Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Breakfast Club

My school district's administration has experienced a fair amount of turnover lately. As each position is filled, we are made more aware of the fact that there are jobs, there are people, and there is way these elements fit together. That last aspect can be the most important of all, and requires the search committee to actually do much more than find the most qualified candidate for each position.

Since our administrators do tend to refer to themselves as a "team," I guess it's time for a sports analogy.

No it's not. Would it be that a small guard isn't able to take the place of a wingback? Is it a question of mid-fielders making bad floating half-nelsons? Does it all come down to beaters not generally being nimble enough to function as seekers? I have no idea (except for that last one, of course). Clearly I don't know enough about sports to do it this way, and I'm not going to take the time to find out. Remember, one of the goals of your Slacker is to do this whole thing without having to look anything up. If you want my one and only sports analogy, see: here.

Instead, we'll use an '80s John Hughes film. I could have done the same thing using The Princes Bride, The Simpsons, or Pulp Fiction. Perhaps I will do so in some future post, but for now here is our cast of characters:

The Princess - He or she is attractive, well-groomed, charming,  and dripping with social skills. Look for expensive haircuts, well-fitting suits, and a mouthful of flashy teeth. Ideas come to this person like the air itself, and he/she can regularly charm others into moving on these ideas before any thought has actually been applied. You'll feel really good while talking to this person, and then upon leaving his/her office discover that you've been screwed with your pants on. He/she was probably effective in the classroom, or at least appeared effective--based on the slavish devotion of students, particularly of the opposite (or gay students of the same) gender. Still, there is no question of how this person ended up in administration. Expect promotion through the ranks to the level of his/her incompetence.   

The Brain - School districts are complicated. Someone in charge should be capable of sweating the details, and interested in doing so. As a principal, this person manages the impossibly difficult tasks, like creating testing schedules and determining where each class meets. Like the prom/wedding table thing (see also:here), people of average intelligence and attention span have great difficulty with tasks like making sure that each room has only one class in it, contains only students who registered for that class, and doesn't meet last period in the fall when the teacher is almost always away with the golf team--not just a pretty good average on this stuff, based on the law of large numbers, but entirely correct. He/she may end up as your director of finance, or in charge of curriculum and instruction, but it is important that he/she have enough power to insert a dose of reality into the Big Ideas brought forth by the Princess and some of the others.

  The Athlete - Big and beefy, tall and lean, or tight and compact (depending on the sport that spawned the individual model), he/she possesses a wide smile and perhaps only average smarts. Might have had a professional sports career, except for that knee injury (possibly incurred by falling down the steps at the big frat party). You won't see any visible tattoos, but there may be Greek letters (or the name of an ex-girlfriend--note: no gender-neutral adjustment needed on that one) on his/her butt. The tattoo could also be on a calf muscle that is still too large to accommodate proper dress socks. He/she is only serving as assistant principal on a path toward athletic director. That's okay, the world needs athletic directors, and in the meantime he/she can get some real work done in terms of student discipline and morale--items that the others are too pretty or too otherwise-occupied to stay interested in.  

The Basket Case - You don't think you need this person, but you're wrong. Side note: don't think that she has spent her life waiting for The Princess to come along and put lipstick and a headband on her to let her know how pretty she is--Allison Reynolds was lots hotter before her makeover, and I'm certain that she went back to normal the next day. But I digress. This person was an art teacher, or perhaps something in special ed, and got principal certification for a reason no one can really figure out. Whatever it was, it's a good thing because he/she brings a very different skill set and thought process along. Most importantly, he/she can serve as a liaison to all of the freaks in the school--teachers and students--and make sure that they stay on the rails. Not to be overly dramatic, but this can literally save lives in the most difficult cases.  

The Criminal - This person may have been an abysmal teacher, but sometimes finds his/her stride in administration. He/she can be invaluable as a disciplinarian because having done every bad thing imaginable provides insights into the motivations of these behaviors as well as the methods of hiding them that worked best. Again, how he/she ended up with a principal certificate is something of a mystery--you'll wonder if there was an element of blackmail or other nefarious influence involved. Like the Basket Case, he/she brings a distinct advantage in interactions with certain demographics that can be most valuable. Do be careful, though, that he/she doesn't rise too far in the ranks. Reform is possible and should be celebrated when it happens, but too much power for this one may not be a great idea. 

The Principal - Not really a member of the Club, but let's not forget that it is sometimes important to have an adult in the room--even if he is a "Dick." Having to pass your ideas through someone who clearly has no patience for you can help to sharpen your argument and burn off all intellectual chaff and impurities. Also, keep in mind that Mr. Vernon spent his Saturdays at the school, attempting to keep the whole disciplinary system functioning. He's a villain for sure, but as one ages as an educator, he becomes a slightly more sympathetic one.

First Corinthians, chapter 12 has that whole bit about each part of the body having its job to do, and that a body made entirely of noses wouldn't function very well at all. An administration made up of too many of any of the above types cannot function. Too many Princesses can become an echo chamber for increasingly bizarre ideas. Too many Brains, and there will be no one there when someone needs to address a large group of people and stir them into action. Someone needs to interact with the students, someone needs make the trains run on time, someone needs to have a vision, and someone needs the ability to communicate that vision. Each type has deficits, and the proper mix will allow each of them to fill in where another isn't so strong.

Of course, no one is a perfect example of any of the types listed; each is some combination of these types and no type at all. One could rebut my thesis in the words used at the end of the movie (SPOILER ALERT!) in Brian's essay "You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...and an athlete...and a basket case..."

Still, to simply pick the very best individual, ignoring the universe he/she will inhabit, is a mistake. As any casting director will tell you, the interaction of the characters can be as important as the skills of the actors themselves. In anything beyond a fourth grade school play, the director looks beyond the actor's ability to read the lines properly--even convincingly--and tries to put an ensemble together that is more engaging and believable than any of them would be alone. A person who is perfect for a position on one team may not do so well on another. It may not be entirely fair to incorporate these factors when viewed from the candidate's perspective. It is, however, crucial to the entire operation that it not be headed by an entire team full of quarterbacks.

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