THE BLOG
10/25/2012 03:39 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

Courageous or Handcuffed?

I am convinced that there are many administrators that have good intentions. Unfortunately, good intentions do not equate strength or competency as a leader.

In my experiences teaching, I have worked with and continue to work with administrators who are really great people. If being a great person translated into being a great administrator, my experiences would be described as heavenly; I am sure of it. However, a more accurate account of my past and current experiences with school administration would be to say that they have been more earthly with a few heavenly moments. Many of the men and women who serve as school administrators at my school and in schools across our country do have the best of intentions for the students and the communities they serve. Many also have various letters in the alphabet following their names designed to "prove" they have the expertise to do their job. For some administrators, that is true and for the rest, all those letters prove is that they happened to be watching Sesame Street on the day the show was brought to you by the letters "P," "H," and "D."

In my humble opinion, good intentions and a doctorate aren't necessarily the tools to be a good administrator. Having a sharp understanding of how state and local politics impact your job, while good to know, isn't the key either. Having a great understanding of curricula or the populations of teachers, students and families under your leadership can help, but it's not a guarantee that you will be good. Many would agree that you should have this one intangible as an administrator: courage. Every other aspect of your job as an administrator hinges on whether or not you have the courage to lead. Administrators should be people who are not afraid to challenge the powers that be when common sense is abandoned; when the well-being of students and teachers are compromised; when the public policy strips a school of its function to produce men and women who will contribute to society intellectually, economically and civically. This may sound like I too am waiting for Superman, but there are men and women capable and willing to be administrators of courage, yet they are often handcuffed.

I look at the administrators at my school and I get frustrated with them from time to time because in my mind, they're not displaying courage. Common planning times that look more like tutorials in teaching to the (standardized) test have me ready to commit myself to a mental institution and I know that the edict was given to them from the "powers that be" to take this course and I suppose there is very little the administrators at my school can do about it. So is it wrong of me to pray each day for the opportunity to take a field trip with the leaders in my school to see the Wizard for some courage?

One of my very good friends works at my school. He's absolutely one of the best guidance counselors that I've ever seen do the job. In the next few weeks, he'll become the next vice principal at my school. We've talked in the past about transforming schools if ever given the chance. When I asked him what pushed him to take the job, he said to me that while the opportunity to change the school was awesome, so was the opportunity to take care of his family. The job of VP give him the authority to make things happen in the school, but it also affords him the opportunity to do better for his household. That's real talk.

Many administrators are handcuffed; not simply because of the job itself, but they are handcuffed by their obligations outside of the school. For many folks, family comes first. As a husband and a father, I know that to be true for me as well. Like I said, many administrators that I know are really good people and really good people seek to do right by their families. A well paying salary can help to do just that. The perception is that what's lost is the administrator's obligation to the school community. The perception isn't necessarily the reality. The reality is that administrators work very hard. The reality is also that often times it is hard work that gets the raise and the promotion -- courage often gets you ridicule and it can also get you blackballed. If the handcuffs were removed, would it guarantee that administrators would be more courageous? Possibly; yet should a person compromise their household for the sake of others (the school community) if it means jeopardizing their paycheck? Who are we as teachers to expect them to do that? We would not compromise our families for the sake of standing up against the wrongs that may happen in our schools -- or should we?

The truth of the matter is that we're all handcuffed -- we all lack courage at times. But do we lack courage at times or are we simply navigating the waters in an attempt to land our ship safely? One thing I know is for sure, we will all be handcuffed from making a difference -- landing the ship safely -- if we don't have the courage to work together as one body with many parts.