Reflecting on this course there are two things I will take away from organization theory and leadership. The first that in order to be a successful leader, you have to be flexible. I can study all the leadership and organizational theories in the world: bureaucracy, human relations, institutional theory, be confident, show integrity, etc. but just like in life, obstacles happen and in the world of education, you could show up to work one day and a fight could break out, a lock down could happen or a natural disaster could be happening within your school's community. As a leader, you have to be willing to role with the punches and know that not every day will be a good day and not every day will go as planned, but it's up to a leader to hold down the fort and lead the way.
The second thing I will take away is that there is no real right way to lead. In order to be a good leader, you have to be a mix of every good quality that comes from organizational theory as well as leadership theory. Sometimes as a leader, you may need to be opened minded and listen to criticism and sometimes, you may need to come down with a hammer such as laying down a directive over a policy decision. Not every single student, parent, teacher or district employ is going to be happy with the decisions a leader makes and as a leader, that's just something you have to live with.
Only though I have only been teaching for 5 years, I have had the pleasure of learning what a true leader is from my master teacher, Vince. When I first met him, I was afraid I was going to have a horrible experience. He had informed me that he only agreed to be my master teacher because the district had asked him to do so. Even though I was the 9th student teacher he had, he had a horrible experience with his last one and was afraid of repeating the experience. Luckily for both of us, it turned out to be an amazing experience. Vince did not hold my hand during my student teaching experience. From the beginning, he had told me that this was my classroom and I could do what I wanted. “If you’re a project based teacher, do projects. If you’re a story teller, tell stories. Do what you’re good at and the kids will respond.” Vince had also allowed me to make my own mistakes and learn from them.
Not only did Vince allow me to become my own teacher, but he also took the time to show me the ropes as to the ways in which to get a job in education. Whenever I was doing a cool lesson, Vince would go out of his way to get administration to come and observe. He took the time to help me with me resume, informed me of who I needed to get letters of recommendation as well as references from. Vince also helped me practice interviews and informed me of general questions I would be asked and the ways in which to respond to them. When I talk to other teachers about their student teaching experience, I’m always shocked that they were not given the same experience as me, in terms of the knowledge that was passed down. Without him, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten a job 2 months after finishing student teaching with no subbing experience whatsoever.
Because of the experience I had with Vince, I try to pass on the knowledge he gave me to the subs I come into contact with and the ones who are looking to become teachers. His leadership style, which offered guidance and support, but did not force me to be something I did not want to be and allowed me to develop into the teacher I am today. With every year that I teach, I become even more grateful of the student teaching experience I had.
Accountability is really important in education, both internal and external. Unfortunately, the school that I’m at is lacking in both. Typically at our Social Science PLC, 4 or 5 of the 13 teachers in our department actually show up. There is little collaboration and even though there have been some attempts made to create more grade level assignments that all teachers teaching a particular subject would do, there is still heavy resistance from teachers who do not want to change. Because admin does not walk around or visit classrooms, the lack of accountability has continued from both internal and external forces. There are several teachers on my campus who are known for doing absolutely nothing or just handing out packets or assigning book work, but because they haven’t been called out by leadership, they have no issues continuing to disservice our students.
Because the relationship between staff members is cliquey and contentious, there is no real push to make changes in our school. To be completely honest, unless there is a major change in our leadership, I don’t see any accountability being implemented coming any time soon, which for me, is really disheartening.
On February 14, 2018, another school shooting took place in Parkland, Florida. What made this school shooting different then the rest, however, was the grassroots organizing for change that took place shortly after. The youth in particular called for gun control and mass protests across the country. At my high school, several members of the student body decided to organize a school walkout on April 20th, 2018 to not only coordinate with a national movement, but to also honor the victims of Columbine. The students chose to involve staff members, administration as well as the school district in order to ensure that their voices would be heard (whether for gun control or not), the walkout would be safe and information could be properly shared with everyone. Despite the fact that the walkout was organized and communicated to the community, the after affects were quite shocking.
