Drew Bixby


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Should school administrators be required to be teachers first?

Does being a good engineer mean you will be a good manager and vice-versa? Does GE, renowned for its managers, require its managers to first be engineers?

Does being a good designer mean you will be a good manager and vice-versa? Does Nike require its managers to first be designers?

What about at Intel, Kodak, Nissan, IBM, HP, and Time Warner? They realize that leadership and management are different skills sets than specialized front line roles.

Does being a good inspired animator mean you will be a good manager and vice-versa? Does Disney require its managers to first be animators?

Does being a roughneck steel worker mean you will be a good manager and vice-versa? Does Reliance Steel & Aluminum require its managers to first be steel workers?

Does being a good pilot mean you will be a good manager and vice-versa? Does American Airlines require its managers to first be pilots?

What about at Wal-Mart, Kraft Foods, Cisco, AT&T, and Bristol-Myers Squibb? They realize that leadership and management are different skills sets than specialized front line roles.

So, why do many schools require administrators to first be teachers?

(Please elaborate more than 'schools are not businesses'.)

  • Mar 8 2011: Drew, the term "school administrator" seems to me to be a misnomer that can't capture the "flavour" of the task of educational leadership. In the UK, I believe "head teacher" is the term and this may be more appropriate. Like the squadron leader of a flight of pilots, the quarterback on the playing field or the skipper of a racing yacht, the "administrator" controls the play, the team carries it out. An expert teacher-leader must understand the challenges, prepare and plan the plays, guide and motivate the team. Success on the educational gridiron demands that a "school administrator", like a good coach, must know the game intimately. It's probably not necessary to have been the best player on the field, but atleast to have been in the scrimmage. Climbing the management ladder, the "teacher leader" requires outstanding organizational and political skills in addition to the years "in the trenches" but it's those years in the practice of the craft which give the "teacher leader" an appreciation for the slings and arrows that come with the job. For the "lay person" who aspires to educational leadership, the school board or boards of governors are there for them to engage in a meaningful dialog with the practitioners.
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      Mar 8 2011: I am in absolute agreement! well put George! Scott Taylor, I also think being a parent can only help.
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    Mar 8 2011: Let me pose this question- "Should school administrators be required to be parents while serving as leaders?"
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      Mar 8 2011: I would say not. On a similar theory as presented above, being a parent does not mean you are a great school administrator and being a great school administrator does not make you a great parent. They are not mutually exclusive, but they are not the same set of skills.
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      Mar 8 2011: While it would likely bring a more well-rounded appreciation of the dynamics at play, surely the position of this question is purely frivolous?
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    Mar 6 2011: An interesting point of debate, Drew. Much of this depends on how we view education. Should the business of education be compared directly to corporate America? All the examples provided above (GE, Kodak, AT&T...) beg to compare the operation of education to big business, so I'll stick to that.

    My post-grad work in education was completed in the States and much of our early coursework concentrated on the organizational theories of W. Edwards Deming. If you know much of the major corporations in the world you would have heard of Deming.

    I confess that I struggled with the transference of these business concepts to education however Deming did emphasize the overriding importance of knowledge in decision-making. He stressed that information is not knowledge and that we have become over-dependent on statistical information and now have a diminished requisite knowledge-base on which to make decisions.

    I do not promote that education adhere to prescriptive formulas when hiring school administrators, but I would think that administrators with practical experience from the classroom would bring a good measure of that knowledge-base. Keeping in mind professional organizations also tend to influence minimum requirements as set out in legislated School Acts.

    I have promoted classroom teachers to school administrator positions and have supervised some talented individuals. All non-teachers I have hired to administrative/management positions have been at the central office level. Some of these individuals brought a wealth of knowledge and were much appreciated.

    Subsequently, in-school administrators receive their direction, support and training from central office staff to guide them in school operations. In-school administrators are recognized as being part of the leadership team. They do not operate independently.
  • Mar 4 2011: Drew, good question.
    I'm inclined to say yes, however, I'm inclined to say let the research decide. A statistical evaluation of the performance of school leaders who were previously teachers vs. leaders who were not previously teachers should do the trick.

    That said, I only have background in education as a student. Two B.S. degrees.
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      Mar 5 2011: That would be an interesting survey and I would be all for it. I fear there would be the same backlash by administrators that teachers have against using any performance measures of them. What would be a valid way to measure such an evaluation?
  • Mar 3 2011: Without question! I have a degree in Education but decided not to pursue teaching mostly because school administrations, they were so small minded. I'm sure they are limited because of school boards and public controls but still, the Administrations needed to know more about the effect of the policies they demanded.
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      Mar 5 2011: Thank you for the feedback. So, by the same argument, should all the management and leaders at American Airlines first have to be pilots and flight attendants?
  • Mar 1 2011: As a teacher I totally agree that being a teacher doesn't make you a good administrator. On the other hand administration sometimes works as a hideaway for struggeling colleagues. Unfortunenately somehow administration is considered as a step in the career - where is the point that good teachers teach less after promotion?
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      Mar 1 2011: That is a good point about good teachers teaching less after taking a "step in their career" - the Peter Principal (misspelling intended). I know some good teachers who became administrators only to "see the light" and realize they played a much more valuable role as a teacher. How do we change that perception of administration being a step up?
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    Mar 1 2011: I don't work in education, though I hope to in the future. However, intuitively I am inclined to say yes. While administrators are not required to micromanage, the most successful ones should be able to. Understanding students' wants and needs from a teacher's point of view is far more insightful than trying to understand students from an administrative point of view. The best schools exist to serve students, not for students to serve the schools. The best leaders in business are those who can see eye-to-eye with their clients. Why should this be any different in the education industry?