Being the Chefs

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on what’s happening in education. In a presentation to a Brazilian delegation on Friday I repeated a general sentiment about how principals in the US are feeling right. The principalship is a pressure cooker.

Isn’t it amazing that the CEOs of schools are experiencing extreme pressure right now– that these CEOs have relatively little freedom to innovate, to organize, to lead? In comparison to other times in history, in fact, the freedom felt by local building leaders may be at an all time low.

Of course there are exceptions.

However, in general, with the pressure to implement the Common Core State Standards, and with the accompanying pressure to revise and revamp teacher and principal evaluation, the agenda at local schools is being dictated by external circumstances and other educational leaders. It is a time of change. And while the Common Core originated in part as a grass root effort from states, the principals have been brought into the game relatively late.

So in effect these local building CEOs are one of the ingredients in the great big stew of educational change. Yet, what do we know about change? One of the critical ingredients is the power of those on the ground — those in the trenches. Wars cannot be fought solely from DC or other capitals around the world. Someone on the ground has to help guide the efforts. And great dinners are cooked on sight– not shipped in from afar.

In effect, what would happen if we considered principals to be the chefs? If they were engaged in planning the menu, in stirring the pot, in choosing the hor d’ouerves (the prelude to change), in deciding how long to roast the turkey (to time the implementation), to determine when to add new flavors and spices (the refinements), and when to serve which desserts (planning rewards and celebrations for success–for reaching benchmarks)?

In grand kitchens there are master chefs (principals) supported by other chefs (assistant principals, teacher leaders) who work with others (staff) to serve up rewarding experiences where the customers feel valued and want to come back for more.

So one way to avoid the pressure cooker is to be the chef…At NAESP we recently had an awards ceremony in DC for 60 some distinguished principals. These principals showed amazing insights and visions for today and the future of education. If we are to upgrade the quality of the academic diet, perhaps we should listen to and learn from master chefs.

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