Does Getting Older (More Experienced) Change Your Leadership Style?
As I was running this morning I was thinking about topics for this week's Update. The topic that came to me concerned how we change our leadership style and even our personality as we get older. I was thinking about how we raised our two oldest children, both boys, vs. how we raised our daughter, who was born ten years after the second child. Discipline and actions I thought were important for the older boys no longer were as important for our daughter. Now, as I see our children raising our grandchildren, a similar evolution is happening. The grandchildren's' actions just do not have the same scrutiny as when I was younger.
While coaching football in the 1970's we had a rule that all hair had to be contained in the helmet. I remember one year when a very fast running back returned in the fall with long hair. I had noticed the hair getting longer in the summer when the athletes were lifting weights at the school three days a week, but I fully expected this young man to cut his hair before we issued equipment. Well, he did not. Being a more experienced coach and not wanted to confront the athlete, I let it slide. Earlier in my career I would never have allowed this.
What is interesting about the above scenario is that this former athlete now belongs to the same golf club as I do, and we play golf together from time to time. During one of our golf outings I asked him about his hair during the time period mentioned above. I asked what he would have done if I told him he had to cut his hair to play football. He told me he would not have cut his hair and would have quit football and had already talked it over with his parents. He told me he really liked basketball better and was only playing football because his friends played. He also told me that football (this situation happened in his junior year) became his favorite sport and he went on to play football in college.
The point I am making in this article is that we change as we gain experience and mature. As a mature (old) administrator I can say that this change was positive for both my leadership style and my personality. As school administrators we do not have to solve every problem; there are people we work with who can solve the problems. We do not have to be 24/7 devoted to our positions and our school districts. We need to put cell phones away for certain periods each day. We need to take our vacation days and not check in with the school district every day. We need to spend quality time with our family and devote undivided attention to our spouses and our children. We need to take care of our personal health and find time to exercise. We need to take time to eat healthy and stay away from fast food restaurants in order to get back to work faster. We need to take time to meditate and to scan our own bodies for health and wellness purposes. There are reasons why employers look for experienced candidates--learn from these reasons and you will be a better leader and a more balanced individual.
Should Your District Have A "Chain of Command?"
Over the past several years I have noticed an increase in a management concept titled "Chain of Command" being used by school district superintendents. It is most often used in large school districts as a method of directing a parent, citizen, or other person to direct their complaint toward the employee they are complaining about. The theory is that the employee is the person most directly involved and should be given the opportunity to fix the situation. The employee also receives the notification that the complaint even exists.
Often parents and/or students do not want to address the employee because the person with the complaint often feels as if the teacher/coach/administrator/bus driver/etc. will react and do something negative to the student. People obviously feel this way because this has happened to them in the past or they have heard stories of this retaliation happening to others.
My personal philosophy concerning "Chain of Command" is that the very nature of this policy gives the impression that supervisors are not approachable concerning perceived problems in their school district. Can you imagine the situation of a superintendent being approached in the community such as in a grocery store, gas station, church or other place, by a citizen of the district and the citizen wanting to tell the superintendent of the problem and the superintendent telling the citizen to use the proper "Chain of Command" and start with talking to the person they are critical of? I would think that the citizen would be very upset with this type of reaction. And then we wonder why citizens vote "no" on school referendums.
I do believe that an employee should be notified of the complaint; I also believe that as a leader I should listen to the citizen, gather the facts as the citizen perceives them, and then tell the citizen that I will get back to them with some type of formal follow-up call or communication. In some cases, I have been able to solve the conflict during the conversation with the citizen and the citizen leaves satisfied. This is a much better solution than directing the citizen to the "Chain of Command." "Chain of Command" sounds militaristic and schools certainly are not the military. We should be problem solvers, not directors to some "Chain of Command."
I had the privilege the last two summers to stay at a Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation (for golf lessons) and I was treated like the most important person in the world by the Ritz-Carlton staff. Every staff member at the lodge spoke to me each time I saw them and each person asked if they could do anything for me. Many called me by name (I do not know how they knew my name) and treated me like royalty. What if schools operated in this manner? Every visitor to our schools and offices would be treated as the most important person in the world and all employees would ask the visitor if they could assist the visitor. In this environment I do not think we would be telling the visitor to go through the "Chain of Command."
Using Video to Improve Teaching Practice
For several years I have been suggesting to teacher evaluators and teachers to use video for teachers to reflect on their own practice and also for evaluators and teachers to use video to talk about teaching practice. I would strongly encourage you to visit the Teaching Channel website at
and watch this six-minute video on 2010 National Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling reflect on how she uses video to improve her own teaching.
Ms. Wessling uses a Flip Camera with a wide-angle lens attached to the camera and mounts the camera on a tripod. In the video Ms. Wessling explains how she videos nearly every lesson she teaches. She states, "I think there is a difference between the abstract of how we see our teaching practice and the concrete reality of it. I think what the video offers us is a certain degree of reality. There is a lot to be learned from that."
Reflection is a key component of the Danielson Frameworks. Video is the best process I think any person could use who wants to improve his or her own performance. Ms. Wessling scans the video and makes written notes about what she is seeing. She uses these notes to reflect on her own performance.
In this video there is also a segment where Ms. Wessling is engaged in a reflective conversation with her principal about her teaching practice while watching the video. Notice how this reflective conversation takes place in her classroom, and the evaluator and the teacher are sitting side by side discussing the teaching practice. This is not about rating teachers: this is about improving the teaching practice so students perform better.
Class Size vs. Teaching Salary Over Time
Last year, former IASA Field Services Director Dr. Nick Osborne mentioned to me that he had been investigating average class size vs. teaching salary over time. Thus, I researched these two metrics and discovered that average class size has decreased from a high of 25.8 in 1960 to 15.2 in 2010. This is a decrease of 41% over 50 years.
(See the following graph)
During the same 50-year time period, the average teacher salary increased from a low of $4,995 in 1960 to $56,069 in 2010, or an increase of $51,074. Adjusting the salaries for inflation in 2009-10 dollars, the average salary increased from a low of $36,844 in 1960 to $54,965 in 2010, or an increase of $18,121, or 49%.
In summary, class sizes have decreased by 41% at the same time teacher salaries have increased by 49% over this 50-year time period. During these tough economic times these trends will probably start to correct themselves. Average class size will increase due to the reduction in force of teachers and salary increases will slow down due to the lack of funding in Illinois for public education.
Tip of the Week
If you have not read the book Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen (McGraw-Hill Education, 2016), consider doing so. Christensen is a Harvard business professor who has studied why companies fail. He used his business analysis to suggest that schools may be missing the mark on innovation.
He details how "disruptive innovations" compete against non-consumption. For example, IBM totally missed the PC generation because it was busy making mainframes. Dell and other PC makers started out small and took over the industry. Other examples are Ford losing market share to Toyota and Toyota losing market share to a China car manufacturer. Department stores lost out to Wal-Mart and now Wal-Mart is losing out to Internet sales and "dollar" stores.
Christensen claims that schools are inattentive to online learning. He predicted that by 2013, 10% of students in the US would be taking online courses, either as their entire schooling or to supplement their curriculum. By 2019 he predicts 50% of the US students will be taking online courses.