10/22/2010 01:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Cult of Personality

I can appreciate Michelle Rhee's desire to make waves in the teaching arena. Good teachers deserve better than we give them and the bad ones... err... off with their heads!? -- Umm --

The tactics, the cult of personality, and the metaphorical loaded assault rifle got in the way of sustained teaching reform in DC.

Rhee's positions are not the problem (well, some of them are -- like when she sold-out to the myth of standardized test scores). Unfortunately, Rhee got it wrong even when she had it right. Rhee's problem was that her decisions and actions were not seen as collaborative efforts between like-minded reformers. Instead, it appeared as though she acted alone and moved too quickly. This caused her to appear to be a target rather than a leader. Additionally, with so much attention drawn to her personality (attention she welcomed), her efforts at change became muddled and left America second guessing her actions. We knew Rhee's age, face and educational background before we knew or understood her overall strategy. It was the combination of national attention and the speed with which she responded to ineffective teachers that make her better suited for the media than for true educational reform.

Lasting change takes buy-in and buy-in happens when people feel part of something important. Ms. Rhee would have done well to share the spotlight, highlight the teachers who were excellent prior to her arrival and build a strong base of proponents so when ineffective teachers were exposed and fired it wouldn't be all about Rhee, but instead about a system that needed housecleaning.

Instead of provoking a positive re-thinking about what we expect from all teachers, highlighted by examples of excellence, Rhee's cult of personality appeared as a dictatorial head hunting spree. When everyone is made to fear because leaders act too swiftly, without building support and sharing voice with others, then bad teachers get to hide in the shadows of the destructive figure head. In the long run, the fear left in Rhee's wake does not help students.