Leading means inspiring, not commanding. Leading means loving the people you lead so they will give you their hearts as well as their minds. It means communicating a vision of where you can go together and inviting them to join.
Major General John Stanford, Superintendent of Seattle Schools, 1995–1998
A school leader who has never set foot in a classroom or studied education will find it difficult to understand the meaning of teaching. Nor will they comprehend the difficulties that face students. So why is my quote from a superintendent who was never a teacher in the traditional sense? More about John Stanford in a minute.
School superintendents or those placed in state and federal education leadership roles, never having cracked a History of Ed. book or learned any other information about actual schooling or child/adolescent development, will be doomed to do a poor job when it comes to leading teachers and students.
Public schools are unique places. They aren’t a business like a corporation because, as we know, they are not selling a product to earn profits for owners. Schools are providing a public service. Certainly, leaders can benefit from obtaining certain skills from business, but the first prerequisite should be having worked in a committed career with children for a reasonable length of time.
I think those who land education leadership jobs, who have no real experience as teachers, might talk a good game but their words ring hollow. I also think they know they are inadequate. Most teachers have little respect for administrators who have never been in the classroom or spent any time actually studying the needs of children.
Usually these so-called leaders are told by the corporations who get them these jobs that they are what the schools need to fix problems. They are enlisted to break up school districts by creating unproven charter schools and replacing teachers with Teach for America and principals with New Leaders. They also obsess about data. You don’t need to have experience working with students to do that!
A person in a school leadership role, who has not worked with children, or learned anything about them, will feel more comfortable with those who also don’t know about schools or children.
In all the years of looking at school administrators without experience working with students there is only one that comes to mind that I respect, and that is the late John Stanford who roared into Seattle, from the military, intent on addressing poverty and supporting teachers. He even wrote a book, Victory in Our Schools: We CAN Give Our Children Excellent Public Education Part 1/Part 2/Part 3/Part 4. He died of leukemia during his time in that role and is still remembered fondly. Stanford may never have been a teacher himself, but he saw his role as a teacher supporter—not an adversary. HERE is more about Stanford and his accomplishments in the Seattle Public Schools.
So, should those from the military be put in school administrator roles? I don’t think so. Not unless they get experience working in the classroom first. John Stanford was a rare individual. Anyone without experience as a teacher needs to study teaching and work in the classroom for many years. It will humble them, and it will help them understand what is right and wrong about education and make beneficial changes.
It will also inspire and help them to be true visionaries and not corporate education poseurs.
Metro Nashville is looking at four finalists to be school superintendent. There are all kinds of concerns about the group doing the search and the candidates that the school board now gets to choose from.
My opinion is that Nashville has good people on their school board. They are no pushovers and they want the best leader for their children. I hope that superintendent will be a real educator with actual experience working with students, and an individual who will be set on supporting school teachers and bringing the traditional public schools forward.
Does hiring a school leader with a traditional background in teaching mean that they will be automatically a good leader? No. In fact, many school leaders, who climbed the ladder to administration from teaching, have now bought into harmful school reform. They sold out.
Perhaps they think they must do as they are told to keep their jobs, or they believe in charter schools and a cheap teacher workforce. They think they are doing a service to children. But they should go back to their roots as a teacher and ask themselves some serious questions about education pedagogy and civil rights.
For if you once work with children you will not forget them or the struggles you may have faced teaching, and you will pass that wisdom down to those who you supervise. You will understand and assist, not arbitrarily criticize and dismiss.
All school leaders at every level should have experience working with children because education is about children. If you don’t know anything about children and how they learn, then you don’t know much about what will make good education. And then we are all in serious trouble.