Who’s In Charge?: All of Us!

Who’s In Charge?: All of Us!

Anthony S. Muhammad, Ph.D.

The structure and hierarchy of organizations have always been fascinating to me.  Schools are by far, the most fascinating organization to study these phenomena. In decades past, the hierarchy was very clear, the administrator was the boss and everyone followed his/her direction or they were subject to his/her wrath!  The changing nature and purpose of school has rendered this top-down authoritarian viewpoint of leadership outdated and obsolete.  The demands placed on schools to develop their students and ensure that they can demonstrate knowledge in a world that is becoming smaller and more competitive requires leadership to be exhibited at every level.

 Some of the more recent additions to the organizational structure of schools are the coaching and curriculum positions.  These educators, who do not directly instruct students and have no punitive power over teachers, are charged with interacting with teachers and providing them with needed guidance to improve instruction, while supporting administrators in their curricular initiatives.  This places the coach in a precarious position.  He/She is neither a teacher nor an administrator.  Oft-times, they find themselves caught in an educational purgatory where they are not considered colleagues by the teachers and they are not considered equals by administrators.

The question in the 21st century should not be who’s in charge?  The question should be what is my role and my responsibility?  The level of interaction necessary to create competitive and proficient school systems requires relinquishing ego in exchange for committed service.  Instructional coaches and curriculum leaders should not have to fight an immature battle of privilege through legacy.  Educators should embrace the expertise and assistance that they provide to ease the burden of the responsibility for preparing students for a world very different than we experienced decades ago.

In my research on creating optimum learning environments, I have found that healthy school cultures embrace the assistance and guidance of those who can help them meet their goals and improve their professional practice.   This embrace of assistance did not happen in a vacuum.  In these learning environments, I found that three primary commitments were established.

Commitment #1 – A Focus on Service

The highly collaborative environments in my studies have made a profound and selfless commitment to service.  This commitment went beyond the idealistic mission statement and innocuous posters on the walls, and these commitments were materialized in solid policies, practices, and procedures.  These schools developed goals collectively and held one another mutually accountable for their role in the school’s ascension.  In these learning environments, educators embraced the support of experts, both internally and externally, because the focus was on the pursuit of student development, not personal privilege and autonomy.

Commitment #2 – A Commitment to Learning for Professionals

The second commitment that was evident in healthy schools was the staff’s consistent pursuit of knowledge.  Rick DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, and Robert Eaker wrote in the book Professional Learning Communities at Work that, “professional learning communities operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators”(DuFour and Eaker 1998).  Effective schools are staffed with educators who realize that the commitment to be professional is life-long and does not stop after completing a university course of study.  These schools had no problem embracing a colleague who may be able to guide them in an area where they needed help because the end result of that collaborative relationship would be gains for children.

Commitment #3 – A Collaborative Infrastructure

It is not reasonable to expect a school that does not practice collaboration among its own staff to embrace and collaborative with a coach or curriculum specialist from the outside.  Steven Covey identifies that human being are creatures of ‘habit’ and habits have to be nurtured and cultivated (Covey 1989).  District administrators must be careful about their investment of resources in schools that do not embrace internal collaboration.  If this variable is not present, how can district leaders expect them to embrace the expertise of a curriculum and instructional coach from the outside?  I would highly advise that a school district support the construction of a structure of internal collaboration at each school before setting up curriculum specialist for failure by sending them into highly divisive cultures where there is a high-likelihood of rejection.

A Rebirth of Commitment to Children

We live in a day and time that demands that we pay close attention to the development of our children.  The ever-shrinking world has become more complex and a nation’s ability to prepare their children for this new world will determine the viability of the community for the future.  The old, divisive hierarchy of schools, which oft-times placed the concerns of the adults ahead of the concerns of children, must die.   Our organizations have to be quick and nimble, and change will probably be the only constant in schools for some years to come.  Don’t fight it, embrace it!  Schools have to look and operate very differently than they have in the past and our future is counting on our cooperation.  We can no longer waste time arguing about who is in charge because the answer has to be All of Us.

Work Cited

Covey, S. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press.

DuFour, R. and R. Eaker (1998). Professional Learning Communities at Work. Bloomington, Indiana, Solution Tree.