Courageous Leadership


“We have to be engaged at the heart level in order to be courageous champions.” -Margaret Wheatley


When I decided to enter the world of educational leadership, I underestimated the value of courage. I was enthusiastic and somewhat naïve about my role as a school leader. Within weeks of my new leadership journey, I quickly learned that I needed to deal with difficult situations that I didn’t feel prepared for. We explored challenging leadership scenarios in my administrative credential coursework, but nothing compared to the daily decisions that required deep reflection, courage, and soul searching.


My first year was full of opportunities to practice reflection and courageous leadership. Those opportunities included having difficult conversations and supporting team members who needed a boost.


*The educator who couldn’t find the courage to raise expectations for students, and not raise her voice.

*The parent who had good intentions but intimidated staff and children.

*The staff member who needed to find the motivation to be the best team member he could be.

*All were situations that required relationship building, compassion, and sincere dialogue about solutions.


My passion for education and love for my school community were simply not enough. I’ve never worked as hard as I did my first year as principal. I worked through the challenges and found my leader voice. It was a voice that compelled me to question my role and required me to find the courage to support others, sometimes unwilling participants, in making changes for students. I could not have found my voice without establishing trust and complete transparency with my team. The establishment of strong relationships helped us move forward with a solid focus and collective commitment to our school community.


Four years into my principal journey, I have learned more than I imagined about courage and leadership. This great work is rewarding, challenging, and ever-changing. It calls for courageous individuals with moral purpose who do much more than identify needs and gaps. Courageous leaders followthrough with actions that challenge and change the needs and gaps.


I have come a long way from my first year as an educational leader and the learning continuous. I look forward to many many more courageous leadership opportunities. I am fortunate and honored to do this work and strive to lead with courage, love, and purposeevery day for every child.


Rosa Isiah currently serves students as principal of Lucille Smith Elementary School Principal in California. Rosa is passionate about equity, closing the achievement-opportunity gap, and learning with her school community. She believes in the power of relationships and leading with a growth mindset.

To read more by Rosa.

Are You Leading with Questions?

Today’s post is by Rosa Isiah, a passionate lead learner/principal serving students daily at Lucille Smith Elementary School in California.

Are You Leading with Questions?

Think back to your last leadership or team meeting. As facilitator, did you create opportunities for the team to process and discuss questions? How did the team engage? Many of us walk into meetings with exhausting agendas that lack opportunities for dialogue or problem solving through questioning. Research indicates that questions, the right questions, can positively influence an organization in a variety of ways. A question has the power to identify problems, challenge the status quo, identify biases…all catalysts for creativity, collaboration, and change.

Asking the right questions after 22 years

After 22 years as an educator and educational leader, I’ve recently learned about the importance of effective questioning. I engage in the challenging and satisfying work of creating an organizational culture of risk-taking and problem-solving. I’ve learned to be mindful about asking questions in a number of settings and situations. My goal is to balance questioning with listening when engaging with students, teachers, and parents. The results are remarkable. The focus has shifted from what I think or want to what WE think and want for OUR school. I find myself doing less talking and becoming a deeper listener.

Who’s asking the questions?

If research indicates that questioning is transformational to an organization, why aren’t we doing more of it in the educational setting? Simply stated, our educational system does not foster, support, or encourage questioning. In a traditional system, the leader is the authority and keeper of knowledge. Questioning is often perceived as challenging authority. It’s impossible for an organization to identify problems and develop solutions when the team isn’t encouraged to think. Change the mindset and encourage your team members to take risks by asking questions. The entire organization will benefit.

Courageous Questions = Courageous Conversations

Questions challenge the status quo and disrupt dysfunctional systems. What if we didn’t go along with what’s always been done? Addressing achievement gaps, educational inequities, and a number of other educational and societal issues require us to ask courageous questions and engage in courageous conversations. We will continue to fail our neediest students if we lack the courage to ask “why?”

Inspire Creativity and Change

The most difficult part of our work is implementing change. Change requires one to release old habits and adopt new behaviors, forcing us out of our comfort zones. The process of change always begins with a great question and asking exploratory questions is crucial to problem solving and creativity. How might we begin to push our teams out of their comfort zones with the right questions? What are the right questions for change?

Our current educational system takes a solution-based approach to solving problems. We are eager to solve problems and provide solutions without dialogue and questioning. We are graded or evaluated based on coming up with solutions for problems that we may not necessarily need to solve. Asking the right questions has the power to transform not only our educational systems, but our lives. Questions spark innovation and creativity and challenge us to continue to improve our work. Great leaders lead by asking, not telling. Great leaders lead by asking the right questions, even if they do not have the answers.

How might you use questions to lead change in YOUR organization?

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” – Voltaire


Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question. New York, NY: Bloomsbury