Byron's Babbles

Don’t Be A Border Collie Leader

Guest Post By Jill Landers





Jill Landers is in her 10th year as an educator with experience in traditional brick and mortar setting, the hybrid classroom, and full time virtual school. She participates in various leadership roles at Hoosier Academy including grade level leader, Teacher Advisory Committee, National Junior Honor Society, and Focused Leader Academy. She co-founded Empowered Teachers of Action and is a National Teacher Ambassador for K12 Schools.

Far Side

The Far Side by Gary Larson

I love this cartoon. I think we can all relate to the feeling of being perceived – at least at one point in our lives – as sheep…helpless without our “border collie” leader to micromanage every step we take and keep us properly fenced in. But we are not sheep. We have ideas, talents, contributions, creativity. Teachers sometimes struggle with being perceived as sheep, grazing in our day-to-day role in the pasture of our classrooms, looking to our administrators to lead the way. And the reality is, our leaders do set the tone for what we can achieve. And how they lead us makes all the difference. I have worked under “border collie” leaders who micromanaged and suffocated the energy and creativity of their staff. I have also worked under leaders who have empowered me. In fact, I am working for one such leader now: Dr. Byron Ernest.


Dr. Ernest recognized the need to “build the bench from within” at our school, Hoosier Academies, and developed the Focused Leader Academy. It has literally changed the trajectory of my professional career. As part of our role in the leadership academy, Dr. Ernest challenged the each member of the group to choose and develop a project that would benefit our school in some way. It has been great to see the benefits so far, and the year is not over…a new anti-bullying program and policies, national collaboration between virtual schools, graphic facilitation to support learning in the classroom, and more. Dr. Ernest asked us early on in the year what we were thinking of doing for our projects. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but because of our school’s unique needs (and therefore the need for laws/policies to support us), I was very interested in making a positive impact on educational policy in the state of Indiana. He got that look in his eye that meant the wheels were turning, and he said in his classic way, “Let me think about that. I have some ideas.”

It wasn’t long before Dr. Ernest connected me with Tosha Salyers from the Institute for Quality Education, and she and I realized we had a shared vision for meaningfully engaging teachers in educational policy. We decided to create a professional development course for which teachers could earn professional growth points (which go toward renewing their teaching licenses). I named it “Empowered Teachers of Action” (ETA) because it wasn’t just about informing teachers; it was about applying this knowledge so teachers could make a difference in their schools. From the start, I did not want this to be about getting teachers to agree with my personal views. I wanted teachers to have the tools to have informed, productive, and positive dialogue surrounding the issues about which we feel passionate.

I brainstormed topics that I, myself, wished I knew more about. We reached out to speakers who were experts in their fields, and it wasn’t long before teachers around the state – whether in person downtown or sitting online at home – were meeting on Wednesday nights and learning about past, present, and future of education in Indiana. We culminated the project on the 5th Wednesday with a trip to the Indiana State House, hearing from legislators and meeting with Brian Bosma, the Speaker of the House. Empowered Teachers of Action was a success, and we want it to be bigger and better next year and for years to come. Here is a Link to an Empowered Teachers of Action Video I made:

sheepIn his book, The Disciplined Leader, John Manning writes, “There’s nothing mysterious or complex here: When you drive decision making down into the organization and give people the freedom to make good business decisions, it becomes a formidable strategy for inspiring others to achieve goals.  It communicates that you trust and respect them, which is exactly what your people need.”  As I reflect on what I have accomplished this year, it is because I work with a leader who is not a “border collie.” He trusted and supported me; he opened the gates for me. For the first time in my career, I understand the impact of empowerment, and I look forward to possibilities that await me.



One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] our teachers, Jill Landers. Read her story on empowerment in her guest post to my blog by clicking here. Or, check out this video: […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: