Paul Young is a retired principal. He is past president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). And he is a troublemaker. But, as Young describes in this essay, being a troublemaker is not always a bad thing. And, often, it is a necessary thing for strong school leaders to be.
There is no doubt that I was a troublemaker as a principal.
Ask my bosses.
Many teachers would also attest.
Even though I have countless pictures that show me reading to kids, engaged in playground activities, or sharing a special lunchtime, I was far from the calm, gentle, kind, and nurturing leader those pictures might lead you to believe.
Some of the kids who came to know me best were also troublemakers. More often than not, we connected. I grew to have a special affinity with several of them.
To most of the parents and students in my school, the label "troublemaker" would not have fit the image I projected. They just didnt see it. But that didnt change the fact that I was a Troublemaker -- with a capital "T" -- because I had visions of better realities for my students, our school, and my community. And I had a strong desire to realize our goals -- even when my priorities for our school community were not aligned with those of central office administrators, staff, or some parents.
To accomplish our goals, I often had to challenge the status quo. I had to challenge self-centered individuals in the central office whose interests were far removed from what was best for kids. I challenged staff members who lost sight of our goals too.
In the same way that troublemaking kids became endearing to me, so did some parents. Often, those parents who challenged us made us better. Sometimes they had to accept the scorn and wrath of the school staff. But when the issues they raised were at the core of our work or negatively impacted kids, they were right to cause trouble.
To affect the kind of change that creates opportunities and improves the lives of kids, there has to be a rub. Thats one of the secrets of leadership. Those who struggle to reach their goals will always achieve more than those who are content with temporary pleasures.
Effective principals know better than other individuals what is needed for their schools and students. Likewise, to achieve goals, they know they sometimes have to challenge the authority of a central office where mistakes can happen, resources can be distributed unfairly, practices can become outdated, and not everything happens according to plan.
When problems become apparent, it takes courage to confront what has always been done, or what is not right. Some principals lack the self confidence, courage, or experience to cause the trouble they need to cause in order to get what they need. They are afraid to ask the tough questions. And their schools and their students lose out because of it.
Society expects principals to possess special insights and skills to lead schools. It is also expected that they will challenge the status quo and develop a culture of continuous improvement.
Principals must be resilient and able to persevere. Those who accept inequality or tolerate injustice will fail. It is incumbent upon every school management team to adopt procedures for solving problems, challenging practices, and altering procedures. The school leadership team must understand that it takes a team to play the game of give and take. If the leaders of the management team wont facilitate or engage in necessary discussions, an ambitious principal or more must shake things up -- and "cause trouble" until they do.
Look at history. Many leaders who have made good things happen did so by causing trouble with those who stood in their way. They did what needed to be done, sometimes at any cost. They helped people achieve what they didnt know they could. They created new realities. And, over time, they earned respect. Others acknowledged their intentions for what they really were.
Trouble is not all bad.
Article by Dr. Paul G. Young
Copyright © 2007 Dr. Paul G. Young
Reprinted by EducationWorld.com with permission of the author