Soldier-Scholar-Statesman: The Emotional Lives of Schools

Schools are emotional places.  Any teacher knows that happy and confident students learn more effectively.  Might the same be true for teachers?  

Most reform efforts meant to improve schooling outcomes have focused on technical reforms.  Assessment and evaluation practices come to mind.  Rubrics.  Professional Learning Communities.  And I am a big fan of some of these – I’m particularly fond of the technical improvements in teaching practice – but we do ourselves a favour if we realize these changes go on in an emotional environment.  That is, for teachers to adopt new practice, they need to feel safe, nurtured, celebrated.  Improvements in the technical practices of teaching and learning are necessary to make better the experiences of students; given that teachers are the mechanism by which principals work, it makes sense for school leaders to have front-of-mind the emotional needs of teachers.

Or, put another way…

Another one of the challenges in our large-scale reform efforts right now, which focus on capacity building, is to bring emotions out of the shadows and say ‘this is part of capacity building too’. We have to nurture the way our staff is feeling about their work if we expect them to be resilient and sustain their efforts. The work has to be something that’s meaningful. It needs to feel like we’re making progress, and it needs to be something teachers are confident about being able to do. – Ken Leithwood

The ideal of US military leadership has sometimes been described as soldier-scholar-statesman.  Principals would do well to have something like that model in mind.  They need to be all three (they need to understand what is best; act decisively; and with diplomacy, tact and empathy), but knowing when which role is required takes intelligence, grace, and courage.