Taking a Stand

Mar 27, 2017 by

Should school leaders speak out on social and political issues in this contentious time? Since the recent election, my educational leadership students have been asking me about taking a stand on political issues.  Here is my response to present and future school leaders.

Navigating the Stormy Sea of Political Opinion

The very nature of school leadership is political. School administrators deal with the micro political leadership issues in their school districts daily. At the macro political level, leaders are inundated with federal and state regulations coming through the pipelines all of the time.  The existence of most schools depends on the machinations of the state and the benevolent taxpayer who provides the resources needed to build and maintain schools, pay teachers and fund the manifold other expenses associated with contemporary education.  Standards dictated by state legislatures and departments of education determine the educational programming from pre-school through post-secondary institutions. At the local level, school board elections are increasingly contentious and campaign spending has increasingly skyrocketed.  Of course, anyone who has experience in school leadership can attest to the intricate system of alumni groups, parent teacher associations and unions that vie for resources and influence in most any school.

Weighing the Risk of Engagement

When contemplating a public position, a school leader must consider several questions.  Will this position have a positive or negative impact on my school?  Does this position align with the written polices and mission of my school?  Will this position have a disruptive effect on the student body or larger school community?  If this position will have a disruptive effect, will that disruption be offset by the potential benefits of the position?  Will this position effect certain individuals or groups differently than others?  Could it be interpreted differently by various groups or individuals?  Perhaps most importantly, are there unintended outcomes that this position may foster?  Only through careful consideration can a position be properly vetted.  If there is any uncertainty regarding the appropriateness or impact of a position, consider conferring with another school professional on the matter. If you are not sure, consult the superintendent. If you are the superintendent, consult another superintendent in your state.

Professionalism Above All Else

The National Association of Secondary School Principals has abided by a set of ten Guiding Principles since 1973.  The first principle requires the school leader to make “the well-being and success of students the fundamental value in all decision making and actions.”  The NASSP recommends that a school leader “Supports the principle of due process and protects the civil and human rights of all individuals.” The school leader is expected to “Implement the governing board of education’s policies and administrative rules and regulations.”  Any public position presented by a school leader should stand up to these considerations.

Preparing for Pushback

Anyone, regardless of vocation, faces potential negative feedback when voicing opinions or taking a position on public issues.  As a school leader, it is crucial to have a reliable approach to dealing with opposition and criticism of your positions.  If possible, anticipate which individuals or groups might have a negative reaction to your position.  Be prepared to address their issues and frame your position in a manner that is approachable from their perspective.  Form alliances with those who will share your positions and take the time to listen to supporters and detractors alike.  If necessary, be prepared to activate your networks of support including trusted casual connections like supportive teachers and parents or more formal networks like school spokespersons, press contacts or legal counsel.

Opportunities for Leadership

Many educators are compelled to take positions about public and political issues.  As sure as our profession is integrated into the political landscape, as educators we are passionate individuals driven to change the world around us for the better.  School leaders share that passion to build a better world, but have an obligation to model the best means to effect change in the school and the larger communities they serve.  By validating the school district position through the lens of professionalism, considering the wide ranging impact of a position and preparing for the potential outcomes, school leaders can anticipate meaningful results from their efforts to improve and enhance the world we reside in.

Keywords: micro-political leadership, macro-political leadership, school leadership, constructive feedback

Comment Below on how post-election outcomes has impacted your school district or school.

References

Blasé, Joseph. (1993). The Micropolitics of Effective School-Based Leadership: Teachers’ Perspectives. Education Administration Quarterly. Retrieved from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0013161X93029002003

Blume, Harold. (2017, February 20). L.A. school board races draw millions in outside spending. Retrieved from: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-los-angeles-school-board-spending-20170220-story.html

National Association of Secondary School Principals. (1973, November). Ethics for School Leaders. Retrieved from National Association of Secondary School Principals: http://nassp.org/who-we-are/board-of-directors/position-statements/ethics-for-school-leaders?SSO=true

Searby, L., & Williams , C. (Fall 2007). How to Survive the Politics of School Administration. Journal of Scholarship & Practice, 11-17. Retrieved from: http://www.aasa.org/uploadedFiles/Publications/Journals/AASA_Journal_of_Scholarship_and_Practice/Fall07FINAL.pdf

U.S. Department of Education. (2017). Laws and Governance. Retrieved from: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/landing.jhtml?src=pn

 

 

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