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Mon, 25 Jun 2012

Leadership Rules:

Comment intended for http://the21stcenturyprincipal.blogspot.com/2012/06/are-you-true-21st-century-leader.html

Wow, this is a challenging post. The term "expedient" immediately comes to mind. Follow the rules when it serves your purpose. Don't follow the rules if they are in your way.

That's not to say orders must trump ethics and morality. We may remember the "I was just following orders" defense of war criminals.

It is true that I approached my own teaching job with awareness of the valuable message, "It is better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission." [Grace Hopper] Many times my actions actually became acceptable policy. I was not fired along the way. I think my students benefited from both of those results.

I prefer to look back and see that kind of action as pushing the limits which have been set artificially by tradition, not by direct order.

I am exceedingly uncomfortable thinking that leadership means simply ignoring carefully considered rules. Yet, I do not think it will always be simple to judge when ethics require doing what is best for a learning environment and when ethics demand we stand up for the rules. There certainly are plenty of rules for schools which are mainly arbitrary or simply traditions.

Like you, I hope a "careerist" isn't mainly trying to stay a teacher or school administrator to get safely to retirement. On the other hand, it is a shame to see dynamic educators carelessly bucking the system and standing tall as they walk out the door, effectively deserting their post and the children who deserved their best in the coming years.

Changing the culture of schools isn't done from outside. It is accomplished by dedication and persistence from within. No serious, long term change comes from an apathetic, subdued staff following the bosses' rules (or apathetic, subdued student body, for that matter). An effective leader needs to work with the staff and students to bend and stretch the boundaries of restrictive tradition. New traditions don't easily develop from rubble which can too often follow "revolutionary" changes and their crushed hopes. It is especially true when a series of leaders have arrived with their own revolutions, only to move on. Good leaders engage and invigorate the "troops." Leaders demonstrate the ability to challenge themselves and their team. Leaders rarely gain the trust and loyalty of their staff by sudden, often unilateral, unexplained moves.

Even worse, Consider the situation that a dynamic leader establishes a fabulous relationship with the staff, gets them to take chances, make mistakes and develop sustainable progress for themselves and their students. Then the leader steps out too far, too fast, too thoughtlessly. Gone. The leader has effectively abandoned the staff to a replacement, most often arriving from outside. The new leader is put in place by the higher administration. The new leader owes his/her job to them, has no loyalty earned from staff or students. The staff and students who have stuck their necks out may fight on, but just as realistically will learn to live with the less dynamic leader. Gone will be the chance to develop the initiatives you've started. The students and staff may not have the guts to challenge the new leadership anointed from above, the people above who established the rules you broke.

With all this discussion, even though Grace Hopper, quoted above, was in the Navy, I do not think the military is an especially good model to follow in education. Faced with sudden death, soldiers must be ready to follow orders that may, and often do, get them killed. Instant response is trained in so the troops do not get a say or argue when lethal action is imminent. Let us hope that set of conditions is never added to our education system.

Children need a supportive staff which helps children get back up after they stumble. Children need the encouragement to try what they cannot accomplish on their first try. A staff needs supportive leadership which encourages experimentation which allows teachers to change, to learn, to improve themselves and guide their children through their own growth.

posted at: 20:02 | path: | permanent link to this entry