Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The best and worst administrators

On Maureen Downey's Get Schooled blog, she shared a piece written by Peter Smagorinsky on principals.

A bad principal destroys morale building-wide and makes it hard for teachers and students to want to go to school. I’ll next provide an inventory of bad principal types. If you’ve worked in schools, you’ll recognize them immediately.
The laissez-faire mediocrity (Motto: Anything to keep my job)
The my-way-or-the-highway martinet (Motto: Y’all are replaceable; I’m not)
The weasel (Motto: I’ll take credit for the good; the bad is all yours)
The finger-to-the-wind politician (Motto: Whatever you say, parents)
The career-climbing carpetbagger (Motto: Doing you harm so that I can do better)
The hey-y’all glad-hander (Motto: Appearances matter most)
The bully (Motto: Right or wrong, I’m right and you’re wrong—end of story)
The corporate number cruncher (Motto: If you can’t measure it, measure it anyway)
The good-old-boy ex-coach (Motto: It’s time to re-sod the football field, while teachers tape newspapers to the window as curtains)

I've experienced a variety of administrators through out my career. Here's a quick summary of my experiences.

The worst administrators do things to their teachers. The best administrators work with their teachers.

The worst administrators would rather shuffle paperwork. The best administrators would rather shred the paperwork.

The worst administrators can't wait to get in their office. The best administrators can't wait to get out of their office.

The worst administrators see staff meetings as their chance to talk. The best administrators see staff meetings as their chance to listen.

The worst administrators act as a conduit for the needs of those higher up. The best administrators act as a buffer to those higher up, to protect the needs of their teachers and students.

Ultimately, the worst administrators see others as a means to meet their own needs, while the best administrators see themselves as a means to help others meet their needs.


  1. Love this article! Truer words were never spoken. Makes me feel validated on many levels. Thanks for sharing this.


  2. Joe - I enjoy your blog a great deal and I can think of people who fit some of the descriptions you mention, but I am a believer that we need to overcome the huge rush of negative energy surrounding educators. I think we need to focus on the positive traits/qualities of administrators and teachers. While we can all think of those whose motives are misguided, I think we need to avoid name-calling/categorizing our colleagues. There are good educators and poor educators and I think we help our cause a lot if we keep promoting best practice.

    Name-calling does not fit into my description of best practice.

  3. I, too, have worked for all kinds-- this list is sort of a guide to leadership, not just school leadership. I saw a little fussy criticism of this piece on Twitter, and I thought, someone must have hit a nerve.

    I think an enterprising PhD student should conduct a study of highly regarded teachers to try to determine why those individuals don't go into school leadership. I bet it will have nothing to do with lack of data or those pesky unions.

    Incidentally, Smagorinsky was one of my high school teachers. He was brutally honest, funny, and tolerant. I don't remember a thing we studied, but I do remember that later, as a young teacher, I decided that he had helped spark in me the notion that my voice was worth listening to. His effect on me would never have shown up in a data set, but it was important and long-lasting. --@tbfurman

  4. Patrick, I'm all for being over-the-top optimistic. I've often blogged about the happenings in Alberta with rose coloured glasses - I really do want to move forward and avoid wallowing in negativity, cynicism and apathy.

    However, there are truths in our education system that bear identifying and appropriately labelling. Standardized testing needs to be seen as the cancer it is, just as some of the poor leadership in our education systems need to be seen for the malpractice they conduct. Working hard and playing nice in education reform isn't enough. We need to be acutely aware of how and why we ended up in what educational historians are likely to label as the most profoundly undemocratic period that it is.

  5. With saying all that, I take your comment to heart. I will be very mindful of the labels or names that I use to characterize the situation we are in.

    Thanks for the comment.

  6. @Tim, yes, I do think this post hit a few nerves. (And I'm not talking about Patrick's comment.)

  7. Mr. Larkins comment was appreciated after reading this piece. I am a newcomer to the field of education, and one thing I've seen at all levels is finger-pointing and blaming. For the most part, it flows downwards, as they say. With all of the talk of inadequate teachers, don't they represent their administrators? So, I never bought blaming teachers alone. A new milieu of collaboration and respect would go a long way in improving the system. Elly


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