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STORIES FROM THE FIELD
Navigating Leadership with Lydia Okutoro-Sack
Editor Meadow Dibble talks with Lydia Okutoro-Sack, who has just wrapped up her third year in Chennai, India teaching English to Grade 6 students. Lydia's previous position was in Kuwait, where she also taught middle school English for three years.
Meadow: You’re here at the PTC’s Summer Institute; does that mean you're looking to take on a leadership role?
Lydia: Yes. I was the head of department for Grade 6-12 English for two years and just finished my term. This year, I'll be taking on some new responsibilities, looking at K–12 alignment in English, as well as running some committee work around standards-based assessment and reporting. I'm looking to become a leader at the middle school level.
Meadow: What has this experience been like for you here at the PTC? Is this your first time at the PTC’s Summer Institute?
Lydia: Last year I took two PTC courses and this year I'm planning to take two as well. I am planning to get their Certificate in International Leadership. Eventually, I'd like to be head of a middle school. I'm really excited about that. It was kind of a path that I wasn't originally on to, becoming a leader.
My background is in education, but at one point I left education to go into publishing. I worked in that sector for about seven years then came back to teaching six years ago. Now that I know I want to stick with teaching and particularly within the field of international education, I wanted to see where that path would take me.
Meadow: What brought you back to education?
Lydia: I missed the kids. I missed being in a classroom. I also missed the rhythm of the school year. During my time away, I was an educational publishing, so I was always in touch with the field and involved in designing curriculum. But like I said, I missed being in the classroom and doing the hands-on work with students and just getting in the trenches. That drove me to want to come back. But I didn't necessarily want to stay in the U.S. I wanted a different sort of experience abroad.
Meadow: Now you've been in your international school career and have been to a couple of different regions. Do you imagine that you'll continue to explore?
Lydia: Yeah, we've been open—we being myself, my husband, and my son. My husband is not a teacher; he’s what we call a “trailing spouse,” but he's a very supportive trailing spouse. And my son is five, so he'll go wherever. We are prepared to go anywhere that will work for us as a family. We are really open to any part of the world that will allow us to thrive as a family, that will allow my child to go to a school where he will thrive and be successful and happy.
Meadow: I've heard that it can be difficult as a candidate applying for positions when you have a trailing spouse. Have you encountered any obstacles along those lines?
Lydia: It is definitely a challenge. When we first came into the whole international education system, we attended a search fair in Cambridge. That was the thing that I got a lot. But it just makes you be really specific and focused about what your talents are and how you can add value to the places where you sense there might be a good fit. You have to position yourself in a way that will allow schools to see you, and your particular skills, regardless of the “package”—meaning, whether or not you have a spouse or kids. Allow them to see you as an asset. Someone who's going to bring something to the community and who's going to learn.
So while it is challenging, it's obviously not impossible. I've been at two schools with a trailing spouse, and now with a son. Having two dependents might seem like a disadvantage, but—knock on wood—so far so good. We're happy. I imagine there will be other opportunities. But right now we like where we are.
Meadow: You said it was the call of the classroom that brought you back to education. On the other hand, here you are moving into leadership. What kind of leader do you expect you would like to be?
Lydia: That's a really great question, because that's the one thing that kept me from really pursuing leadership for a long time. I was always able to see myself taking on a leadership role. And other people have certainly said to me that it’s a path I should pursue. But I was always hesitant because I thought, well, I don't want to leave the kids. But being at the PTC, talking to other people and seeing examples of leadership, I've had some really good examples of leaders. Thankfully, I feel like I can be the kind of leader that is still connected to students. At least that's what I would want. That's my vision. I want to be the kind of leader that students see around the school.
That probably means that I’ll have to be specific and very upfront about the non-negotiables. For example, I don't want to be the kind of leader that goes into the office, closes the door, and is in meetings all day. I imagine my role as being an instructional leader who is still part of how curriculum gets delivered to students, tuned in when in comes to how students receive instruction and finding ways to help them increase their learning.
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04/14/2020 - Kimberly Cavender
I worked with Lydia in Chennai and always enjoyed her in-depth knowledge and willingness to share her insights. Her leadership qualities are both innate and acquired through furthering her own education.