The principal took the approach of the human relations theory, which seeks to increase productivity by including or at least considering the social and behavior needs of humans in the decision making process. Since the students had really done the mature thing of communicating their plan to the school and the district, our principal felt it would only be right to have students voice their opinion on an issue that truly affects them. What resulted though was parents bashing the school on social media websites such as Facebook. Many parents in the community felt it was a disgrace to allow the walkout to happen, that this reflected the fact that teachers were not doing their jobs and that the students who were participating in the walkout had no idea what they were protesting about (my high school is located in a more conservative area). We had several students who had told us that they wanted to participate in the walkout, but their parents told them they were not allowed to. Many students did not show up to school that day, which left teachers in an uproar who were not in support of the walkout in the first place.
Even though this walkout allowed all voices to be heard (whether good or bad), was communicated and organized well, what I learned is that you cannot expect to make everyone happy and sometimes, in order to do what you feel is right, you have to bite the bullet. When the negative pushback began to happen, my principal could have easily cancelled the walkout, but since she felt that students had a right to be heard, she continued to support their efforts, despite push back from internal and external sources. As a leader, not every decision you make or action you implement is going to make people happy and you have to be willing to take the good with the bad. A good leader needs to allow people an opportunity to speak their mind, but they also need to know when they have to make a decision and stick to it.
On a side note, I wanted to talk about something that has happened over the past few days. About two hours after class on Saturday, October 13, I got a call from a co-worker who wanted to inform me that a student I had the previous year, Kennedie Ryan, who was a senior this year had died in a car accident that morning. When I began completing my observation hours for my credential program and when I started student teaching, I had always been warned how difficult it would be when a student at the school or a student you have passes away, but no matter how much someone talks to you about it or what you read in a textbook, I don't think anything can truly prepare you for that moment. Monday was really one of the tougher days I've had as a teacher. I pride myself in always keeping it together and being professional, but even when I talked to my students, I started to cry and I was just her teacher. I can't even imagine what her friends and family have been going through. On days such as Monday, teaching curriculum, testing or doing anything academic just isn't important. As teachers, it's important to take care of our students, but it's also important to take care of ourselves and sometimes by doing that, we throw the rules of education out the window and just take a day to honor and appreciate the people (such as Kennedie) who made the world a better place.
Since I worked in customer service for nearly 8 years, I got the opportunity to work with various types of people with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities. This also allowed me to see what the difference between a manager and a leader is as well as what qualities are exhibited by effective and ineffective leaders. During the 8 years I worked at Albertson’s, I worked for two different store directors with very different leadership styles. My first store director, Kim, was incredibly friendly with employees and would do whatever she could to help out her employees. If we were short handed with baggers, needed extra help in the floral department during Valentine’s Day or if a load needed to be thrown because someone had called in sick, she would pitch in and help with those things. During Christmas time, she would make sure to have someone cater lunch for all of the employees in the store, including the guys who worked night crew. As a leader, Kim was determined, sociable, had integrity and inspired her employees to be the best they could be. My second Store Director, Paul, was the polar opposite. If the store was short handed or if someone called in sick, the employees were just expected to pick up the slack and complete twice as much work. If there was a piece of trash next to his foot, he would point it out to someone to pick it up rather than picking it up himself and throwing it away. Because I was not a manger, it took him nearly four months to call me something other then “Hey” or “You,” even though I wore a name badge that clearly said “Amber” on it. When he became my store director the morale in the store was low and the turnaround for employees was relatively high.
A manager is somebody that just does what they are told to do with little input or ability to change a situation. A leader, on the other hand, affects change and makes an effort to improve situations for all parties involved. Although the example I provided was relative to the grocery business, in the case of education, improving the quality of education could mean improving outcomes for students, teachers, parents and community members. While reading about the different leadership styles (bureaucracy, open systems, organizational theory, etc.) none of them are perfect and there are pros and cons to each, but it’s about finding the right balance between those various theories/styles that can make someone an effective leader. As a leader, you want to inspire people to be the best that they can be, but you also have to be prepared to deal with coworkers who may or may not have the same vision as you do. This requires an ability to listen, be open minded as well as collaborative. Experience, I believe, is also the key to obtaining quality leadership skills. Without an ability to put to the test what one actually learns, there is no telling what leadership style works and what doesn’t work.