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A Call for Divergent Leadership
Originally written for the AppliTrack “Hire Greatness Today” publication
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air. (Gray)
English poet Thomas Gray wrote “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” to honor the millions who had died before him, the poor, the hapless, the unrecognized, those who lived and died with little notice from others. In his poem he openly declares a profound respect and appreciation for them, realizing unfortunately that many had natural abilities of greatness that could not reach fruition because they lacked either the finances or the education.
There are many potential teachers and administrators who have that innate ability to lead, to guide, to bring out the best in others, but they are not tapped: they go unrecognized because they may not be the same color or may not be deemed the brightest or may not have right economic background to be discovered. Yet, they are “there,” many already in the classrooms or lower echelons of administrative leadership, but they go under-appreciated and under-valued because they may be slightly different. The innate, raw talent, the ability to motivate, the industry and ethics to serve others, the listener who has the Joban patience to weigh before passing judgment, the administrator/teacher who can listen and explain and accept questioning and challenges but smile — these are the people with the leadership skills that could revitalize an entire administrative staff, change the direction of a school climate or culture, who can recognize and utilize the talents of the members of his or her staff and team, and who can sometimes dust the surface of a former principal’s desk and take charge himself or herself and thrive in the process. The unrecognized, those possessing the natural but untapped resources that go under-utilized, those who for any number of inexcusable excuses remain hidden, beautiful flowers in the desert lost because of displacement — that truly diverse group of men and women who could make a difference in young people’s lives and in their communities, either dwindle into mediocrity or leave a profession that never lends them a voice or listens if they find one to discover potential greatness in some other occupation that values character more than color, gender, religion, etc.
A key word in all levels of education today is diversity, commonly used in current professional academic articles somewhere within the body. Teachers are taught and administratively directed to embrace, interact, and internalize their diverse student populations in every way: culturally, sociologically, socioeconomically, sexually and religiously. That would be in the classroom. What about the rooms of the administration in district offices? Are they practicing the ideas that they mandate their teachers to follow? Do they assist or resist systematic, authentic integration of diversity in the hiring of administrative personnel in K-12? Are they practitioners of what they preach?
When I was small, I remember a little chorus that we used to sing in children’s church: “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Too young and innocent to understand the complexity of a world composed of multiple nationalities (then it was predominantly black and white to me), I did not appreciate the words to that song. Years later, when I recall that tune, it means so much more: not merely for its implications of religiosity, but because I now understand that the world is fabricated of infinite variations of ethnicities, languages and dialects, religions and rituals, regions, politics, gender roles, and cultural values. I have grown to value the differences in all those areas, the varieties offering the proverbial “spice of life.” Those varieties should be celebrated, understood, and unitive, not divisive; such is the purpose of education. Administrative leadership must abide by those same principles and purpose.
According to The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “During the 2011-12 school year, there were an estimated 115,540 principals of K-12 schools in the United States; 89,810 were public school principals and 25,730 were private school principals. Among public school principals, 80 percent were non-Hispanic White, 10 percent were non-Hispanic Black or African American, 7 percent were Hispanic, and 3 percent were another race/ethnicity… The percentage of public school principals who were female was 52 percent overall, 64 percent in primary schools, 42 percent in middle schools, 30 percent in high schools, and 40 percent in combined schools.” (Bitterman, Goldring, Gray, & Broughman, 2013)
As the population of the United States changes, with the increasing numbers of minorities (African American and Hispanic), eventually and statistically the white population will become the minority. As that ethnic transformation occurs and as it becomes increasingly evident in teachers’ classrooms, the traditional and still prevailing color of the principal in charge of those students remains predominantly white. The balance between the classroom population and the occupants of the principals’ offices should possibly be of concern. What can be done? What must HR do? Human Resources must strive to increase district initiatives and revise district strategic plans to accommodate possibilities. They must offer incentives in recruitment and build stronger partnerships with local universities and businesses. Designing programs to keep graduating minority students in their area, increasing the number of student internships, and building supportive internal leadership programs, in essence they can “grow their own.” They can scour universities nationwide, identifying and soliciting a broader variety of candidates. They can renew and cement current relationships with politicians, parents, and stakeholders, demonstrating mutual support, collaboration, and community interest and involvement.
I am not suggesting racism here. I am, however, suggesting the particularly myopic vision of school leadership of the past, often not intentional but simply mirrored, should lend itself to a certain color blindness in the future. Potential academic leaders of color, regardless of color, should be solicited and groomed for future positions in the higher echelons of leadership in public schools. The faces of the administrative team in the main office should somewhat reflect the teachers before their classes and the students populating their classrooms. Too, I am not suggesting racial quotas, affirmative action either: the best leaders should lead, but the best leaders must also be cognizant of the homogeneity of color in administrative meetings. The best leaders strive to create a culture of good followers, and among those strong followers must be those capable of good leadership. Those prospective leaders should be encouraged and mentored and invited onto the administrative team. The exceptionality of the great leader proves true not only in his or her ability to lead but also his or her ability to inspire and create new leaders.
The leadership colors of the future are “red and yellow, black and white.” That must be the goal, and what better way can we present leaders ensure and invest in future leadership than to hone the skills of potential leaders through mentorship? Let them follow us now to lead into a more reflective and appropriate “stained glass” future.
Bitterman, A, Goldring, R., Gray, L., & Broughman, S. (2013, August). Characteristics of Public and Private Elementary and Secondary School Principals in the United States: Results From the 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey. NCES 2013-313, U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, 3. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013313.pdf.