Most current principals and school leaders are quite familiar with the discourse that calls for them to focus on their “circles of influence” and just ignore those things over which they have no control. Stephen R. Covey has become the gospel for educational leaders.
For example, if a school principal of a high-poverty school points out the abject poverty that her students live in from day-to-day is hampering their achievement, she is immediately reprimanded and corrected with, “Just focus on what you can control, not those things you can’t. Besides, that’s just an excuse.” The thinking behind these statements elevate the myth that poverty does not matter. All one needs to do is “Pull themselves up by the bootstraps” and they will succeed.”
The underlying belief of all this is, “Poverty is an acceptable part of life. People who live in poverty do so because of their own mistaken choices.” It is this belief that underpins so many school leadership trainings I’ve experienced. Focus on the management tools, and ignore the conditions kids live in outside the school.
The ordered silence (and it is ordered because those who speak are silenced and dismissed) about poverty is the same as saying those who push policies and practices that are pomoting income desparity and poverty are right and to question what they are doing is “political.” It is this thinking that has disemboweled educational leadership today. There’s no “guts” or courage for standing up to those societal and political practices that are hurting children. School leaders are made simply “managers” of a system as it is rather than advocating for a society and a system that gives everyone a fair chance.
When did educational leadership mean subscribing to a societal program that leaves more kids behind than ever?
When did being a school principal who is advocating for the dire needs of the kids in his school become labeled as excuses instead of calling attention to an American society that does not take care of its own?
When does it ever mean that a school leader can’t critique federal, state, and local educational policy, and question political decisions made by our government and state poltical and educational department leaders?
Have we so adopted the hierarchical, non-questioning business approach to just carrying out the latest federal or state mandate so that we can “keep our jobs?”
That is why America still leaves so many children behind! Educational leaders have been neutered and reduced to “business managers” whose job is to follow orders unquestionably. They are encouraged to have a vision “as long as it fits into the program, where the program is guided by federal and state poltiical mandates.
Until educational leaders, from the classroom to the state and federal levels shed the mind of educational managers of the latest mandates, and begin to question and advocate as well as call attention to society-wide policies that are hurting kids, public education will be just as powerless and inffective as its leaders.