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Learning Humane Self Leadership From A Teacher’s Resignation

Hooray and dismay.

In reclaiming her own integrity and future by resigning, a Florida teacher in the Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) made a powerful statement about our need to stop following leadership that doesn’t know how to lead. The teacher wrote:

“Florida’s startling attrition rate of 40% for educators [in the first] five years [of teaching] …. means my woes are shared by many. “OCPS Means Success” doesn’t mean squat if those measuring the success only recognize a specific brand of success, and continue to ignore the needs of their educators and students.”

Managers who fail to meet our basic human needs while hiding behind standards and data, have not earned the right to lead us. The current leadership structure may have role-based authority but they also must earn the trust and influence required to lead us. Of course, some educational leaders are doing great work at the nearly impossible task of meeting the changing needs of children, society and the imposed standards, but, clearly others are not meeting the needs of teachers and students.

“These kids aren’t standardized. Our species isn’t standardized. We are human… “

Hiding Behind Data And Models

Students and teachers are not data points. “If you can measure it you can manage it,” is a business idea that causes damage even in the business world. School leadership should be extremely careful in crafting and implementing measurements and evaluation schemes to avoid unintended consequences like disengagement, dropout and teacher attrition. Reductionist thinking has real costs in the lives of real humans.

Also, our schools are not businesses, students and parents are not customers. Thinking about our schools as businesses leads us to mental images, ideas, measurements and behaviors that are inappropriate. The operating metaphor for a school must be something far more nuanced and organic than a business, maybe an orchard is a better metaphor with its slow growth, many varieties of fruit, and years and years of produce as a reward. More about the power of operating metaphors here.

If we are going to measure things and collect data, it is critical to remember that data is not reality. Data is a reductionist representation of some facet of a likely far more complex and interesting reality. The map is not the territory, the test scores are not the child.

“Yet, the district maintains an incessant and desperate need to pigeonhole education and goat herd bewildered students through an algorithm of disappointment and forced uniformity.”

Humans are at the very least complex adaptive systems that can be roughly approximated by some data points. Education’s role is to identify and amplify the strengths of each child, to support them in leading themselves to a purposeful and fulfilling life.

But humans cannot be led by data points.

Toward More Humane Leadership

Humans need to be led by hope and clarity about their leading roles in unfolding a meaningful story of their own and their community’s lives.

Clearly, some significant portion of current leadership is falling short. It may be time to fire your current “managers,” if only in your heart and mind. Refusing to follow them will give you space to begin to lead yourself from where you are toward where you need to be.

Today, can you begin with one small, fresh step toward more humane self leadership? Tomorrow, can you find something to build on what you did today? Some ideas:

  • Find one way to weave together your humane treatment of yourself, one student and one of your fellow teachers as whole human beings full of possibility, challenges and hope.
  • Find ways to do less, to take back bits of time and opportunities for creativity. Use those moments to share with your students or maybe even attend to your own health.
  • Begin to develop the natural leadership abilities that already exist in yourself and in your team. Out of that leadership will grow the living, learning community that you need.

Reclaiming Our Power To Choose

Leadership of ourselves is an honor that we can choose to bestow on others.

People can manage us based on their assigned roles in the organization, but ultimately we lead ourselves and only sometimes will we find leaders effective enough for us to want to follow them. This focus on our own self leadership will begin a quiet revolution by transforming our understanding of excellent and humane leadership. We will become a better leaders from the inside out and we’ll be able to lead others humanely as we have learned to lead ourselves.

So, let us start today by leading ourselves with a bit more kindness, a bit more clarity and a quiet commitment to weaving our deepest values with our daily actions.

“In life that is truly life, everything overlaps and merges.”

John Dewey


This post is based on an article by @valeriestrauss in the Washington Post, “This teacher had enough. Here is her ‘bitter’ resignation letter.”

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