Friday, November 18, 2005

Where Can We Get Some Of That?

Mr. AB, over at From The T.F.A. Trenches really has it lucky. His school principal is both effective and a pleasure to work with. According to AB, the recipe for success includes 5 key ingredients:
Transparency – Love or hate him, and like any good messiah he receives a share of each, his remarkable transparency in office cannot be denied. Outside of confidential personnel and student matters, he makes every possible effort to include the faculty in his decision-making. From the formulation of our action plan to the allocation of our discretionary funds, he has been constantly willing to incorporate teacher input. More than any particular aspect, he creates a sense that anything is open to discussion.

Flexibility – Shhhhhh. In a district where the union and curriculum conspire to dictate as much of our day as possible, R--- gives me an almost frightening amount of latitude. As long as my practices are founded in meaningful research/theory and my content is authentically derived from the state standards, I feel free to try anything. I minimize the use of the district’s scripted reading curriculum to bring in more leveled reading and an enhanced vocabulary program. I have wholly thrown out the math textbook and written my own long-term plan, providing a mapping of each week with state standards and more appropriate activities derived from other books. I teach an extra eight hours a week, with pay. Almost unquestionably an improvement, but almost unthinkable in most schools in our district.

Support – R--- is an almost daily helping presence in my practice: mediating conferences with behavior problems, making parent phone calls in Spanish, translating letters home, providing needed materials, observing in and offering constructive feedback on my classroom. It wasn’t until I discussed R--- with my mother and with other teachers that I realized how exceptional he is in this respect. My first year, he was an almost daily presence in my class, even after it became clear that I was not among the teachers most in need of his intervention. In particular, his help was invaluable as I struggled with an Emotionally Disturbed girl last year. He mediated conferences, made phone calls, observed in class, or provided the girl with a time-out at least two or three times a week for the entire year.

Validation and Modesty – R--- makes me feel like an all-star, a big part of why I want to keep doing this even when the real odds of making a difference seem hopelessly remote. His praise is thoughtful, authentic and frequent. He does not speak with the administrator voice but like one professional to another. He recognizes my hard work and makes me feel like my work is meaningful. At the same time, despite so much admiration, he is incessantly modest. He went so far last year as to say, “You are a better teacher this year than I ever was.” and told Mrs. AB when she came to visit, “We’re just learning how to do our jobs together.” (It was his first year as a principal last year.)

Intellect – He’s just plain smart. Well-read, thoughtful and critical, he is an intellectual, as well as professional, role model for me. He appreciates my intellectual perspective and encourages me to use it to raise the tenor of our professional development. We frequently sit down after school hours, late in the week, to talk theory and critically appraise our work. Single-handedly, he gives me tremendous hope for elementary school teaching as a satisfying intellectual occupation.
I think that Mr. AB makes some very valid points. All of the above have to do with the fundamental principles of leadership, which, in all too many cases, (such as this example) are qualities that are lacking in all areas of public education from principals to superintendents.

Leaders who both inspire and are inspired often display the characteristics enumerated by AB. Many of these traits are good common-sense.

All of which leads us to a question: Why are there so few inspirational leaders in public education and what can be done to attract more?

Via: EdWeek's Blogboard
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