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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at

Education Opinion

Do Some Administrators Let the Position Go to Their Heads?

By Peter DeWitt — July 02, 2017 4 min read

The danger, perhaps, is to hear the analyst too much and the artist too little. Robert Greenleaf

A friend contacted me through Facebook a few weeks ago asking me why someone’s personality would change when they switched positions. As I dug deeper to understand what she meant in her private message, I realized that she was referring to someone who went from being a friendly teacher to an unapproachable administrator.

As you know, there are always multiple sides to the story. Sometimes it takes a new leader awhile to get used to the change in duties. It’s easy to pick on administrators, but it’s much more difficult to be one. The position comes with new responsibilities. And some of those responsibilities come with the realization that when we become leaders we cannot make everyone happy. As much as possible, I believe we should always take the servant leader approach.

What does that mean?

Robert Greenleaf, the creator of the servant leadership philosophy puts it into simpler terms. Greenleaf says, “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?

Goddard et al (2015) write,

We reason that the more that principals serve as instructional leaders with detailed knowledge of classroom practice, the more likely are teachers to engage in collaborative interactions designed to improve instruction and facilitate group goal attainment. School leaders may serve as a catalyst for teacher collaboration.

It’s hard to have true knowledge of classroom practice if our view is always one-sided. If we, as leaders, don’t make ourselves vulnerable to the teachers we work with, will we ever truly see all of the nuances of classroom instruction and student learning? Will “instructional leader’ just merely be another top-down position?

Goddard et al (2015) go on to write,”The work of school leaders toward instructional improvement, through their support of teachers’ collective work, affected teachers’ reports of collective efficacy beliefs in their schools.

The bottom line is, do people become better because they work with a leader who adds to their growth, or do they become resentful and enabled because they work for a leader who doesn’t respect their voice, and always tells them what to do? All positions, even those in leadership, come with a level of compliance, but it shouldn’t be the norm for the whole position.

Going to Their Heads
Unfortunately, there are some leaders who do not believe that they should serve others as much as they believe others should serve them. Sometimes people go into leadership positions because they need to feed their ego...they need to have people reporting to them...and they need to make sure people are doing what they want them to do as a leader.

There are many reasons why some leaders (notice that I keep saying some!) let the position go to their heads. Three of the reasons I can think of are the following:

They like their status - They worked hard to get to their position, are proud of being the principal, and want to make sure everyone knows there is a boundary between them and the rest of the staff or the families in the school community. Those who want the status like when people look up when they walk into the room.

Enable instead of Empower - As an administrator they enjoy being needed, and will take it in any way they can get. So, they foster a climate of compliance where teachers have to hand things in on a regular basis, have faculty meetings that are all about their needs as a leader, and ultimately foster a climate where teachers say, “Just tell me what it is you want me to do.”

They’re not really leaders - Harsh I know. Sometimes people get into a leadership position and they lack leadership skills. They got there because they did well in leadership school, interviewed well and had a friend or family member in the district where they got the job...yes, that still happens. It’s sad because these people can destroy a school instead of make it better than the leader who came before them.

Remember that teachers don’t quit schools, they quit leaders. Leadership is important.

In the End
This is not mean to pick on leaders, but it is meant to highlight those leaders who need to understand that leadership offers us a great opportunity. That opportunity is to help others around us become better at the same time we grow as leaders.

John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, has research to show that principals/school leaders has an effect size of .33, which is down from .39. For those of you who know Hattie’s research, .40 is the hinge point which equates to a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input. So as leaders use Hattie’s research to tell teachers where they should be spending their time, I would like to use Hattie’s research to help leaders understand where they need to spend their time.

I believe Hattie’s research should act as a wake-up call for those of us who are in leadership positions. We need to collaborate with our colleagues, and help foster their growth. We need to get out of our offices a little more and get into classrooms to observe learning a little more. We need to create supportive school climates where students, teachers and families feel welcome, and we do that through meeting them in the morning to say good morning, getting to know as many of their names as possible.

Hattie talks about changing the narrative. We need to change the narrative from focusing on the adults in school to focus on learning in the classroom, and we do that by getting the best out of our leaders. We need to focus on analyzing those things around us but also practice the art of building relationships so we can foster more supportive climates. In the long run, if people are going to say we changed from when we went from being a teacher to a leader, they should follow that up with saying we changed for the better.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward), and the forthcoming School Climate: Leading With Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press/Ontario Principals Council. August 2017). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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