My Personal Journey


The Courageous Journey was, for me, more than an official state endorsement for the professional position I hold as a district superintendent. It was a personal journey that gave me far more than I can illustrate in my final exhibition to earn my performance-based specialty superintendent endorsement.

It began in August of 2005 when, for the first time, I sat in the chair of the superintendency of my new school district. Nothing in the past had prepared me to do the job. I had knowledge (and a few good ideas) from previous positions and my administrative degree program, but bookwork and people work are entirely different.

Lairson.jpgStorm Lairson

This position held tremendous responsibility. In this small rural district located at the base of Michigan’s thumb area, I was to become everything — director of transportation, maintenance, personnel, food service, finance and all-round answer person. I was totally overwhelmed. That fall, I encountered the startup promotion for Courageous Journey and signed up for what would become the best education experience I have ever had.

A Turning Point
From the outset, I met the most amazing collection of superintendents from across the state. One was to be honored as Michigan’s superintendent of the year. One had been a superintendent longer than I had been in education. And then there was me — all of five months on the job. Yet all of us came to gathered to learn and share.

The depth of the conversations we had, the honesty and commitment to improving student achievement, and the focus on the issues of managing a school district all were laid on the table. We had enough risk takers that, soon, a trust developed. That trust allowed me to ask questions and be uncertain without fear that everyone would find me as incapable as I felt.

The Courageous Journey staff was supportive and brought us together with people who would challenge our thinking and beliefs. Lance Secretan, the author of ONE: The Art and Practice of Conscious Leadership, was one of those individuals. His conversation with us touched me emotionally and spiritually. It became the turning point of my transition from incapable to developing leader. I always had management skills. But leading is not about managing; it’s about managing to lead.

Personal Gains
I have always been a heart person, but leading is not just about heart, either. It is about a combination of shared values, shared vision, shared understanding and teamwork all wrapped up in what you believe to be the purpose of your life.

Melding who I was with my professional persona would prove to be the most freeing change. In order to bring about change in my school district, I needed to embrace the change that this journey and group of individuals was bringing about in me.

I grew more as a person in these past three years than at any other time in my life. I have shared tears, excitement and quiet acceptance with people who will forever be my friends and colleagues. I have developed a sense of purpose and understood my need to manage, not for the sake of management success but for the value good management lends to the change process. I have a mission and vision that I have shared and developed back in my district. I could, at this point, be a confident superintendent in any district as a result of this growth experience.

For now, I have much going on in my current district, which serves just under 1,000 students, and I want to see it through. My advice is simple: Never underestimate the power of bringing talented committed people together to create extraordinary change. Together, the members of my Courageous Journey cohort have become much more than we were and, as a result, we are all making a positive difference for the students in our school districts.

Thank you, Courageous Journey, and thank you, courageous colleagues, for sharing with me the journey of our professional lives.

Storm Lairson is superintendent of the Reese Public Schools in Reese, Mich. E-mail: