PUBLIC EDUCATION — OUT OF FUEL?

Aircraft_being_fueled_by_tankerEducators, do you feel public education has gotten bogged down?  Are we spinning our wheels? I do.  It’s like we are sitting in the cockpit of a big jet airplane loaded with passengers.  We have been trained to fly. We have read the flight manual but we can’t get off the ground. So we invite a guru, an expert in the field.  This person gets us pumped up. We want to fly yet we still sit on the runway, excited about flight, very knowledgeable, but still not moving.  We keep trying new methods, attending workshops, more meetings, organize rally’s, while all this time it was not a lack of knowledge or motivation that was the problem but we were simply out of fuel.  Maybe it’s not that we are out of fuel but we have the wrong type of  fuel for today’s public education engine? Maybe public education needs a hybrid fuel?


Fuel for Change

The master teaching schedule changes at the last minute, adding a new teaching prep, state testing, accreditation or class size increases dramatically. Change happens fast and often in today’s world.  Leadership who are trying to deal with these changes using a “top down” approach cannot survive let alone grow in today’s fast pace environment. This classic form of school administration dictates, makes policies, and enforces.  It is a top down form of management.An example of top down leadership is seen in the shift in leadership style of the ensemble conductor. Gone are the days of the tyrannical conductor wielding the baton, yelling, and intimidating the orchestra into submission.  Under the old style of leadership, the orchestra, choir, and band rehearsal was a dictatorship. Successful conductors today lead with vulnerability.  You might call the rehearsal an egalitarian learning environment.  Egalitarian advocates for equality and is related to the idea of democracy where each member is seen as contributing to the whole.  Dr. Rager Moore, former FHSU Choral Director, described it this way, “The choir is set up as a democracy where all parts should be able to contribute equally so that the idea of ensemble is achieved; however, it is clear that it is best ruled by a benevolent despot who controls (overtly or subliminally) every aspect of the organizational and rehearsal process.” Interesting use of words. I think benevolent points to the idea of not seeking self-interest but rather thinking and acting with the good of the student’s education in mind.  Despot points to the director as a guide; the director guides every action and reaction of the ensemble to lead them down the path of success. In a telecast dated, December 4, 1955 and recorded in The Joy of Music, the great conductor Leonard Bernstein commented:

But the conductor must not only make his orchestra play; he must make them want to play.  He must exalt them, lift them, start their adrenalin pouring, either through cajoling or demanding or raging.  But however he does it, he must make the orchestra love the music as he loves it.  It is not so much imposing his will on them like a dictator; it is more like projecting his feelings around him so that they reach the last man in the second violin section.  And when this happens—when one hundred men share his feelings, exactly, simultaneously, responding as one to each rise and fall of the music, to each point of arrival and departure, to each little inner pulse—then there is a human identity of feeling that has no equal elsewhere.  It is the closest thing I know to love itself.  On this current love the conductor can communicate at the deepest levels with his players, and ultimately with his audience.  He may shout and rant and curse and insult his players at rehearsal—as some of our greatest conductors are famous for doing—but if there is this love, the conductor and his orchestra will remain knit together through it all and function as one.

Leadership, school board, superintendent, principals must change their role from “boss” to sharing power, encouraging ideas, building courage in others to step up to new challenges creating a culture comfortable with risk taking and empowering others in the organization to work as a team in total solidarity toward achieving its mission of turning out successful graduates. Team work from the bottom up is fuel for change!

Fuel for Stability

Educational reform many times takes on a different look giving the appearance of empowerment while a deeper probing reflects the same old hierarchy of command hanging on stifling real significant, long lasting improvements.  We want to move in the right direction but  there is such a strong desire for stability and consistency which is a hallmark of the classic style of leadership.

Change and uncertainty go hand in hand.  There is a buzz of uncertainty, fear, and cynicism in the halls; this environment does not encourage and motivate faculty and staff to do their best job. We need stability.  We need a new perspective!!

Fuel with Active Agent of Collaboration and Partnership

Change vs Stability. Does it have to be either or? Dr. Curt Brungardt and Dr. Chris Crawford explain in their 1999 book, “Risk Leadership,”  an approach that promotes risk taking, a bottom-up approach (meeting the challenges of change) over the classical form of leadership, a top-down approach (creating stability). I agree with them in the context of their argument but I believe it is time for a tweak.  With so much change happening in the education work environment, their is a real need to create stability. Can we create an environment in our school district and beyond that promotes improvisation that meets the challenges of a rapidly changing workforce and one that creates a stable environment for all employees and students? I think so.

It would motivate and give me great satisfaction to be working in an environment where collaboration and partnership were practiced and valued at all levels, from the bottom-up.  It is easy to value these at a surface level; it is difficult to achieve buy-in throughout all levels of an organization.

How do you lead when you are not in charge?

I believe we need a new hybrid fuel for change and stability.  We need to lead from the bottom-up.  The question asked by Andy Stanley is spot on — How do you lead when you are not in charge?

Check out these two podcasts on itunes (they are free) at Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast:

How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge – Part 1 Released May 02, 2014

How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge – Part 2 Released Jun 06, 2014

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Johnny Matlock 217 West 24th Street Hays, Kansas 67601 Phone: 785-623-1412 Email: matlockjc@gmail.com