Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Principal stars

In college, I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  For some people, that woman was a deep thinker and a beacon.  For others, she was off base.  I never got too deep into her philosophy but I did get an appreciation for the burden of a leader from that book.  I think an immature view of a leader is that such a person gets to be the boss and tell others what to do.  As we age, we find through life, parenting and leadership responsibilities, that actual leadership is quite different.  There is continuous persuasion needed, political astuteness, a fine hand on the tiller guiding the craft through rocks, rebellion and wreckage.  I often see or hear the leader being pleaded with by party A to do this immediately, only to see or hear party B pleading that the leader never do this.  Meanwhile, other pairs of opponents are urging contradictory courses on separate matters with equal passion.  The leader who cares must weigh what is heard and advocated but can never please all parties.

The picture and layers of leadership become much more complex and delicate when part of the group being lead cannot fend for themselves.  I point to elementary school principals as heroes of leadership, who regularly wrestle cut-throat politics at a municipal or higher level while trying to stay fully open to the needs, views and confusions of kindergartners.  When you throw in experienced teachers who don't like what the school board or public or principal is doing, nervous parents worried about their specially gifted genius, gang warfare in the neighborhood, pimps and drug dealers lurking about, high-minded elders trying to stop society's slide into depravity and texting, throw those factors in and things start to get interesting.

A local principal whom I very much admire was a Navy seal at one time.  I bet his current job is just about as demanding, in its way, as that duty was. When I was student teaching, I was an uptight prig who knew all the answers and looked down on those who didn't.  My partner was both mellow and balanced, manly and tender.  He was a principal for years before retirement.  He showed me a loving, calm, firm path into teaching, which lead to a wonderful life of steady fun.  A third principal once showed me a list of his responsibilities, three single spaced pages.  At the time, I was interested in provisions our schools made for spotting and nurturing extra-bright kids.  There on page three, among very different sorts of things he was supposed to be on top of at all times, was creating and guiding gifted education in that school.  

If you are looking for an example of sharp, lively people in your community, check the local school principals.  You will find some great people.

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