Shaking-up the SRC: What makes a good leader?



by Christopher Paslay


According to a story in today’s Inquirer, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission is “headed for a major shake-up”.  Sources state that Robert L. Archie Jr., a partner at the Duane Morris law firm, is set to replace current SRC Chairperson Sandra Dungee Glenn, and that there will be at least three new appointees to the commission.


This “shake-up” within the SRC leaves me wondering what kind of leaders will be running our district.  It brings to mind Verse 17 from the Tao Te Ching, a passage that ponders the qualities of a good leader:     


(as translated by American Stephen Mitchell)


When the Master governs, the people

are hardly aware that he exists.

Next best is a leader who is loved.

Next, one who is feared.

The worst is one who is despised.


If you don’t trust the people,

you make them untrustworthy.


The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.

When his work is done,

the people say, “Amazing:

we did it, all by ourselves!”


What kind of leaders will be running the Philadelphia School District?  Will they be loved?  Feared?  Despised?  How do we feel about our leaders now? 


Do they provide us with encouragement and positive reinforcements, or do they consistently focus their attention on the negatives?    


Are we, the hard working staff of the Philadelphia School District, trusted?  Respected?  How often do our leaders acknowledge us and say thank you?   


Last month, I discussed this passage with each of my English classes.  We talked about what makes a good leader.  In the beginning, the majority of my students argued that the best leader is one who is feared.  They reasoned that an effective leader couldn’t be loved, because in their minds, this meant that the person must be a push-over. 


But after further examination, we as a class came to the conclusion that the best leader is indeed the one who is loved. 


“If you love the leader, you’ll respect him and want to please him,” one student said.  “You’ll act not out of fear, but because you want to do the right thing.” 


This was a very wise insight from a very intelligent teenager. 


So how will we view our new team of leaders?  How will they view us?


Will there be love?  Fear?  Anger?   


When our work is done, will we say, Amazing: We did it, all by ourselves!    


Only time will tell. 


6 thoughts on “Shaking-up the SRC: What makes a good leader?

  1. The best principal I ever had was one who became aware of a problem a teacher might be having, quietly investigated it, contemplated solutions and without fanfare, used his position and authority to fix it. One day, the teacher realizes that her problem has gone away but she doesn’t really how that happened. She might casually mention to him many months later how great it was that such and such had resolved itself and he would just smile knowingly. That was a great leader.

  2. The problems that the school district faces are multi-layered and very complex. If everyone was pulling their weight and trying their very best, it would be easy to have a leader who is loved.

    When the chips are up, everyone is smiling.
    When the chips are down, someone has to be “the heavy” because it’s obvious that just being loved doesn’t work with some people. There are people in this world who just can’t get it through their head that kindness isn’t weakness.

    All the old cliches apply. “Give some people an inch and they take a yard”, etc.

    When you have a good leader who knows how to manage effectively, they also have to be a person who can identify a weak link, troublemaker, cancer within the group and make them quietly disappear. The problem with most leaders is their belief that they have to pound their chests and stand over people they “defeat” to make an example out of them. The leader often believes they have to show the pack they have the sharpest teeth.

    In reality, a leader should say very little and lead by example. But, you also need an army of the willing. Because of this, a leader has to get his hands dirty by making an example of someone, from time to time.

  3. How do I feel about district leaders? There should be two other voting options:

    ___ Resent them

    ___ Don’t trust them

    I would check off both.

  4. I agree that the issues with the District are very complex. And that there are times when leaders must be stern because people will take advantage. But some of the most stern, tough people in my life I’ve loved the most–that’s the irony. I’m not talking about being liked, I’m talking about being loved.

    The great leaders can handle the trouble makers, the dead-wood, and do it in a way where these people see the light and eventually thank the leader for it. Or at the very least feel treated fairly and still have a respect for the leader, not fearful feelings or resentment.

    It would be great if District leaders practiced what they preached. It would be great if they encouraged us, got intimately involved with our work, and gave us positive reinforcements, just as they would expect us to do with our students.

  5. The problem is that leaders in the school district (like many others) play favorites.

    More often than not, that group contains a fair share of people who are real assholes. They are people who make a career out of doing nothing but sucking up to the boss. Many of them do no actual real work. In fact, their job description could loosely be described as spending their days trying get away from kids & teaching.

  6. Great Article. The Power of Asking Insightful Questions is used well here. Many people don’t like the answers because “the truth hurts.”
    The district is in business to support the teachers, acquire the resources needed, solve the difficult problems, and smooth the way for a “positive learning environment.” The district works for the people–they are supposed to be the givers. Isn’t that the Governments job also. The are working for us. Somehow it’s all upside down today.

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