Lead Like a Pirate. Please.

Two recent developments here at TLI (Teaching-Learning-Innovation) headquarters.  One, I read Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf.  Safe to say the book had a huge impact on me.  In fact, we bought 25 copies and are using it as the basis of our building leadership retreat this summer.  And two, the following quote rang so true to me, I decided I better think about it for awhile and see if it kept ringing.  It did.  Time to write about it some.

“A seismic shift seems to occur when moving from the classroom into a position of educational leadership. People look at you differently. They treat you differently. They think you have sold out. They no longer see you as an educator, but as a paper-pushing “administrator.” They believe you have crossed over to the dark side and have become one of “them” instead of one of “us,” and oftentimes they see you as no longer having the ability to make a life-changing impact on the lives of kids.”


I’m sure most people that have taught and then made the move into administration will recognize the quote.  And probably have heard comments, joking or otherwise, along the lines of, “Well you got out of education.”  “You wanted the big bucks.”  “When was the last time you were actually in a classroom?”  “He sure has lots of great ideas for us.  I wonder if he’d do any of them.”  And so on.

Let’s address those comments, shall we?

My strong suspicion is that very few, if any administrators feel they ‘got out of education.’ Speaking for myself, I am more aware of the great possibilities afforded kids via great teachers and great education than ever.  I had to leave the classroom to get a broader and deeper view of the possibilities, then figure out how to use my new principal role,  then district office role to make as many possibilities for kids and teachers come to life.  I had/have hands on better levers to make those moves.

The big bucks?  Nah.  They’re bigger, sure.  But not that much bigger for all the stuff that principals get to deal with.  My good friends would walk by my office on one of ‘those days’ that all principals know, and just shake their heads.  They wouldn’t touch the job, for any amount of money, on one of ‘those days’.  Psst….what they don’t realize is that once you run one of ‘those days’ successfully….they’re kind of a rush, especially if you haven’t goofed anything up and still hold all the cards.

Good principals are in the classrooms as often as possible.  And great principals don’t need to walk into a classroom to know when good stuff is happening.  They know because they stand outside the door and listen and watch.  They talk to kids.  They talk to parents.  They talk to teachers.  Being in the classroom confirms and offers opportunity for richer and deeper conversations.  And frankly, the way I judge people who have left the classroom is…do I think they can still walk into a classroom and knock kids on their fannies?  Can I tell they have not lost their teacher chops?  It’s not that hard to figure out.

And the last one, most importantly.  Good leaders, once they leave the classroom, find a bigger classroom, be it a school or a district, and MODEL what they are learning, failure, warts, mess ups and all.

Each job I’ve had in education has been my favorite.  Including the one I have now.  But it is only fun because of the rich experiences and reflection I’ve done along the way.

On we go.

Author: Jnelson

Jeff Nelson Fife School District Assistant Superintendent:Teaching-Learning-Innovation 39 years as an educator. 16 years teacher 3 years assistant principal 12 years principal 8 years Assistant Superintendent BA, Washington State University MAEd, Washington State University Previous member of AWSP Legislative Committee Previous member of UW Tacoma PEAB, Administrative Certification Established and maintained Fife’s first website for 7 years Present work includes establishing the first Teaching/Learning/Innovation department in the Fife School District. Examples of responsibilities include: teacher/administrator professional development, assessment, TPEP, curriculum/materials review, 24 credit requirement, technology levy leadership, teacher/administrator bargaining. Initiatives underway in Fife, as a result of new TLI Department: AVID, OER, Curriculum and Materials reviews, Student Perception Pilot with CSTP, Google Expedition Cofounder of Educational Internet Communications, LLC. Marketed and sold one of the first online grade checking programs in the US. Consulted with Seattle Educational Internet Company for 2 years. jnelson@fifeschools.com twitter.com/jeffnelsonTLI

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