Tuesday, June 14, 2016

School Leadership Is About Keeping Teachers Happy: Not Just Weeding Out the Bad

I agree wholeheartedly with Ken Robinson when he writes:
"Great teachers are the heart of great schools." Ken Robinson, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education
Too often there's this undying faith in educational leadership literature that if the right school leader is found, then the problems of the school will be resolved. There's the rhetoric that says, "If that school only had the right principal, then it could be saved." It is this search for a savior and messiah in education that is a misguided and a proverbial "wild goose chase," because in reality, if there are no great teachers, then nothing miraculous will ever happen.

I once had a conversation with the manager of a restaurant that I frequented. This restaurant was known for its long lines snaking all the way into the mall in which it was located. On some days, to eat there, it meant waiting sometimes as long as an hour or two before you could be seated. I asked this manager, "It's obvious your restaurant is a success. What is the secret?" He looked around for just a second, and quickly said, "I keep my cooks happy."

Over the years, this has always been behind my leadership practice. I do not see the teachers in my school as "expendable" and simply interchangeable parts. That managerial philosophy really has no place in education.

The truth is, great teachers aren't interchangeable. They are sometimes hard to come by. If you're lucky, you might be able to coach and build great teachers over time, but as fewer and fewer people enter teaching, this becomes more difficult as well.

Rather than seeing teachers as interchangeable parts, I see them as great "cooks" that we need to treasure and keep happy." This doesn't have anything to do with sacrificing what's good for students either. Too often today, if a school leader talks about keeping teachers happy, he is viewed with suspicion, as if in doing so, he is ignoring what's good for students. Why is this an either or proposition in the first place? Making sure your great teachers are supported and appreciated, and happy, while working with those who have not yet reached the level of greatness is school leadership.

What's important today in school leadership is realizing that school leaders with savior complexes rarely sustain great schools, because in reality, such personalities are more interested in themselves, and their own professional ambitions than they are with the success of anyone, students or teachers. These leaders see everything and everyone around them as interchangeable parts to be discarded if they somehow do not fit into their plans. Sadly, that's why their results often disappear once they moved on to their next "great" ambitious project.

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