Thursday, March 8, 2018

Bad Administrators in Toxic Times

A good manager in any enterprise is one who makes it possible for her people to do their best possible work. Her job is to make sure they have the resources, the encouragement, the support and the space to do their best work.

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?

Appendectomy, pleasde
A good manager will fight back. She might advocate, loud and strong, for the proper use of the proper tools in surgery. She might stand up for her people And if her advocacy is unsuccessful, she may move on to guerrilla warfare. In the operating room, she might instruct the surgeons to keep on using the tools and techniques that they know work best, while she grabs a shovel and prances around in front of them so that the Powers That Be will think their directive is being followed.

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.


  1. Whether intended or Not, you explained precisely the recent events at Scottsdale Unified School District. The only remaining plausible explanation for Kirby and company's actions is the willful decimation of Public Schools for the purpose of benefiting her hopeful mentors, the Ducey and Twist complex. Sounds wildly conspiracy theory driven. But name another plausible explanation

  2. The supposed administrators you describe here are what I call adminimals who lack critical thinking, know only brown nose ass kissing behavior and who lack cojones to stand up against what is obviousl harmful educational malpractices.