Dr. Lindsay Whorton’s story with Holdsworth began in 2015, when she was tapped to develop the blueprint for the center’s inaugural program while working as a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Washington D.C. Lindsay worked with The Holdsworth Center Organizing Board leading up to the launch in January 2017, who then recruited her to work for the new organization.
As managing director of district support, Lindsay designed the strategy for supporting partner districts in their efforts to grow their pipeline of great leaders. In April 2018, the Holdsworth governing board named her vice president and dean and in March 2019, president.
1. What makes this work meaningful to you personally?
In fifth grade, I knew I was going to be a teacher. I believe teaching is a beautiful and complex job where you get to use all your gifts. But my path unfolded differently when I got the opportunity to study international education systems. The thing that struck me through that journey was that in other places, they do a better job of creating the conditions in which teachers thrive. In the U.S., I see too many educators leave their jobs because it is such a tough career. As a society, we must figure out how to change the narrative for teaching to be a more sustainable career and provide educators with the support, training, resources and respect they deserve.
While I still believe the relationship between teacher and student is where the real magic happens, I also know that great leaders create the kind of environment where teachers feel motivated to do their best work. At Holdsworth, we have a remarkable opportunity to provide support and resources to the people doing the thing that really matters. That’s what really motivates me.
2. Can you pinpoint one personal experience that exemplifies why you feel so passionately about your work?
There was a boy in our fifth-grade class who struggled academically and was acting out a lot. I would often finish my work early and turn around to help him. Eventually, encouraged by my teacher, Mrs. Francis, we were skipping recess and lunch so I could tutor him in all the subjects where he was falling behind. He started to have a different experience in school. He never became one of the “cool kids” (I wasn’t one either!), but started to find social integration in our class.
This happened at a pivotal time for me. I was not a conventional child. I was quite cerebral –some might say nerdy— but also extremely athletic and competitive. This combination didn’t allow me to fit in neatly with any of my peers. It was a particularly lonely year, which I now realize is not uncommon for fifth grade. But the experience of using some of the things that were unique about me—and at the time felt like liabilities—to make a difference for someone else, gave me a sense of purpose and meaning. I also had a teacher who really saw me and cared about me. She continued to send me cards and notes of encouragement into my 20s until she passed away, which really sealed the deal for me on the impact of educators.
That was the point where I thought, “Of course I will be a teacher.” Seven years later, I watched my fifth-grade classmate walk across the stage at graduation and felt an immense sense of pride in his achievement.
The same is true for the work we do at Holdsworth. We get to work with remarkable people and watch them excel, grow and accomplish goals they set for themselves. Just like with my old classmate, it feels extremely rewarding to play even a small role in their success.
3. You were hired early on as a consultant to design the Holdsworth partnership. You could have handed it off to someone else and moved on. Why did you decide to make the leap and stay with Holdsworth?
After working with the organizing board to articulate on a piece of paper what Holdsworth could be, I had technically fulfilled my responsibility and was supposed to return to my job in Washington, D.C. But getting the concept on paper was not even close to the hardest and most important part. I knew there was a huge amount of work to do to bring that piece of paper to life. I felt a responsibility to make sure this thing I had said was a good idea actually came to fruition and fulfilled its promise.
I also knew that being part of something like Holdsworth would be a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had gotten to work with Klein ISD and Grand Prairie ISD on the pilot and had come to really love Texas and adore Texans. Working directly in support of leaders who are working hard to achieve results for kids is the most fulfilling thing I have done.
4. Most public schools want to get better at delivering results for students. Of all the things districts could choose to focus on, why leadership development and talent management systems?
To be fair, there are many things districts and schools need to focus on to deliver results for kids. But I do believe developing great leaders is fundamental. At the end of the day, the problems schools are trying to solve and results they are trying to attain are multi-faceted – they require the brains, hearts and energy of so many people. The only way you make progress is through building greater capacity on your team and in your organization. You must be systemically growing the number of people who can inspire others and work with others to achieve greater results.
The quality of leadership also fundamentally influences your ability to attract, grow and keep great people in your organization. You can have all the technical knowledge in the world to optimize the day-to-day work of a school, but if you can’t create an environment that inspires and allows everyone to do their best work, you are not maximizing anything. Creating truly excellent and equitable outcomes for every child in Texas requires the best of every single person on every campus. And that’s what great leaders do, they draw out the very best in people and mobilize them to overcome challenges and achieve results that they couldn’t achieve individually.
5. When you think about the future ahead for Holdsworth, what brings you the most joy? What makes you reach for your stress ball?
We are poised to grow extremely quickly over the next few years in terms of the number of leaders we serve. There are many things that need to happen to get ready for that growth, and that can sometimes create stress. But the joy is always the people. Every time I get the chance to interact with leaders, I am blown away by the quality of people working in public education. I also feel we have a great team at Holdsworth, and I feel lucky to work with such incredible, thoughtful, smart and mission-oriented colleagues.
Another big opportunity on our horizon is moving into our permanent home on Lake Austin in 2020. We are so fortunate to have this space designed especially for the work we are doing with leaders. But such an incredible gift also comes with great responsibility. How do we maximize the opportunity to really lift up the extraordinary importance of educators in the state of Texas?
6. What do you hope for the future of the organization?
Our main focus and top responsibility is to ensure everything we are doing is strengthening leaders and allowing them to build stronger organizations that deliver great results for students. In time I hope we will have overwhelming evidence that the work we are doing is driving those outcomes. We have been given a gift to do this work, and it’s our responsibility to maximize the impact we have on leaders and students in Texas. This is a huge state with more than 1,200 school districts and over 5 million kids. We’ve only scratched the surface of how we can be of service.
7. Do you still want to be a teacher?
I do hope I’ll have the opportunity to teach someday. I still believe that the impact of teaching is unmatched in our society. It’s also an extremely challenging job, and I think that’s attractive to me. I believe having a job where you are challenged, using your gifts, and making a difference—all things that I connect with your purpose—is one of the greatest privileges you can have.
We have three core values at Holdsworth: Be of service, believe in people, and drive for excellence and equity. Great teachers exemplify those values. Though I’m not in the classroom, I feel extremely lucky to get to do this work in support of leaders—in our districts, schools, and classrooms. I’m motivated every day to ensure that Holdsworth is useful to them and to the students they serve.