The Headmaster: Grasping for the Ideal

The other day one of The Headmaster’s faithful readers called to discuss how he could grow as a headmaster in order to increase his effectiveness in school leadership. He is a visionary, has founded his own academy, grown it year after year, and envisions multiple academies to serve his region of the United States. I like his ideas already! Interestingly he commented that sometimes reading The Headmaster articles is a bit intimidating because of the distance between reality in his own school and the ideals communicated in this e-letter. One of my colleagues deftly put this into perspective a couple of years ago after the first few posts.

Your idea about the model headmaster theory (one which a headmaster strives toward but may not achieve because no one is perfect) reminds me of two ideas in Cicero. In De Oratore, his masterpiece on the perfect orator, Cicero explains all the qualities of the active, civic orator. And in De Republica, he outlines the perfect politician. Both theories are about the ‘perfect’ person, not because Cicero thinks we all can be perfect, but the model of any theory must be perfect so we have the highest goal in view, (this allows us to measure our progress as well!). I now think of Browning: “Ah..but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?”
Daniel R. Fredrick, Ph.D.
American University of Sharjah

This work called The Headmaster does not presume to be the only view one could take of this calling in the world of education. It happens that I have spent much of my career in this role and intend to share some of my ideas on the requisite characteristics needed for success and its importance to the qualitative, and quantitative development of American education. Nor do I claim to fill up all the requirements. I doubt anyone will fill the requirements fully because no individual leader can be all things to all people. Rather someone aspiring to or already leading as a headmaster needs to develop comprehensively while recognizing personal strengths and weaknesses.

The effective Headmaster will provide thought, and organizational leadership in three primary arenas, each of equal importance: 1) as visionary leader, 2) as head teacher, and 3) as chief executive officer. As visionary because the organizational leader needs to see where the academy is going to lead toward achievement of its highest ends. As head teacher because he (or she can be assumed throughout) leads an institution where teaching and learning great ideas is the paramount activity, and head master by definition means head teacher, or the leader of the college of faculty. As chief executive officer, because the Headmaster is the sole report of the board of trustees responsible to fulfill academy ends, mission, or vision while assuring organizational integrity. The job description is a broad and exciting one because the Headmaster is leading an organization that changes the lives that will influence the future, and everything rises and falls on leadership.

The caller inquired about what services he could engage to develop professionally toward the ideal of The Headmaster. I replied that first we would identify the top three priorities for growth and go to work on them to produce an immediate bump in qualitative leadership. Then we would perform a personal profile to understand how he can lead based on personality, interests, skills and abilities, and life values. Next we would perform a professional self-assessment against the headmaster’s job description. If expectations have not been clarified in writing I would provide a headmaster job description. Then we would work together to encourage leadership from his strengths to gain early wins. Weaknesses would be addressed through professional development or delegation by adding to the school’s team the kind of person that would fill in for such weaknesses. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb

After the assessment and early win process we would work together on practically every aspect of school leadership of a visionary, head teacher and CEO. The process would bolster confidence, generate early improvements and provide for a means to grow professionally while improving every aspect of the school. When I began my career in school leadership at age twenty-five I could have used this service.

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