Monday, September 26, 2011


            I work in a district that has just announced that as part of their strategic five year plan, they want to develop new leaders for their future.  I’ve taught long enough to have seen a vast difference in the leadership qualities that are praised now compared with what a school leader looked like 25 years ago.

            Eight years ago I took a graduate class on school leadership, and one of the assignments was to interview our current administrator.  We were given several questions to ask the administrator and were to write up a report of our findings.  Many of the questions were about developing new teachers.  “Describe your mentoring program for new teachers,” or “What would be your first step in helping a new teacher develop classroom management skills?”  The administrator I was interviewing had been in education for almost 40 years, and he wasn’t the least bit shy in responding that it wasn’t his job to teach a teacher to teach.  That was the college’s job, and he would contact the college about sending them back if the teacher was having problems.

            It was amusing to report my interview to my class, but it really underscored how much educational leadership has changed in my lifetime.  The servant-leader is the model I most often hear about today, and I think it does have high merit.  I’ve been watching several younger teachers at my school and can see which ones are already “marked” or “chosen” for future development.  I think they seem to fit into one of two categories.

            The first of the “chosen” potential leaders is the one who can give a good speech.  This person speaks up in faculty meetings and is always referring back to meetings he or she has had with students.  Students love them in the classroom.  Their classes are exciting and fun.  There’s lots of discussion between the teacher and students and you can hear a lot of laughter when you pass in the hall.  Everyone wants to be in this teacher’s room.

            But sometimes the fun discussions get out of hand and the kids don’t know when to stop.  The teacher ends up yelling loudly to get the kids’ attention and bring everyone back under control.  If any other teacher yelled like that, there would be ramifications.  But this teacher is so well-loved by their students, it’s all part of the package.  There’s not a lot of structure to lesson plans and sometimes there are problems if this teacher is supposed to be aligning their lessons with other job-alikes.  But that weakness tends to be over-looked, because this teacher has such strong relationships with his students.  Yes, everyone agrees.  He will be a great leader someday because he makes such a good speech.

            The other potential leader on everyone’s radar is what I would call the OCD teacher – OCD as in obsessive compulsive disorder teacher.  They’re not really OCD, but they sure lean in that direction.  They have copies of everything.  They take the minutes at every meeting because they type them on their laptop as we speak.  They have fired copies to everyone by the time they get back to their room.  They have folders within folders within folders, and on and on.  Every activity is planned in writing in every minute detail.

            The OCD teacher can get on everyone’s nerves, though.  They are valuable when you’re looking for the copy of whatever you lost, but they are a headache if you’re planning something fairly complicated.  They raise every possible question that can be raised.  It takes ten times longer to get through any meeting because they are the ones who talk everything to death.   But everyone agrees that they will be a great leader someday because they have such vision to see all the possibilities of everything.

            So how will these two leaders work together?  I think the speechmaker will end up on top because he will be the face and voice of our school.  But the speechmaker cannot survive on his own.  Right below him will be the OCD leader organizing all the work and seeing that it’s being carried out exactly as it should be. 

            Who is below Mr. Speechmaker and Miss OCD on the totem pole?   The worker bees!  They are the teachers who are giving the small speeches every day, and struggling to organize the work, and hoping they prepared for most contingencies.  But as the worker bees do the daily work, the kids will always remind them of how much fun they had in Mr. Speechmaker’s room and how he was such a good friend.  And the worker bees will always remember that they will never be as organized and prepared as Miss OCD, who, incidentally, is even more organized and prepared now because she doesn’t have to worry about teaching kids anymore – just preparing and organizing.

            I can just hear you now.  You’re thinking -  sour grapes!  Hattie’s whining. 

            You.  Are.  Correct. 

            Today I heard Mr. Speechmaker give a stern but wonderful pep talk to one of my students who had been misbehaving.  I also got an email from Miss OCD asking for a summary of state testing procedures for all of my students that included their student ID’s and page number in their IEP’s supporting the outlined accommodations and modifications.  She needed it by the end of the school day.

            After Mr. Speechmaker left my room, I’m sure he was confident that Naomi knew how to behave in the hall and what would happen to her in the future if she didn’t behave appropriately.  Thirty seconds after the door closed behind him, however, Naomi turned to me and said she didn’t understand anything Mr. Speechmaker had said to her.  She wanted me to explain it all again.

            I told Naomi I couldn’t.  I was too busy looking up page numbers in IEP’s.  Happy Monday.


  1. I saw on Jon Acuff's blog that you write about teaching middle school. I'm also a middle school teacher and think this is such a fun age to teach! When you mentioned servant leadership, it reminded me of Dave Ramsey's EntreLeadership book that just came out. I can't wait to read it. You have an excellent writer's voice! Keep it up!

  2. Thank you for your encouraging words Matt. I've found that the crazier the school day, the funnier it sounds on paper. I've got Dave Ramsey's book on my radar too.