Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Happy, Happy, Happy, Superintendent

During an all-district meeting the last week in August, newly hired superintendent Norm Ridder of the Springfield, Missouri public school system had a few choice words for the teachers of his district: (emphasis added)
"My mission is to become a humble servant-leader. It's my job to help you grow ... It's my job to make sure you're happy. And if I'm not doing my job, I expect you to give me a good swift kick where the sun don't shine most of the time."

Ridder, who took over as superintendent of Springfield Public Schools on July 1, spoke to district employees who gathered at the University Plaza Convention Center at two separate sessions, standing between two large screens that projected his image to people farther in back.

Ridder's remarks about his vision, his mission, and his background were similar to ones he made to teachers last year when he came to Springfield in pursuit of the job.

Ridder told the afternoon group — made up mostly of middle school and high school educators — that students are the ones primarily responsible for their learning. But educators, he said, are responsible for teaching the students how to do that.

That involves making sure they know what their goals are, and celebrating when they reach those goals.

He urged them not to buy into the "token economy," a popular behavior-management model that seeks to motivate students by offering points or prizes like candy for desired behaviors. Instead, teach the natural high of reaching goals, he said.

Ridder said his vision was to help everyone he works with find truth. "The truth I'm talking about is what is your strength, what is your talent, and how to build on that. ... So it is so fine-tuned that eventually you are going to perform at the peak of your abilities."

When high school students or middle school students lose their sense of purpose they turn to drugs, alcohol or sex, said Ridder.
As a practicing classroom teacher, I love this guy's message. It's refreshing. The words spoken by Superintendent Ridder sound so much better than those of our own district's superintendent, Dr. Evil, who really doesn't care about teacher morale and makes no attempt to hide it.

Having said that, a district's teachers are but just one (albeit very important) component of a school district's governance. It will be very interesting to see how this works out.
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