Why School Leaders Need Poets: You Can Find a Context for Your Daily Work by Reflecting on a Truly Meaningful Personal Vision

By Buster, Walt | Leadership, March-April 2004 | Go to article overview

Why School Leaders Need Poets: You Can Find a Context for Your Daily Work by Reflecting on a Truly Meaningful Personal Vision


Buster, Walt, Leadership


In the high visibility world of school leadership, those who hold titles that imply decision-making, judgment and evaluation are constantly watched to be sure that words spoken match actions taken. The cliche about words being like toothpaste--once they're out they can't be put back into the tube--certainly applies to leadership situations.

The task of reflecting on a truly meaningful personal vision, as opposed to trendy words on a flip chart, can provide leaders with a context for their daily work. When hard decisions involving employees or students must be made, it is the personal vision and self-identity of the leader that provide meaningful context.

The internal statement, "I am making this hard call because it is best for the individual and the institution and is consistent with my belief that schools must have people of character in the classroom" will lead to more job satisfaction than making a decision based only on the rules of the job.

Spending time with students, parents and staff as a listener builds positive relationships. Information is infinite, and the more that is provided the more is received. While it was once taught that there was strength in the "need to know" theory, Margaret Wheatley and others have explained that schools and districts are natural systems that grow with new information and ideas and atrophy with closed communication and distrust.

With new information technologies, it is unlikely that topdown secretiveness will lead to higher productivity. The skillful sharing and receiving of information is the role of the enlightened leader.

Vision in a leader is most powerful when it brings to the district or the school a sense of possibility and hopefulness. It is certainly not hard to find cynicism, but the dark side of life doesn't inspire others to do their best work. It would be better to read "Good Poems," an amazing anthology of readable poetry compiled by Garrison Keillor, to find ideas to inspire optimism in the leader's vision. For example, this gem:

Sometimes
By Sheenagh Pugh

   Sometimes things don't go, after all,
   From bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
   Faces down frost;green thrives, the crops don't fail,
   Sometimes a man aims high, an, d all goes well.
   A people sometimes will step back from war;

   Elect an honest man; decide they care
   Enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
   Some men become what they were born for.

   Sometimes our best efforts do not go
   Amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
   The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
   That seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

Another book for the educational leader interested improving relationships and productivity is the anthology compiled by Bill Moyers entitled "The Language of Life, A Festival of Poems." Of special note is the poet James Autry, until 1991 the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He is a moving and inspirational writer whose poetry takes place in offices like those of school leaders. In his outstanding work, "Love and Profit," he describes the importance of relationships.

Threads

By James Autry

   Sometimes you just connect,
   like that,
   no big thing maybe
   but something beyond the usual business stuff
   It comes and goes quickly
   so you have to pay attention,
   a change in the eyes
   when you ask about the family,
   a pain flickering behind the statistics
   about a boy and a girl in school,
   or about seeing them, every other Sunday.
   An older guy talks about his bride,
   a little affectation after twenty-five years.
   A hot-eyed achiever laughs before you want him to.
   Someone tells about his wife's job
   or why she quit working to stay home.
   An old joker needs another laugh on the way
   to retirement.
   A woman says she spends a lot of her salary
   on an au pair
   and a good one is hard to find
   but worth it because there's nothing more important
   than the baby. … 

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