Opinion
Education Opinion

Leaders: Balance Knowledge With Heart

By Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers — March 22, 2015 3 min read

A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. ~ Nelson Mandela

Leaders are weighted down by all the “what’s” that need to be done and the “what if’s” that consume our minds. So many of the “what’s” have to do with children, with fiscal issues and with teacher practice. The weight often cannot be resolved alone; it is passed on or shared with others. Safety, curriculum, assessment and finances are just four of the categories that require vigilance. These questions are always on the mind of leaders:


  • Is the safety plan the best?
  • Do we need to update it?
  • Are we thinking about every eventuality?
  • Is our curriculum current?
  • Are we aligning our curriculum to the right assessments?
  • Do we need to consider other ways of teaching and learning that would engage more students in the process?
  • Do we need more professional development for the teachers and leaders in order to make these changes? Are we using the teacher evaluation process in ways that add to teacher practice?
  • Are we using data for improvement or evaluation only?
  • How will funds be raised to meet our goals and grow our capacity?
  • What actions locally, or at the state level or with potential partners can make the positive difference?

Stress Impacts Teaching and Learning
Because the list is endless it is only natural for the leader to remain in his or her head. Thinking is essential, especially when the next emergency may be just around the corner. But running schools cannot be like a 200 day marathon. Running schools in emergency mode results in a stressed community. No literature suggests that a stressed community is a safe one for the best teaching and learning to take place.

Through their study of the dynamic process of leadership, Kouzes and Posner “uncovered five practices common to personal-best leadership experiences” (p. 63). They are:


  • Model the way
  • Inspire a shared vision
  • Challenge the process
  • Enable others to act
  • Encourage the heart (p.64)

The highlighting is ours.These verbs are skills, but not skills of the mind only. The way that needs to be modeled, the vision that needs to be inspired, the process that needs to be challenged, the actions that need to be enabled, and the heart that needs encouragement are a result of the combination of head and heart within the leader. To some that may sound corny but stick with this idea for a bit longer.

Isn’t Heart Our Raison d’Etre?
Most educators began their career in the classroom with the intention of serving children, improving their learning behaviors, knowledge and social consciousness as they grow. Some stepped out of the classroom to include coaching sports or academic teams or directing plays or musical ensembles, clubs or activities. Others decided to leave the classroom to lead schools or districts. But all began working in the service of children.

When accountability overtakes good work, heart is lost. When worry, fear and stress overtake us, our head doesn’t work at its best and our heart connection is lost. When lists of “what to do” get too long and attention to “how to do” is regulated, the heart voice is diminished.

Education is the business of developing young people. Leading educators must be the same if it is to flow to the children. Leading with heart is not a professional development session, a missive, or a sign in the hallway. Leading with heart sets in motion the potential for the organization to transition back to being one where information, practice, compassion and empathy are partners in the work.

So from where does the leader find the well from which to draw? In the place where we began...with the children. In their eyes and voices, through their full and broken places, we remember our calling. And when we stand back up from the live encounter with the child, the heart rises refreshed, the mind settled the purpose clear. From that place, the politics of leading schools is elevated into service for children.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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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