But in toxic times like ours, administrators take on another responsibility-- to run interference and keep the institution focused.
For today's analogy, let's say that teachers are surgeons in a hospital, and principals and superintendents are the chiefs of surgery.
So what happens if the Powers That Be send down an edict-- surgery must now be performed with rusty shovels instead of clean scalpels?
Bad managers come in many types.
There are the Kool-Aid drinkers, the ones who proclaim loudly, "This shovel-based surgery will be the best ever. It works great! It saves patients! Anyone who says otherwise is not a team player, and we need to weed those people out."
There are the rose-colored hopers. "We'll go ahead and use the shovels for surgery, and if we just do our best, things will probably work out, somehow."
But perhaps the most reprehensible bad leadership comes from those who recognize what's wrong, but shrug and refuse to stand up against it.
Doctor: You know that if we operate with rusty shovels, that will be bad for the patient. right? You know this is bad and wrong, don't you?
Boss: Yes, but it's what the Powers That Be say we have to do.
Doctor: The scalpels are still sitting right there. I know how to use them. Just let me use them.
Boss: The Powers That Be have been really clear about what they expect.
Doctor: But we're being set up to fail. We'll use the rusty shovels and patients will get sick and die and the Powers That Be will use it as an excuse to shut us down, or to open more charter surgical centers across the street.
Boss: Yes, I think you're right.
Doctor: We know that what they want us to do is wrong. We know how to do the right thing, and we even have the tools to do the right thing. So let's just do the right thing before we do more irreparable damage to our patients. Shovel surgery is bad for them. Bad! We have to stop.
Boss: Oh, I know, I know. But the Powers That Be have laid out the rules, so we're just going to have to follow them.
This is a terrible form of leadership. It replaces the values and purpose of the institution with a subservience and compliance that is damaging to the institution and to the people the institution is meant to serve. And it sends a clear message to staff-- when times get tough, and you're worried about choosing between your professional ethics and your professional future, we will not help you make the right choice, and if you do make the right choice, we will not have your back.
This is one of the long-term side effects of modern reform. Test-centered education, soaked in Vam sauce and steeped in Common Core, is education's rusty shovel; it has created a toxic environment in which teachers find their ethics tested and their morale eroded. Modern reform has changed the requirements for being a good school administrator, and many are not fully prepared to meet the challenge.