In response to the post, “The Harris County Incubator,” a reader writes:
“What an incredible group of leaders that was! The focus was always the children. Staff was held to high expectations just as we held our kids to high expectations. Having been under the mentorship of one of those leaders and also having the privilege of interfacing with many of the others made me a better administrator. My kids definitely benefitted and so did my staff.
We don’t see that level of accountability much these days.”
No, we don’t see much of that today. And I think there are a couple of reasons for that. Here are a few of the important ones.
1. Self selected accountability vs. mandated accountability. Accountability as we know it was birthed by the school leaders I mentioned. They knew that their kids and staff could do more and they were looking ways to push their performance. They self selected to get better, faster, and measure their results. They essentially volunteered to hold their organizations accountable. The good thing about that is that it frees up the organization to innovate without the fear of sanction. Plus, when you volunteer to be accountable, you hold all parts of the organization accountable. The floor, the middle and the ceiling all have to move. Mandated accountability is different. The fear of sanction freezes all but the most driven leaders and the masses seek the protection of the comfortable middle. Mandated accountability is also about managing to the lowest common denominator. Now before you stand up and say “Amen,” realize that as a profession we have to shoulder most of the blame for mandated accountability. If we had policed ourselves and refused to tolerate the continuing practice of under-educating our poor, black and brown students, we wouldn’t have politicians making political hay at our expense. As Rod Paige told us in an administrators’ meeting, “We are no longer going to be the damn post office.”
2. A better understanding of the true nature of school politics. The Harris County old timers understood the truth of school politics. Here is the short version: Focus on student success and school politics, though a constant irritant, won’t kill you. Focus on the politics and it won’t be long until there is someone else in your chair focusing on student success.
3. Trust. The Harris County crew trusted their people. Failure was tolerated if you were failing forward. I constantly remind new school leaders that it only seems like I have all the answers. I don’t. They are just privy to all the tricks I have learned from a 20 year journey of failure and rapid adjustment.
4. No fear. By the time I showed up on the scene, the old school Harris County Superintendents were already tenured and successful. They didn’t fear anything. They were confident that any problem that dared to surface on their watch would be solved. And their confidence was contagious. If Brezina said it could be done, then that meant it could be done, we just had to figure out how.
At least, that’s what I learned.
Think. Work. Achieve.