Educational leadership. There’s a nice official sounding phrase that would lead the uninitiated to believe in something positive. But like military intelligence, it’s a perfect oxymoron. In my experience the people who practice this “art” are neither leaders nor are they operating in the best interests of the kids. You know, the part about their education. They believe they are, they say they are, but actions speak louder than words. And their actions do not support the words that come out of their mouths.
Now don’t get me wrong, being a school administrator is indeed a tough job. It’s a no-win job really. With the pressures placed on education because of state mandated standardized testing and the tightening noose of the regulations placed on school districts because of the No Child Left Behind Act, school administrators have a great deal of pressure placed on them to “improve student performance”. In other words, get the test scores up. Add to that parents, teachers and community leaders and you have a situation that has to be unbearable. Makes you wonder why any sane person would want the job. Maybe sane people don’t.
Leadership, by definition, is getting people to do things because they want to. We normally use the military and business as the models for effective leadership. I’m sure there are effective leaders in education but normally we think of the military and business, not education. Ever wonder why? Ever wonder why when you read books on leadership there are no educators in them as examples?
Effective leaders all share the same characteristics. Besides a drive to get the job done, accomplish the mission, or whatever you want to call it, the essence of effective leaders is how they think of and treat the people they are responsible for. We call it a number of things; team work, espirit de corps, and school spirit. It’s all about a sense of belonging and caring and doing the best you can under any conditions whether it be in the market place or in combat. And it should be true in our schools, but way too often you find an “us versus them” attitude when it comes to how the schools are run. The ‘us” being the administrators and the “them” everyone else.
Leaders are supposed to provide those things necessary to allow their people to be successful. Leaders are supposed to let their people do their jobs without micromanagement. Forget the context. If any organization is going to be successful, the leadership has an obligation to do its utmost to see that everyone has what they need to get the job done and support them in that endeavor. Leaders do not belittle people or make them feel that they have nothing to contribute. Leaders don’t hide in their offices to ignore problems. Leaders have to be visible, they have to convey a sense of one-ness, that we are all in this together. When people sense that they are important, that their contributions have meaning, good things happen overall.
Never in all my years in the classroom has an administrator asked me what I need to be better. They have never “brainstormed” with us to find solutions to our problems. They’re good at making threats. They’re good at not providing us with what we need by blaming the district. They’re good at pointing out our shortcomings, never our strengths. They don’t seem to understand the basic concept of human relations. They don’t seem to get the idea of community; that we are all in this together. They don’t seem to get the idea that their success is directly tied to our success.
What we have, instead, is a layer of bureaucracy that isn’t leading the next generation of kids to meet challenges of the 21st century. We have a layer of bureaucracy whose only job, it seems, is to enforce regulation, find fault, and make reports. But there is no leadership. My administrators, for example, have no idea of the depth of talent in our department. They don’t even know us as teachers much less as individuals. They have no idea what each of us brings to the table. How can they possibly plan for the improvement of our schools’s science program when they don’t even know who’s teaching science? This is leadership?
How can a system whose leaders are abrogating their responsibilities to the students, teachers, parents, and community be trusted to know what is best for the students, teachers, parents, and community? How is it that this layer of bureaucracy is allowed to get away with it? Why aren’t they held to the same, or maybe even higher, standards of accountability that a classroom teacher is?
You want to see real reform in our schools? Then train the leaders properly in the principles of leadership and human relations. In case they don’t understand it, education is a people business. When the kids see that the administration doesn’t care about them, when the staff becomes alienated by being treated with indifference and contempt, when teachers are not allowed to provide any input into how the school can be better, when administrators isolate themselves from the staff and the students, someone is not doing their job and this should not be acceptable to anyone.
Parents and community leaders have to be given more say in how the schools are run. School district officials have got to be held more accountable to the community for the actions of not only the teachers, but everyone else who is responsible for the education of our kids. Can this kind of change happen? With a lot of hard work, yes. Will it? Probably not. We have not yet reached the point where the average person sees where they can make a difference. The average person knows the system is broken, that the bureaucracy is nearly impossible to deal with, and feels that he or she is powerless to fix it.
But maybe, just maybe, a step in the right direction would be the selection and intense training of highly qualified people to become administrators. Maybe the paradigm can slowly change when educational leadership becomes less of an oxymoron and more of a reality.