The two worlds of school leadership

Dennis Sparks

William Glasser’s  book Reality Therapy was an invaluable resource to me in the early 1970s as I sought to help “disaffected” youth be more successful and responsible in life and school. (I had helped found and co-directed a public alternative high school.)

Glasser taught me what went on within and between people mattered and that people of all ages could learn how to be more effective (in this case, both me and my students).

Another book from the 1970s, Kenneth Wooden’s Weeping in the Playtime of Others described the pernicious effects of the juvenile justice system on young people who were incarcerated for status offenses – that is offenses for which adults would not be deprived of their freedom, like running away from home.

Wooden revealed to me the powerful and often invisible influence of the broader system on individuals.

Because of Glasser my work over many years has been focused on creating learning environments for young people and adults that enable success and on developing face-to-face relationships in classrooms and schools that empower both young people and adults.

Because of Wooden I am interested in how the systems that surround schools affect learning and the quality of life within them.

Because my goal is to help school leaders become more skillful in creating school communities that continuously improve teaching, learning, and relationships for the benefit of all students, I want:

To support principals and teachers in doing their very best for the students who are now in our schools.

To interrupt in any way I can the destructive downward spiral of public education by those who will benefit from its demise.

As a result, some of these essays provide practical ideas and processes through which teaching, learning, and relationships can be strengthened. (My most popular post of this type was one on teamwork.)

Others essays are intended to reveal the powerful forces external to schools that seek to undermine public education and to inspire school leaders to act individually and collectively to counter these forces. (The most popular post here was one on the narrative used to destroy public education.)

Taken together Glasser and Wooden taught me that creating great schools for students and teachers requires leadership that addresses both the schoolhouse and the statehouse, a lesson that’s as relevant four decades later as it was in the 1970s.

1 Response to “The two worlds of school leadership”

  1. 1 G. Michael Abbott January 7, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Another author from the 70’s was John Holt who wrote such books as “How Children Fail” and “How Children Learn.” His worst educational nightmare was education as an assembly line. Students get on the assembly line in kindergarten as pots. Some have large openings, some small. The teacher’s job is to stuff knowledge into them as they fly by on the assembly line. Some, with wide openings, sail through; those with small openings require teachers to quickly try to stuff knowledge into them before they fall off the line. Many don’t make it to the end. Those who do have questionable learning.

    With our eduprenuers, this is the scenario Holt warned against.


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