I write today from the perspective of a citizen. Like all citizens, we seek to find our niche in the society in which we live. On the question of vocational choice, I sought some avenue of service to the common good. I found education. I am an educator. I am an educational leader. Education is my life's work; my calling.
What I do as an educational leader is guided by the strong beliefs and philosophies that are etched on my heart and in my mind. Regarding the learning environments for children, I believe that every child has the right to come to a place of learning each day and experience an environment that is safe, clean, helpful, and supportive…an environment where they can have fun, enjoy their classmates, and be the beneficiaries of the lessons custom-crafted for them by their teachers. I believe every child has the right to come to a school and not be harassed, harangued, intimidated, or abused in any way. There should be nothing in the schoolhouse environment that would cause a student to dread to come to school.
My beliefs and philosophies regarding the working environments for employees are quite similar. I believe that every employee has the right to come to a place of service each day and experience an environment that is safe, clean, helpful, and supportive…an environment where employees can enjoy their colleagues, join in harmony with them toward the common goal of educating children, and give of their unique talents and skills in service to the students. I believe every employee has the right to come to work and not be harassed, harangued, intimidated, or abused in any way. There should be nothing in the work environment that would cause an employee to dread to come to work at the schoolhouse.
As an outgrowth of these core beliefs and philosophies, I made the decision long ago that when I looked into the eyes of the students and employees who gather at the schoolhouse, in whatever school district I would serve, I must say to them what I feel in my heart…"You are deserving of all of my efforts to give you the gift of such an environment to learn or serve." My commitment to the students and employees I serve is inescapable; I view this commitment as a promise and a duty.
As an educational leader with expertise in school district organization and administration, I am keenly aware that in order to provide such an environment for students to learn and employees to serve, two fundamental and essential elements must be present in the school district organizational structure: standards and accountability. There must be clearly identified and articulated standards of conduct for all who enter the schoolhouse door. Whether a student, parent, patron, volunteer, administrator, teacher, support staff employee, or Board of Trustee member, the organization must establish and communicate these expectations to all. The other essential element, accountability, must also be ever-present in the organization and consistently and appropriately respond to any person who violates any of the expectations. No one can be immune from adherence to the standards and expectations. There cannot be a double standard. The accountability element must include appropriate avenues for students and employees to report violations without fear of retribution, an investigative procedure, judgment, and the appropriate response. Violators and abusers must be stopped, and if necessary, expelled from the schoolhouse. Those who have the responsibility for accountability must be steadfast in the fulfillment of this responsibility. They cannot be distracted or deterred by the kicking, screaming, finger-pointing, or diversionary tactics of those caught in the accountability spotlight.
School districts across America who establish and adhere to this structure reap great rewards. Such school districts enjoy a reputation as a supportive, collegial, respectful and dignified place to serve. They are a magnet for outstanding and talented professionals. Trust, loyalty, commitment, and cooperation flourish. Pride and enthusiasm abounds among all. Students describe their schools as warm, kind, caring, and helpful. Achievement soars. The foundation stones are laid for a productive and meaningful life for each student.
For school districts that do not choose such a structure the deterioration begins. Frustration and anger builds among the employees and students from the injustice that is allowed to flourish. Mistrust, disloyalty, and disunity sets in. Diminished cooperation and cohesion soon follow. When they reach the point of hopelessness, students and employees flee to other school districts seeking a better and more honorable place to learn and serve. Effectiveness and productivity suffer, and predictably, student achievement is diminished. The precious opportunities to impact the lives of countless children are squandered.
For Board members, administrators, union leaders, community leaders, and elected officials who serve in some leadership role and have an opportunity to influence the destiny of their local school districts, what do you say when you look into the eyes of the children and employees who gather at your schoolhouse? Do you say to them …"You are deserving of all of my efforts to give you the gift of such an environment to learn and serve." Or do you say "You are not worthy." Parents, what do you say to those who serve your children?
A recent letter to the editor began with a quote. I choose to end with one today. The words were spoken many years ago when I was a young teenage boy by my father, Norman Spencer. He was a common man who sought to instill a moral and ethical compass in his children to guide them on life's journey. We were the beneficiaries of many lessons on the topics of honesty, integrity, character, respect for fellow man, protecting those who could not protect themselves, and a host of others. His classroom that day was the cab of the old '50 Chevy pickup truck on the way to our favorite fishing spot. The context of his words were the approach a man should take when faced with wrong, when faced with an injustice, when faced with unfairness, and the like. His words were simple and straightforward and designed to instill a reference point from which I should approach the many difficult challenges I would encounter in life. He simply stated "Times like these are a test of a man's character and a man's true character will surface in times like these. Son, don't fail the test." I remember my reply that day many years ago; "I won't fail the test, Dad."
As for the question of whether or not employees in our schools are deserving of a respectful, dignified, abuse-free environment in which to serve…I made my decision long ago. I chose to be an educator. I chose to be an educational leader. My decision was destined because I was raised by an honorable man to be an honorable man.