I find it interesting that this week's law reading for EDL600 is all about the employment of teachers, the evaluation process, and the laws and rules that govern how teachers and classified staff may or may not be dismissed, and that our essential question to be answered is not so much about the law, but about leadership. Like most people,I see law and leadership as two distinctly different things. I align law with the term 'authority', but I see leadership as something entirely different. I am a teacher who would prefer to be led by a true leader, and not just be evaluated by someone with the authority to do so. For myself I became a teacher because I was drawn to a career of service and meaning. Evaluation is part of the job. I will be evaluated. But other than the nerves that come with being under the microscope, evaluations never bother me because I am in my career for the right reasons. I work hard, I care about my students and colleagues, and I will do all I can to help my students learn and grow. I am not naive enough to think that every teacher thinks or feels that way, but most teachers I know got into the profession for the right reasons.
In my eyes, courageous conversations should be the only conversations. If a school employee is not performing to his or her best ability, the principal should absolutely have the courage to talk to the employee about performance and both parties should be willing to work on it. The leader should work hard to establish trust and a caring environment so that feedback can be accepted as a natural and needed part of the process of becoming the most effective teacher possible. Teachers don't need to be beaten into submission, in terms of performing up to the expected standard; teachers need to be led- by a leader who cares, not by just a person of authority.
I guess in any organization the law has to be set down so that there is an arena with set boundaries that everyone is aware of. In California School Law the decision of Morrison v. State Board of Education is discussed, which resulted in seven criteria known as the Morrison factors (Kemer & Sansom. 2013). These factors lined out the guidelines regarding immoral or unprofessional conduct within the teaching profession. These factors provide the boundaries of the arena regarding conduct, and help the authorities decide if a teacher in question is fit to teach. So, yes, these types of laws and boundaries do have to be in place so that there can be order. I have to say, though, that the laws, while important, are called into question, not by a majority of teachers. That is to say, most teachers are teaching because they want to teach and make a difference in the world. So for most, the laws are not much of a worry. The laws aren't what make good teachers good teachers. True leadership is what makes good teachers good teachers. A true leader will have courageous conversations with teachers and mentor them along by establishing trust and common goals. It isn't enough for leaders to say the right words. True leaders mean and feel what they say, and the employees working under that leader know a real, courageous leader when they see one. The problem is that not all "leaders" are actual leaders. Some "leaders" are just autorities. It is an important distinction.
I am a fan of Simon Sinek, an ethnographer and leadership expert who writes a lot about leaders and the traits they possess. In a talk he gave titled Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe he talks of how a true leader creates a safe environment of trust and caring, so that all parties feel part of the group and can trust that they are safe to let their gaurds down and learn. Through this kind of leadership, he argues, a natural flow of trust and cooperation ensue. When there is a natural flow of trust and cooperation, all people involved feel that they are on the same team. It can feel like family, and in a family, people aren't usually "kicked out" or shunned. Usually within a family an investment is made into each and every member, and each member can work to reach his or her best possible potential.
I was happy to hear in the interview by Dr. Cheryl Ward with Lamont Jackson, that Mr. Jackson advocated that if a principal was concerned enough about an employee's performance to send them to training, that the principal should attend the training also. I liked that because it seems like something a good leader should do. It demonstrates investment and genuine care, and that goes a long way in leading, as it builds trust. Trust is the key factor. If a teacher trusts and knows that his or her principal cares and wants him or her to be the best possible teacher for students, that teacher is likely to work hard to learn and self-evaluate, knowing that he or she can make a difference, and that the principal believes in him or her. In an environment like that, evaluations will be seen as helpful, rather than punitive. The entire posture of the interaction between teacher and principal will be more positive, and positive change is likely to happen resulting in a teacher who grows personally and in his or her practice, and also resulting in the leader not having to resort to looking at the language of the law to try to create the environment for a dismissal.
I know I am an optimist, but I do believe that true leadership can be the fix for many problems that arise in organizations, including education. Teachers are human beings, and human beings want to belong and prosper. Teaching can be a lonely profession if teachers find themselves alone in their classrooms all of the time. But courageous conversations between teachers and leaders can change that completely, by making teachers feel that they are not alone, and that they are worth the investment of time that a true leader should give. It can make all the difference in the world.
Kemerer, F., & Sansom, P. (2013). California School Law Third Edition. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Sinek, S. (2014). Why good leaders make you feel safe. Ted.com. Retrieved 24 November 2014, from http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_why_good_leaders_make_you_feel_safe?language=en
Ward, C. (Interviewer) & Jackson, L. (Interviewee). (2014). Human resource and the law (Interview transcript). Retrieved from https://blackboard.sdsu.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/EDL600-K1-Fall2014-ExtEd/Human_resource_and_the_law_interview.swf
Here's Simon Sinek's talk on "Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe":