Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Who Do You Picture When You Think of a Leader?

By Nancy Flanagan — May 31, 2018 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

There was a fascinating article in the NY Times, about a management training exercise that directs groups of people to draw a leader. Originally designed to bypass detailed verbal discussion about leadership in groups where multiple languages were spoken, the strategy merely asks participants to sketch their conception of a leader, with as much detail as possible.

I was especially interested because this draw-a-leader technique was one I used, many times, in workshops around teacher leadership, for diverse audiences. I can testify that if you want to clear a room of school administrators, who suddenly have to step out in the hallway for an ‘emergency’ call, start passing out chart paper, crayons and markers, and ask them to draw something.

Management trainers and organizational psychologists who use this exercise agree:

In terms of gender, the results are almost always the same. Both men and women almost always draw men. "Even when the drawings are gender neutral [which is uncommon], the majority of groups present the drawing using language that indicates male (he) rather than neutral or female." And yet, Dr. Kiefer's clients often insisted that what they meant by "he" is actually "both."

Interesting. Because from my (admittedly unscientific) sample, female teachers, when asked to draw a teacher leader, draw themselves. Details include bulging tote bags, thought bubbles with visions of dynamic schools and thriving kids, and the occasional placard. There are often mountains (to climb) in the background---and clever fine points like bags under eyes, sensible shoes, mandatory pockets and mugs of coffee.

Nobody’s more pragmatic than a would-be teacher leader who knows that taking on leadership roles means expanding the workload. More to the point, teacher leaders understand that the only definition of leadership that matters in education world is keeping one’s promises. Getting stuff--the right stuff--done. Gender is irrelevant, they’ll tell you.

So why do non-educators perceive leadership as a predominantly male thing?

How might holding unconscious assumptions about gender affect people's abilities to recognize emerging leadership? A study posted by the Academy of Management Journal, seems to confirm what many women have long suspected: getting noticed as a leader in the workplace is more difficult for women than for men. Even when a man and a woman were reading the same words off a script, only the man's leadership potential was recognized.

There’s also that dogged, pragmatic streak where women just keep going: Witness the winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon, Desiree Linden, who considered dropping out, but rallied to finish first. There was a lot of talk about physiology--proportions of body fat and pain tolerance--when considering the higher dropout rate for men, under terrible weather conditions. Maybe, however, the kind of leadership that lets women place first in the Boston Marathon, as well as the classroom, involves something else: persistence through unimaginably difficult conditions.

In a thought-provoking blog entitled Why Teachers are Walking Out, Seth Nichols (after noting that he’s the rare male in a female-dominated profession) kicks off with the following comment:

I am often confounded at what I have seen my coworkers silently acquiesce to, happily playing along, fueled only by the sense of the purpose they work from. I am not surprised that teachers in many states have had walkouts. I am surprised that they waited so long to start. The walkouts aren't really ultimately about "pay," the face usually presented. Women are done being taken advantage of.

It’s a great piece--recommended--but it ends with Nichols declaring that he’s walking out for good, at the end of the year, because he (presumably unlike the patient and persevering doormat-women he works with) is really done with being taken advantage of, the petty daily humiliations of teaching.

So who’s the leader? The one with the sense of purpose, or the one who gets going?

A YouGov survey recently asked, “Do you personally hope that the United States elects a woman president of the United States in your lifetime, or not?” Sixty-six percent of all respondents said yes, while 34 percent said no--and 59 percent of Republicans were clear: They aren’t hoping for a woman president in their lifetimes. Something to consider, when we talk about leadership.

Picture a leader. Who do YOU see?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land 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.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Reported Essay Teachers Are Not OK, Even Though We Need Them to Be
The pandemic has put teachers through the wringer. Administrators must think about staff well-being differently.
6 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read
Teaching Profession With Vaccine Mandates on the Rise, Some Teachers May Face Discipline
With a vaccine now fully FDA-approved, more states and districts will likely require school staff get vaccinated. The logistics are tricky.
9 min read
Grace John, who works at a school in San Lorenzo, gets a COVID-19 shot at a mobile vaccination clinic run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state in Hayward, Calif., on Feb. 19, 2021. California will become the first state in the nation to require all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. The statewide vaccine mandate for K-12 educators comes as schools return from summer break amid growing concerns of the highly contagious delta variant.
Grace John, who works at a school in San Lorenzo, gets a COVID-19 shot at a mobile vaccination clinic in Hayward, Calif. California is among those states requiring all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
Terry Chea/AP