Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Where's the Ministry in Administration? Attending to the Souls of Our Schools

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Where's the Ministry in Administration? Attending to the Souls of Our Schools

Article excerpt

Administrators should not overlook their nurturing, supportive, even ministerial role, Mr. Graseck argues. Indeed, those who would create learning communities would do well to embrace it.

NO SINGLE road map will necessarily guide an inexperienced administrator toward effective leadership. Some educators simply possess a natural ability for administration, just as some do for teaching. However, my career in education has revealed several traps inherent in the administrative life, traps that militate against effective leadership, traps to be avoided.

First, I can say unequivocally, after 25 years in the classroom, that too many administrators misread the central purpose of their work and consequently stumble into a hole, tumbling helplessly downward like Alice in Wonderland. Disoriented, they begin to lose their ability to connect with teachers. And after a year or two, usually no more than three, they manage to erect a barrier between the teachers and themselves. This barrier develops within the administrator. It broadcasts to the teacher this message: "My job is more important than yours."

Second, once this wall is erected, the potentially effective administrator loses the inward compass so necessary to the practice of true administration. Believing his or her job is now more important than the jobs of teachers, the school administrator turns to the matter of survival. This preoccupation with longevity in the workplace supplants the focus on building a culture in which teachers are prized and encouraged to believe that their raison d'etre is to support students. When hanging on to the job becomes the administrator's chief priority, this selfishness poisons the atmosphere in which he or she acts.

Third, administrators, in addition to building walls between themselves and their teachers, frequently minimize the importance of developing education-centered relationships with parents. When I was appointed, quite unexpectedly, to an interim principalship of a middle school in crisis, it was necessary to construct a bridge between the community and the school. At one parent gathering, I heard myself blurt out, "I want to institute a 'house calls' program. If anyone is willing to host a house meeting which nine other parents agree to attend, I will be happy to go to your home to talk about the school and your children's education." This spontaneous offer to make house calls led to a series of house meetings that turned out to be refreshingly honest and substantive. These meetings allowed me to share my background and educational vision and told the community that the new principal was willing to reach out to the taxpayers who send their children to the school.

A house call was not just another school meeting. It was a colloquy, an event marked by genuine trust in dialogue. It revealed a willingness to be vulnerable. It allowed the host to create an atmosphere for authentic conversation. Every meeting was scheduled for two hours (7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), yet I never left a meeting before 11:00 p.m. I permitted griping but emphasized the need to avoid getting stuck in the muck of whining.

These were frank discussions that educated me and the parents. I learned through one teacher that teacher union officials on the other side of the state were talking about this obscure principal in the northeast corner of Connecticut who was actually going to the homes of parents to hear their concerns. I wondered to myself, "How is it that such an enriching practice is not commonplace?" Too often parents are viewed as enemies, obstacles to building a positive school climate. This is simply untrue. I had stumbled on what has become for me a model for leadership, reducible to a simple recipe: good administration is one part supervision and two parts ministry. It is a model rarely implemented.

Public Schools as Spiritual Communities

Mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, "The essence of education is that it be religious. …

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