am in a continuous place of rethinking collaboration in the context of my role as a leader. My biggest challenge is looking within myself and reflecting on what I am doing to foster collaboration and where it is difficult for me. Identifying ways in which collaboration can get stuck, such as personality differences or challenges with communication, is important to be able to work through it and move forward. As a leader within the school I want to make sure I am eliciting and fostering collaboration across the school and the departments within the school.

How do leaders grow and get better?

I think we need to look to children and imitate them in how they learn and grow—by asking questions and having an inquisitive nature. The only way you can grow is to ask questions and have the humility to understand that mistakes are inevitable. Making mistakes, experiencing those mistakes, is part of how you grow. There is no growth without those mistakes. Embrace the lessons that come with that. We should always be searching and wanting to learn more.

How do you handle criticism?

When I am faced with criticism I always try to take a step back and look at the person’s intention and the why. When it is constructive and it is really about building up our program or our community, or even my leadership skills and craft, then I can handle it and hear it. In other words, when the intention is strengths-based. It is challenging when it is not strengths-based because what is left unknown is, “how is this going to help me grow?” It is important for leaders for to remember this as they offer feedback to others. 

What is something that others can do today to make their spaces, programs, and relationships more inclusive?

People need to feel heard. Everyone is vital. It is imperative that people feel validated and heard. We are not always going to agree but do we need to have space where people can express their thoughts and ideas. If that exists, then we can come together and figure out how are we are going to proceed so that we can meet the needs of our school community. If this doesn’t exist and happen then there is a lack of trust. People will question, “Am I really valued? Am I a valued member of this community?” As leaders we always need to be thinking about this and how to build community in our spaces. My teachers have been so incredible with how they have adjusted during this time and they are adapting and doing such an amazing job with the children. I always want to make sure they feel that way and they know that I see that in them. This is so important for our sense of community and each individual’s sense of value to that community.  

Any last thoughts?

We are going to get through this. It is important to me to have faith. As challenging as it is, we are going to get through this challenging time. And, what we are learning in the process will help us to become better and grow. So it is not just about getting through it but rather focusing on how is this going to help us evolve. Think about the lesson we are learning from these changes. Others have reminded me of this and I think it’s important to share that much of what we are facing and doing are things we have always done, we are just doing them in different ways.

Jenna Pettinicchi is the Assistant Director of the Leadership Initiative.