The responsibilities of leaders; whether superintendents of school districts, principals and other administrators in our school buildings, and teachers in their classrooms begins with making people feel important. This starts with assuring that each of their people always knows where he or she stands. Never must people be left in doubt about how much we believe in and care about them.
Not only must the success of one’s people be a leader’s top priority, a leader must demonstrate this truth to everyone in their organization through everything they say and do. This is one of the essential responsibilities of positive leadership. Most leaders have been taught how important this message is but they are also imperfect human beings, just like the rest of us. Unless they remind themselves of this responsibility, relentlessly, it is a human tendency to get comfortable in the status quo. Many people, even the very best, are continually at risk of getting entangled in our routines and taking for granted that our people know what we think of them.
Among the most vital responsibilities of leaders is the self-discipline of not only communicating their organization/profession’s mission, vision, and values, incessantly, but also questioning whether what we ask of our people still makes sense given the changes taking place in our profession, in our environment, and in our society. Powerful, positive leaders must always keep one eye on the big picture because if they do not, who can? One of the most effective ways to provide this kind of positive leadership is to listen and observe, empathically.
Our people—teachers, most of all—may be so immersed in their daily challenges they cannot see the big picture from the windows of their classrooms. They depend on positive leadership. What leaders must look for are the “symptoms of inefficacy.” These symptoms are conveyed through the frustrations of our people when what they are being asked to do does not seem to be working. This is true in the classroom for both teachers and students.
Teachers must strive to provide the same positive leadership to their students. Students must always know where they stand but not just with respect to the grades they are getting. They must know we believe in and care about them. The misbehavior of our students is also a “symptom of inefficacy.” The responsibility of teachers and leaders is not limited to reacting to such behavior. It is far more important that we strive to recognize, interpret, and respond to the underlying drivers of such behavior not as wrongs that have been committed, rather as needs to be addressed.
Because it is so easy to be distracted by overt behavior, other students live in hope their covert withdrawal to the darkest corners of our classrooms will go unnoticed. The risk to operations and organizations is that the wheels that do not squeak rarely receive the attention they require. They may be silent, but such withdrawals are the desperate screams of children who know of no other way to communicate how lost they feel.
Teachers who are giving up and end up leaving the profession are doing so because even their covert “symptoms of inefficacy” went unrecognized, were misinterpreted, and were not addressed. The practice and development of one’s craft includes dealing not only with one’s own disillusionment but also rallying to the aid of colleagues who are at risk of giving up. As challenging as this may be, it is essential to the successful practice of one’s craft.
The truth with which all educators must come to accept is that their profession cannot afford to lose any more teachers any more than our society can afford to lose any more kids.
This fundamental truth will only be accepted when our people/students are confident we have their back and will assure their effort is always focused on our true mission, vision, and values as conveyed through positive leadership.