The Scourge of Vagueness

The Columbia Basin Herald:

“The Moses Lake School District is looking for a new high school principal following the resignation of Mark Harris Wednesday.

“We came to a mutually agreeable decision that his skill set is not the best fit for Moses Lake,” said outgoing superintendent Michelle Price.”

I’d be very disappointed if one of my first year writing students explained someone’s firing by writing, “his skill set was not the best fit”, because that requires readers to work way too hard.

Then a slight elaboration:

“We had a conversation about where we are and the future of two high schools,” Harris said. “And we decided they need someone who knows the community and is steeped in its traditions and culture.”

More vagueness, “where we are”, “the future”, “knows the community”, “its traditions and cultures”. Those references are far from self-explanatory. This reader is going to guess Harris didn’t ask enough questions, implemented changes with little input from teacher-leaders, and probably lacked the needed interpersonal skills to effectively lead a high school more generally.

There’s this pseudo-elaboration too:

“Explaining the phrase ‘skill set,’ Price elaborated that with the addition of the second high school as well as planned upgrades to the existing high school, Harris didn’t really have the skills to lead through that kind of change.”

But again the phrase, “the skills to lead through that kind of change” is the same vague reflex. What does that mean? What specific skills was Harris lacking? The reader has to speculate. After a couple of readings, I still don’t know what “the skills to lead through that kind of change” is code for?

The district spokesperson concludes by proving it is possible to speak entirely in cliches:

“It will take someone special to lead people through the coming changes,” she added. “Leadership is about fit.”

What does “someone special” mean? And “changes”? And “Leadership is about fit.”? Dear CBH, please resubmit.

Even though all of Moses Lakes probably knows, I can’t help but conclude that Harris flamed out as a principal in ways the district really doesn’t want made more public.

Here’s an idea. When no one is willing to tell ANY of the story behind the story, just go to Twitter, and spare readers the public relations chess game.

How To Lose Your Principal’s Job

Tired of recalcitrant faculty, entitled students, absentee or helicopter parents, and after school sports supervision? Want to shift gears, go in a different direction? I’m here to help.

First decide whether you want to go “old school” or “new school”. If you want to go “old school”, like a Washington State principal a few months ago, follow these steps. First, drink yourself silly. Second, be a bad enough husband/wife that your spouse feels they have to file for divorce. Third, come completely unhinged at the dissolution of your marriage. Fourth, get arrested for Driving Under the Influence. And fifth, for good measure, buy a gun and threaten your spouse with violence. That should do it.

If that seems a little messy and you fancy yourself more modern, go “new school” like Louis Losos, former principal at Clayton High School in St. Louis. All you need is an internet connection and a fake Facebook account. Wired Magazine fills in the details:

A high school principal in Missouri has resigned after she was accused of impersonating a student on Facebook in order to spy on students and their parents, according to a news report.

Louise Losos, the principal of Clayton High School in St. Louis, is suspected of having created a fake Facebook account under the alias Suzy Harriston and “friending” hundreds of students, presumably in order to monitor their communications through their Facebook postings.

The account, whose profile picture depicted a group of penguins, was set up last year. More than 300 students accepted the “friend” request from “Harriston,” many of them Clayton High School students, before a student who received one of the requests posted a note warning others to stay away from the account because he believed the principal was behind it, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Whether you go out old school or new, know that legions of hopeful school administrators thank you.

School Principal Shortage

The Obama administration wants to improve public education by removing principals from poorly performing schools. Far fewer principals than planned have been replaced because most states are suffering from a shortage of credentialed, able principals.

As a result, Washington State is proposing an alternative routes principal certification plan for non-educators. Yes, for non-educators. One of the first things I learned at the different schools I worked at as a beginning teacher was few of my colleagues respected my principals even though they had taught previously. The majority sentiment was they had lost touch with teaching’s challenges. Adversarial teacher-admin relations were the norm.

How on earth will non-educators earn the respect of teachers? Legions of teachers will exit faculty meetings saying, “What the hell does he/she know about child or adolescent development, about curriculum and assessment, about teaching excellence?”

One wonders, what are the sponsoring state legislators thinking?

A friend of mine is a well respected high school principal. We run together. He tells stories. I listen. Often in amazement. It’s an incredibly demanding job. Impossible if faculty don’t respect you. There are lots of ways for leaders to earn respect, but the main one is to identify closely enough with the people you lead that they conclude, “He/she gets me and gets my work. They understand.” No certification program will compensate for non-educators’ lack of classroom teaching experience; consequently, they will struggle endlessly to earn the respect of their faculty.

But the news isn’t entirely bad. In the interest of fairness, I’m sure teachers will soon have the opportunity to run businesses, work as military officers, head up police departments, pastor churches, or practice law.