Reclaiming Leadership of Companioning

Just now, I completed reviewing the professional portfolio of a colleague and friend. Each page and sentence was filled with her masterful teaching practice, one I was privileged to share.

If there ever was a professional relationship I could point to as a ‘reclamation of the leadership of companioning,’ it was this one. While I was the ‘school leader’ and she was the ‘teacher,’ no one was in the lead, the mutuality and reciprocity were so sure.

In schools, we can fall into the trap of telling, demanding, or insisting. We write policies and persist in systems of compliance.

I’m curious about the smallest unit of change that disrupts this paradigm. Could it be reclaiming the leadership of companioning?

This past fall, I took a 6-week course on this topic from the vantage point of my own spiritual tradition. Because I see our work in schools as significant and sacred, it is often an easy leap from my spiritual roots to my perspectives on school leadership. Cultivating a learning community is life-giving work.

Here’s what I learned…

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

Companionship Decolonizes

Companionship disrupts hierarchy and autocratic systems. It deconstructs colonial mindsets and shifts traditional power structures.

This way of leading honors each member of a community and team, particularly the elders.

‘Companionship’ connotes a relationship of generosity, thoughtfulness, and mutuality.

Companionship is Loving

This type of leadership grows up over years.

It validates the inner journey. It is relational, even ‘loving.’ Recently, the bell hooks definition of love has been on my tongue.

“Love is an act of will, both an intention and an action. Love as ‘the will to extend one’s self for the the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. ‘

~bell hooks

On your team, who are you connecting with in this life-affirming, nurturing way?

Companionship is Steeped in Story

In Keith R. Anderson’s book, Reading Your Life’s Story, he writes,

“We are formed by our story and we are formed as we tell our story to others and as we learn to read our life as story with others….we recognize all of life as story.”

As we journey together on the pilgrimage of creating learning experiences, caring for children, and investing our lifeblood into growing our educational practice, we are formed by this story.

We need leaders who will read our journey as a story, one where emotional and even spiritual dimensions are as germane as a cognitive or professional challenge.

There’s No Time?!

You might ask, “Karine, when do I have time for this type of leadership?” I barely have enough time to do my formal observations or evaluation reports. This is impossible.

Well, I might ask, “In the current teacher shortage crisis sweeping North America, can you afford not to shift to something fresh and inspiring?”

Then, I would ask my favorite constraint-busting question, “You can, if….”

How I chose to do it, even on our small team: embrace a distributed leadership model.

Early on, I realized, I could only nurture the depth of relationship I wanted with about 6-8 people. So, I intentionally chose my leadership team.

Don’t get me wrong. I had intentional check-ins with the entire faculty in stand-up meetings twice per week. I regularly had 1:1 meetings with everyone on the team. But, I knew my ‘leadership of companionship’ would be with the leaders of the school and they intentionally would reflect the same amidst their teams.

This distributed leadership organizational structure, based on ‘companioning,’ steadied the teams well through several challenging seasons, including the height of the pandemic.

Listening to the Everyday

Possibly, a new organizational structure isn’t even feasible based on the constraints of your district or policies. Then, consider how you can begin to nudge or shift your leadership practice to be more companioning.

I would venture to say, it takes only minutes per week to ‘listen to the everyday’ of your faculty and team.

Carrie Newcomer writes about this notion in her song, Holy as a Day is Spent:

Holy as a day is spent

holy is the dish and drain

the soap and sink, and the cup and plate

and the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile

showerheads and good dry towels

and frying eggs sound like psalms with bits of salt measured in my palm

it’s all a part of a sacrament

as holy as a day is spent…

While in our school contexts, ‘dishes and drains’ may be ‘pencils and notebooks,’ you get the idea.

We sanctify the hardships, weights, simplicities, and wonderings of our teachers when we merely listen to the everyday.

Check-in practices help you do this process en masse. If you don’t yet have a check-in practice with your team, check out:

These check-in practices will help you reclaim the leadership of companionship.

For the sake of the children,

Karine 🌱