We have been trained to maintain control and not trust the masses, but it is the masses that will truly transform society. The same can be said about any organization and any school. Here are 15 ways to stop hoarding power.
This has been the year of me trying to build more teacher leadership, create more opportunities for shared decision making, and rebuild trust. I came into our school 4 years ago, with a lot of vision and passion, but not a lot of patience. Bad combination. I realize that I burned bridges before they were even built. I was so excited about the many things I wanted to see happen that I wasn’t respecting the work that had happened before I arrived. Then I saw opportunities and moved way too damn fast. Bell Schedule. Project Based Learning. Culturally Responsive Teaching. Racial Equity. Reading Intervention. And more. Oh my.
These may have been great ideas and good for students, but I wasn’t using a democratic or transparent enough process, so the net result was a lack of follow-through. This created more distrust and harm. People asked questions. Haters hated. People on the fence chose to hop over to the other side. Folks withdrew from leadership positions, and I further ostracized myself. Then I sat back and owned my missteps. I admitted fault. I publicly stated that I was moving too fast, not being clear enough, and not getting enough teacher input. I needed to do something different.
So I slowed the fuck down.
Well, as slow as I could go.
I invited folks back to the leadership teams, asked more questions, and supported the team’s ideas. I tried to listen more and be more responsive.
But Why do we Hoard Power?
We want to appear like we have it all figured out. We don’t. We also feel like we have our necks on the line and want to have control over that. We do, but that doesn’t matter. We’ve seen power hoarded by everyone. Parents, past bosses, the police, judges, and Presidents. We think that’s the only way. There are others. We liken schools to businesses and think it’s about power. This is service. We are worried that if we let go power we won’t get it back. Tyranny of the majority. We’ve seen classist and elitist models of power. We can do better.
White Supremacy Culture and Principals
I have written about how white supremacy culture spreads like a virus through our organizations and schools, ever replicating, and destroying cells like agents in the matrix. And, I did a good job of talking about other people doing this, but what about the leaders? Shit, what about me. Leaders can perpetuate it just the same.
I understand that this is complicated when leaders are of color, women, and other oppressed backgrounds. We are coming from silenced positions with so much passion and insight waiting to explode. But nonetheless, power hoarding is power-hoarding. And distrust of teachers is always a bad thing. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, right? We ain’t having that. So let’s start with you. Or me.
As a leader, I need to be able to look in the mirror and see if I am indeed powerhoarding, fearing open conflict, and being paternalistic. Honestly, we are pretty much trained to do this, and structures are built into the job to be “top down.” I often have heard the phrases, “the principal makes the final decision,” “that’s why you get paid the big bucks,” or “the buck stops here.” That comes with a lot of responsibility, pressure, and a higher salary, but it shouldn’t dwarf the power of the masses. Should the principal truly have veto power? I mean, shit, I am not the president. Education is a democratic good and should be governed as such, but I need to fight hard to maintain this.
At my school, we spent a few months diving into the topic of white supremacy culture in schools and biggest topic everyone wanted to bring up was the sense of urgency (often pushed by me, outside pressures, and statewide testing) and power hoarding. The topic of transparency is often brought up. This pushed me to own this as a model for being reflective. Clearly, this was the elephant in the room that needed to be addressed before we could address the other elephant (institutional racism) and move towards more anti-racism. So, I’m working on it. It’s hard. But I believe that if I flatten the hierarchy more we can have more trust to improve practices.
15 Ways Leaders Can Stop Power Hoarding
- Truly stepping back and creating teacher-led, teacher leadership teams
- Bringing more things to a staff vote
- Gathering transparent input, slowly
- Having a larger discussion, so everyone can see and hear
- Having Professional Development be led by teachers and staff
- Coming to meetings and staff with more questions than answers
- Saying “I don’t know”
- Not speaking so damn much, especially in meetings, or not speaking at all
- Being a listening leader!
- Share updates before it is nice, neat, and solved
- Invite students to your classroom walkthroughs and hiring committees
- Create parent leadership spaces that actually make decisions
- Ask your staff to write the strategic plan for school
- Instead of making budget decisions, ask teachers what support they actually need and fund it
- Talking with teachers about how they want harm repaired with students
What Happens when you Stop Power Hoarding
It’s not automatic, but trust starts to grow. Lines of communication open up. People are more willing to try new things. People re-join the leadership teams and propose new ideas. New leaders emerge.
Truthfully, there are folks who will hold on to mistakes I have made in the past, and I can’t control that. Some folks will continue to push narratives that are no longer accurate. All I can do is try to show additional evidence of my attempts to be inclusive, process-oriented, and intentional. I also need to continue asking for feedback on this.
All I can do is try to lead better than I did before.
From the Twitter Homies
Writing a new piece about why principals (me included) need to stop power hoarding!
— Joe Truss – Culturally Responsive Leadership (@trussleadership) May 25, 2019
Ima be real. This is hella hard. I am literally balancing shared vision, with my vision of an equitable school, that I have been crafting for years, studied for years, and worked my ass off to reach. But who’s to say that everyone else’s visions are not valid? Not me.
Let’s bring students into the picture. We want students to be given agency and power over their education. We want students to feel empowered. It will not be the principal who directly gives students the power. It will be the teachers. But it can be the principal that steps back and makes space for teachers to have power. so step back homie.
Then we can start moving towards empowering marginalized students.