Sacrificing Purpose For Administrative Convenience or Organizational Efficiency

Think about the early history of public education when a one-room schoolhouse, staffed by one teacher, was responsible for teaching a classroom of students from ages 6 to 17, all at different points on the learning continuum, with different abilities and objectives. Some students might have hoped to attend college while others needed to learn enough that they could work and someday take over responsibility for the family farm.

In this environment, the sole teacher had a clear purpose or mission. It was “to help each student learn as much as they could, at their own best pace, according to their own life’s goals.” Can you imagine that there was ever a time when teachers of that period pushed a student on to a new lesson before they were ready; before they understood and were able to apply the knowledge gained from a current lesson?

It was easy for these teachers to avoid being distracted from their purpose. There were no secondary agendas with which they were forced to deal.

Now, think about what happens as a community grows and the number of children of school age multiplies to a point where the community needs a school with a dozen classrooms and enough teachers to staff those classrooms. Do you think the decision makers, in those early years, decided to alter the purpose for which the school existed? Almost certainly they did not. They had every intention of continuing their efforts so that each child would “learn as much as they were able,” given their unique set of abilities, at their own pace, and in pursuit of their personal academic objectives and future goals.

At some point along the evolutionary development and growth of public education, however, administrators found that managing the actual operation of their school(s) was becoming more challenging. This is not a phenomenon unique to education. This happens in every type of organization that exists to produce a product or service. The larger an organization grows and the more people it involves, the more complex it will be and, therefore, the more challenging to manage and lead.

The precise way it happened does not matter, now, because it could have happened in any number of ways. What we must understand is that somewhere, at some time, an administrator decided it would be easier to organize and manage a school operation and easier for teachers to teach their students in their classrooms, if we organized students according to age. It would only seem natural, along the way, for teachers and/or administrators to also see a benefit if teachers were to teach children of that same age, every school year, because each age presents different challenges.

The next step in the evolution of this logic may have been to identify each age group and their teachers by “grade level.” These changes may or may not have happened quickly, but it would be only a matter of time before it would occur, to someone, that if each grade level is made up of children of the same age, maybe they should all be learning the same material.

It is likely that there was never a conscious decision to sacrifice the fundamental purpose or mission of schools that “all children learn as much as they are able.” No doubt, just the opposite was true, and educators and policy makers made the logical leap that the more effectively and efficiently they were able to run their school operation, the better things would be for their students and teachers.

I can almost hear the echoes of teachers expressing concern that if we move his or her class along a path outlined by academic standards, from lesson to lesson based on the way textbooks are organized, that some kids may have trouble keeping up. Teachers are, no matter what some critics would say, genuinely concerned about the welfare of their students and have a sincere desire that each of them is successful.

It is, also, easy to hear the echoes of school principals and other administrators, urging teachers not to worry. “There will be opportunities to spend extra time with those students who are struggling, to make certain that they do not fall behind.” The reader can also be assured that that such assertions were not disingenuous. After all, it was perceived that the number of such students would be small and well within an individual teacher’s ability to accommodate.

Such events in which one’s purpose is sacrificed for administrative efficiency or organizational convenience happen with such subtlety that most of the actors are unaware that anything has changed at all. It is only later, when the demographics of the population served by a school have changed and the number of children who struggle to keep up grows to a point that they can no longer be ignored and, that a teacher’s ability to respond, effectively, is compromised. Amid these evolving developments, I’m sure most teachers can recall occasions when the response from administrators, to their queries, was to “work a little harder.” Easy for them to say, particularly if they are the sort of administrators who have forgotten what it is like to be a teacher in a classroom.

Unfortunately, even the best leaders, those who are willing to work with teachers to help them find a way to provide the extra attention that some of their students require, are unaware that, gradually, the education process with its structure, standards, and arbitrary schedules, has re-prioritized the entire purpose of the institution of public education.

This is not the fault of leaders, individually, and this type of bureaucratization of organizations is common across all venues. The larger organizations grow the more bureaucratic they become, the more likely it is that an organization’s primary purpose will be marginalized by secondary agendas. The fault lies with the institutions of higher education that do not provide students who will become leaders of organizations, irrespective of venue, with the skills they will need to lead people and to understand the ubiquitous principles of organizational dynamics; principles by which all human organizations are governed. Colleges of education in our nation’s universities are not the only programs that fail to prepare their students for future leadership responsibility. In any organization, it is leadership that determines the quality of outcomes.

Throughout our nation, the fundamental purpose of our public schools, “that all children learn as much as they are able,” has been sacrificed for administrative efficiency, organizational convenience, and the arbitrary schedules on which our public schools rely. This is also true in private, parochial, and charter schools. Why else would the dedicated men and women who teach our children be willing to accept a reality in which they must tell children, through their actions if not their words:

• “I’m so sorry to give you a failing grade!”

• “I know you are not ready to move on to the next lesson, but I have no more time to give you.”

