I aspire to move into administration some day.  I didn't care when I began my career if I ever left the classroom I was in until I retired, but the longer I've worked with other teachers and worked to improve my own practice, the more I realize the impact a true building or district leader can have on students.  I've been privileged to work with several great examples in my district over several years.  One of my best friends is (in my humble opinion) one of the best area administrators in a nearby district.  However great the examples, one nagging thought holds me back: will I be any good at it?
Each of the examples I've been able to watch have their unique strengths and weaknesses.  I've developed a list of qualities in my mind that make up the best of the best in educational leaders: someone who isn't satisfied with the status quo (because we can always do better) but not someone who changes things for the sake of change; someone who is thoughtful in considering a new idea, but not so slow as to never act; someone who invites shared leadership and makes teachers feel competent but isn't afraid to take charge or stand against the crowd when a real leader is needed.

The problem I keep coming up with is where do you find the balance between those things?  I contrast two administrators I've admired: one understood and believed in some of the best things about how education should and could work but was not widely accepted by teachers as most of the teachers view this person as a tyrant who made decisions based on personal desire than best interests.  Indeed, I can see how this raises the question: when does an administrator make a stand that everyone "get on board or get off the ship"?  I do believe there are somethings that are in the best interests of students and waiting around for everyone else to accept that and embrace it, isn't always an option.  You can't always make everyone happy. But where's the line that can be crossed that makes you a dictator instead of a leader?

The contrasting example did an excellent job of making people feel appreciated, respected and competent.  However, status quo was always accepted.  There was never a push to be more or do more unless it was necessary (i.e. - mandated from higher up).  Occasionally, teacher leaders would step up and move forward with something (and growing teacher leaders was a specialty of this one), but those ideas could be shot down just as easily as fostered if they required any major overhaul to the status quo.  Isn't a leader supposed to be inspiring? motivating? encouraging?  Developing strong feelings of respect and appreciation are important - especially for teachers, but shouldn't a good leader (like a good friend), always be there to tell you that you could be doing better and encourage you to always be growing to be your best?

From these questions, I've began classifying administrators in my mind as fitting into one of two categories: those who lead ideals, initiatives, budgets and reforms, and those who lead people.  I don't think a good leader does either - a good leader does both.  There are times where leadership means taking an unpopular stand and holding people accountable.  But there has to be an equal measure of time when leaders remember that they have no one to lead but people who have lives and families of their own.  Those must be respected as well.  

What I know is that no one is perfect, even leaders.  As I study the examples of great leadership from my experience with administration to the great leaders from the history classes I teach, I hope to pull the best qualities of each into what I do.  I hope to better define what real leadership means as I go.

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    Woven Thoughts

    I believe we learn from each other, from reflection and from being honest.  I'm combining those elements here.  As I reflect and share my honest thoughts, I expect they spark reflection and comment from others that in turn helps me clarify my thinking.  Thanks in advance for learning with me.


    June 2010