The Bards on Standards: Three Noteworthy Poets Provide a Historical Perspective from Three Different Centuries on the Evolution of Leadership

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Extraordinary poets may very well be the creators, or at least the "capturers," of the cultural thinking of the time in which they live and write. This may be especially true for a society's collective thoughts regarding an issue like leadership. Not convinced? Share in a remarkable conversation among the editors of Leadership magazine and three noteworthy poets.

Using the magic of modern cosmotechnology, the editors of Leadership were able to gather three remarkable individuals, each able to provide perspective from a different century, to discuss the issues of school leadership. The California Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (CPSELs) served as the center of the interviews, held with the author of Beowulf (referred to in the interview as the Beowulf poet or B.P.), playwright extraordinare William Shakespeare (W.S.), and 20th century American poetry treasure Denise Levertov (D.L.).

Leadership: It is, indeed, a rare opportunity to bring the three of you together Co share the insights you each have developed regarding the topic that is at the heart of our magazine, school leadership. To focus our discussion in the short time available, we'd like each of you to comment on the California standards that have been developed for school leaders. Standard One, known, in short, as the "vision standard,: reads like this: Standard 1: "A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by the development, articulation, implementation and stewardship of a vision of learning that is shared and supported by the school community."

W.S.: As I wrote in Henry VI, a great leader is someone who "stands upon a promontory and spies afar-off shore where he would tread, wishing his foot were equal with his eye," someone who "chides the sea that sunders him from thence, saying he'll lade it dry to have his way" (Richard of Gloucester, Henry VI, Part III.) This may be what is being referred to as having a "vision."

B.P.: Indeed, vision is essential. A leader must know clearly where he is headed. For example, my hero Beowulf, as he began his journey to save the Danes, announced:

I had fixed a purpose when I put to sea. As I sat in the boat with my band of men I meant to perform to the uttermost what you people wanted or perish in the attempt (Lines 632-635).

Equally, it is important to state that vision: "The sooner you tell where you come from and why, the better" (Lines 256 & 257).

D.L.: However, I do think it's important that "vision" not be static.

   Vision sets out
   Journeying somewhere,
   Walking the dreamwaters:
   Arrives
   Not on the far shore but upriver,
   A place not evoked, discovered.

(Relearning the Alphabet--Relearning the Alphabet, 1970)

Perhaps, not incidentally, I also evoked the image of the boat in attempting to capture the concept of vision Again, I've found vision to be elusive and tried to describe it as such:

   You at the prow were the man--
   All voice, though silent--who bound
   Rowers and voyagers to the needful
   journey,
   The veiled distance, imperative mystery.

(To Rilke--A Door in the Hive, 1989)

Leadership: I think we might all agree that a vision that does not become part of the culture of a community or nation is of little value. What do you feel is the leader's role in shaping culture?

Standard 2: "A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by advocating nurturing and sustaining a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and stall professional growth."

B.P.: Indeed, that, and preserving that culture is the purpose of leadership. As Beowulf declared when he set shore in Denmark:

   We have arrived here on a great errand
   to the lord of the Danes, and I believe
   therefore
   there should be nothing hidden or withheld
   between us. …