Rick Hess’ new book title, Cage-Busting Leadership, invokes images of Hulk crushing bars designed to hold him back. But as Tuesday’s panel shows, school leaders can learn just as much, if not more, from Hulk’s alter-ego, the reserved, bookish and determined Dr. Bruce Banner: The first and perhaps most important action a leader can take is to learn the rules of the game.
For Principal Adrian Manuel, that meant what the Common Core State Standards might call a close reading of his district’s collective bargaining agreement. As a first-year principal at age 26, he wanted to give his teachers one full day for lesson study, excellent school visits, and planning each week—but that meant longer periods of teaching during the other four days than the contract allowed. After reading the contract, he learned that a supermajority vote of his teachers could override certain provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. Manuel worked with teacher leaders and union representatives at the school to develop the new schedule, and the teachers voted to implement the plan—a change that Manuel credits for his school’s incredible student achievement gains that year.
Echoing Manuel while discussing the tremendous policy shifts at DCPS during her tenure, Superintendent Kaya Henderson said that, “Half of what we did in DC that was so radical was read.” Example: Contrary to popular belief, the contract didn’t prohibit differentiated pay for principals. The district could pay recruitment bonuses or pay principals more if they came from a higher paying district. Past precedent creates a “mythology,” says Manuel. “Everyone thought the bars were closer than they were.”
The bottom line is that, while restrictive policies can hamstring change, effective leaders find their way under, around, or through those barriers. Michelle Rhee summed up the takeaway message of the event when she said, “Policies need to change, but we also need to do a better job working within existing policies.”
Photo Credit: Fuzzy Logic