Leadership with a Heart
returned to the classroom to lead a professional development
workshop for CSA members, many who are aspiring principals.
But, as I went over my lesson plan, I saw the material was
misaligned with what is happening in our school system every
day. Everything in my presentation i.e., what “should be,” seemed to be at odds with “what
is,” i.e., the school system's current approach to leadership.
How could I put forward a set of attitudes and
characteristics so far removed from what my students, supervisors
and administrators in the NYC public schools, witness every
day? Would it be possible to help my adult students overcome
their feelings of oppression and fear, common emotions experienced
under the present regime. Would the expectations for leadership
performance to which I subscribe conflict with what the school
system expects of them?
Leadership to me is the ability to inspire and
lead others to form a shared vision for an organization, and
to implement a strategy to make that vision a reality. Isn't
that at direct odds with the Mayor's autocratic, top-down approach?
With a good deal of trepidation, I went into the
classroom. In my lessons, I try to emphasize two points: a)
effective communication skills and b) the ability to include
every individual and group who have a stake in the organization's
future. But my students told me that these ideas have little
relevance in the world in which they work.
CSA members say that their participation in decision-making
is more limited than ever. They say use their skills to carry
out orders from on high, but they are not allowed to exercise
true leadership within their schools. As for communication,
nobody knows how decisions are made or policies developed.
In the past, I generally spend time discussing
how leaders must have a clearly articulated vision for their
organizations. But no compelling vision is forthcoming from
Tweed. My students report that they hear nothing more than
empty slogans. There's no inspiring vision, they say. And CSA
members are not involved in developing plans so they lack what
we call ownership of any long-term design.
A good leader communicates his vision to subordinates
through honest dealings with them and through consistent actions
each day in his or her dealings with those who have a stake
in the success of the organization. I don't think CSA members
experience those qualities of leadership from this administration.
and administrators have quickly learned that their mission
is to carry out ideas that belong entirely to other people,
and they do it accordingly. But they remain curious about
two things: “How is it,” they
ask, “that people who know little or nothing about educating
children see themselves as experts, and why does the public
so readily accept the views of non-educators?”
CSA members must learn that whether the dictatorial
behavior is fueled by hubris or arrogance, in the end, it is
the professional leadership, which every school leader exercises
that will determine how well our children are educated.#
Jill Levy is the president of the Council of
Supervisors and Administrators (CSA).