Sucking the Life out of School Leadership

Look at the faces of those entrusted with the careful nurturing and guidance of our youth.  Pay close attention to their body language.   They wear the strain of leading and managing an agenda that is fraught with unnecessary elements, coupled with the real prospect of reimagining the schoolhouse in an age of disruption.  At a time when we desperately need a steady hand to steward the changes in society at-large, there are many distracters that mask themselves as “necessary changes” for the common good.  A MetLife poll of principals supports this thesis.  Implement Common Core, cut your budgets, stop kids from bullying each other, raise test scores, score your teachers—all legislated to “reform and improve education.”


Look at the inbox in the email system of any administrator and I will guarantee that the number of “techno-fix solicitations” has increased tenfold over the past few years.  The number of legal decisions impinging upon the smooth flow of engagement regarding bullying, testing, evaluations, etc. has likewise grown exponentially.


Leading school organizations today is by its very nature a complex enterprise.  The fiscal, curriculum, legal, political, and emotional demands are varied and many.  The overcrowded agenda does not serve the learning community well when we look to promote academic achievement; or seek to develop well adjusted, civic minded, highly engaged, and curious learners—our number one priority.  Simply put, we are witnessing the life being sucked out of school leadership.


Some suggest that we look to the ever-efficient data wonk minded systems in private industry.  Sure school leaders can and should learn from private industry, but as Jim Collins points out, private industry can learn a great deal more from non-profits, like schools, in the new leadership challenges of the 21st century.  The command and control model that many offer through “Taylor-like,” efficiency driven metrics is more often a 20th century vehicle, ill equipped to lead and manage the school learning communities of today and tomorrow.


This is not a plea for sympathy.  Nor is it a repudiation of effective use of data to support both individual and organizational awareness of how to adjust in changing times.  The agenda moving forward for the foreseeable future will be filled with much challenge.  Disagreements over how to best utilize resources both in the short and long term rightfully must be debated.  Use of technology to harness the potential of liberating students and teachers to broaden their horizon represents both an opportunity and yet another challenge to ferret out the wise use of new platforms vs. the allure of sexy applications that do nothing to enhance understanding.


The evidence appears clear and overwhelming to me.  When we take a snapshot in time of where school leaders see themselves today on the continuum of effectiveness and personal satisfaction there is little doubt that the convergence of ill-conceived legislation, and the overwhelming sense of going in too many directions is sucking the life out of many, leaving behind depleted reserves necessary to sustain positive change over the long term.

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Comment by Joe Filippone on March 18, 2013 at 9:45am

Another great commentary by Mr. Gamberg.  When we take a snapshot of this educational period we will look back at time that was characterized by bureaucrats, politicians, business people and statisticians, people with no heart or mind for education, yet in control. There are a handful of misguided zealots that ignore the voices of true educators.  They keep piling on more and more accountability and "reforms" that are ill conceived and even harmful to students.

Comment by Fred Welfare on March 17, 2013 at 10:42pm

I agree that the administrative situation, like the teacher situation, is growing in complexity everyday. I recommend for administrators that role definition: value orientation and value-commitment be closely examined. Teachers in quasi-administrative positions do not have the formal role definition needed to legitimize their position. Therefore, the present situation of fewer administrators with increasing role obligations should be balanced by hiring more administrators and restricting teachers to teaching responsibilities.

Comment by Howard M. Koenig, Ph.D. on March 17, 2013 at 9:39am
Well said, David. You that nail right on the head.





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