The subtler but equally disturbing messages that educators are sending are:

• “I know that because you do not understand this lesson, future lessons will be more difficult for you!”

• “Yes, I know these failing grades will follow you throughout the rest of your time in school and I understand that they will color the expectations that your future teachers will set for you.”

• “Yes, I know there is a limit to how much failure you can handle before you give up and stop trying.”

Taking the time to make sure students understand and to help them develop the skills they will need for the rest of their lives, may be the job school policies state that teachers are expected to do; but, in the environment in which teachers work, it is not the job the education process is tasked, structured, and resourced to support.

Simply stated, there is a disconnect between what we tell teachers they are expected to do and what the education process we have created for them allows them to do.

Please take the time to examine a new education model, designed to all teachers to focus on purpose:

The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership

(The opening segment of the author’s book of the same title, now available as a Kindle book at

Are you happy with your job and with your career? Are you proud of your company and the people with whom you work? Do you feel like yours is a dead end job? Do you wish you worked somewhere exciting and challenging? Do you wonder if a break will ever come your way?

Do your supervisors respect you and recognize your efforts and contributions? Do they listen to you and ask for your input in tough situations? Do they give you the respect you feel you deserve? If you are a supervisor, how would your employees answer these questions about you?

Are you happy with your marriage? Is your spouse the kind of supportive partner you would like to have? Are your children turning out the way you hoped? Are your friends everything you want good friends to be?

Are you concerned about the direction in which our country is heading? Are you troubled by our nation’s economic competitiveness in the world marketplace? Do you worry about the bureaucratic ineffectiveness of our government? Does the moral fiber of our society appear to be unraveling? Do you think our systems of education are adequately preparing our children for the future? Do you feel safe in your neighborhood at all hours of the day?

Do the myriad of problems confronting our society leave you feeling discouraged and helpless? If you are like millions of other men and women, discouraged and helpless is exactly how you feel but listen closely. The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership is a message of hope.

The premise of this work is that there is much that we, as individuals, can do that will have an impact on the problems facing us in our personal lives, as a nation, and as citizens of the world community. The problems we face as a society, as we proceed through the Twenty-First Century, are functions of the quality of leadership of our human organizations.

Our message is simple. These problems, in all of their diversity and complexity, can be resolved thereby improving the quality of life for all human beings. Today’s problems will be replaced by new problems, to be sure, but these, too, have solutions. In each case, solutions flow from effective leadership. What is new about this idea is the definition we assign to leadership and how far we spread its mantle.

Positive leadership is a special kind of leadership that gives individual men and women incredible power to bring about positive change and to make a difference right now, right where you are, at this moment in time!

Now is the best time to impact your organization and the job or role you now occupy is the right place to do it!

Many people put things off, waiting for the right or perfect time and place. Just as there are no perfect solutions, there is no perfect time and place. There is no time or place other than here and now. Do it now or, as they say in the athletic shoe commercial, “Just Do It!”

Now is always the best time for taking action and, the best opportunities are not the ones that fall into your lap but the ones you make for yourself. Do not delay another hour; begin anew. Start doing things differently. Take Zig Ziglar’s advice:

“If you keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’, you’re gonna keep gettin’ what you’ve been gettin’.”

Initiate changes in your life and in your approach to your duties, responsibilities, and your relationships and the world will begin to change in response. However small, even insignificant these changes may appear, they matter and they are the direct result of your leadership.

Be a positive leader in the same sense that you want the changes to be positive for everyone, whenever possible. Be concerned about values and begin thinking about the organization or community as a whole. Whatever the organizations of which you are a part, think about their purpose or mission and how you can best contribute to them. As you become more comfortable with your role as a leader, you will begin to see abundant opportunities to make an impact or to bring about change. You will recognize multiple opportunities for action; opportunities that have always existed but were imperceptible to you before you began to view yourself as a positive leader.
How great the impact and how grand the changes you can facilitate—how far-reaching your leadership can be—is limited by your talents and abilities but these boundaries are not nearly as confining as you imagine. It is like sitting in the middle of an unknown body of water where you see nothing but water on the horizon, in any direction. You don’t know whether you are in Lake Erie or the Pacific Ocean and until you strike out, using all of your talents and abilities, you will never know the answer to such questions.

Your leadership potential is also limited by other factors. Things like commitment, dedication, courage, faith, work ethic, persistence, etc., and these are things over which you have enormous control. The number of human beings in the world today who extend themselves to the full limit of their talents and abilities would probably not fill a large arena. For the overwhelming majority of us, the things that constrain us are things that we control, whether we know it or not.

Being an action leader means you are willing to pay the price for success. It means a willingness to work long hours, make personal sacrifices, delay material gratification, and forego leisure and social activities. Whatever it takes, you are willing to give. This takes real courage because, in our society, inordinate value is placed on working as few hours as possible; on reaching a point where sacrifices are unnecessary; where material wealth is abundant; and, where leisure time is paramount. To give these things up for a goal or objective no one else can see is an act of heroism and the world needs all the heroes it can get.