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In Praise of Doing Things Right

A colleague of mine has said that management is doing things right but leadership is doing the right things. I struggle with that notion. In a later post, I will chime in on the "management vs. leadership" issue. For the purposes of this post, I want to talk about doing things right.

Doing things right versus doing the right thing is the main point of a popular quip about Stalin. I think it goes something like, "at least the trains run on time." The point of this saying is, I think, that despite the fact that he would summarily arrest, imprison, and execute those who disagreed with him, and stripped back virtually every human freedom, he did make sure that that trains ran on time. In essence, loss of freedom is a small price to pay for punctual transportation.

I think that the problem with that example is that trains running on time is not trivial. How else would you assess the quality of rail transportation? The principalship is somewhat like this example. We may consider much of what principals do to be "trivial" management tasks. Student discipline,resolving disputes between students, making sure that the milk delivery arrives on time, and maintaining orderly hallway traffic all seem trivial until one of those tasks goes undone.

Despite the fact that management is not totally trivial, the tension between doing things right and doing the right things also seems to assume that the scale of "rightness" is either/or. If leadership isn't doing things right, does leadership, then, mean doing things wrong? I reject the notion completely. I think that just as a society can have basic human freedom AND trains that run on time, public schools can have strong instructional leadership AND well-managed buildings.

Leadership and management, together, are necessary for school success. In order for the important conversations about instruction, assessment, and achievement to take place, teachers have to feel confident about the learning climate of the building.

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