Thursday, May 19, 2011

Supervision Lesson #4: Authority (3)

Question: What finally convinced me that I did not need authority to be a successful supervisor?

[The following is taken from Chapter 30 of my book, Teaching English, How To…., Xlibris, 2004.]

Still Unconvinced: Do Supervisors Need Authority?
As a supervisor, I was tempted at times to demand the authority to make changes. At one point, the math supervisor and I visited another school district where the supervisors did have authority to make changes. These supervisors said, “We have the responsibility for success or failure. If we fail, we will pay the price. We use the authority to make sure we can make the changes. Otherwise, we could fail because the people we are supervising do not have to pay attention to what we say.”

Makes sense. If you have the responsibility, you need the authority. Armed with this reasoning, I met the following day with Wes Opdyke, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction. As he always did, he stopped what he was doing and listened to my impassioned request for the authority to tell people what to do.

“There’s a lot of sense in what you say, Ray,” Wes began. “But I was thinking about you the other day. Did you need authority when you showed that seventh-grade science teacher how to use the directed reading assignment?”

“No,” I admitted, immediately recognizing where he was leading me. He cited other successful curriculum projects that I had led. After each one, he asked, “Did you need authority to accomplish that?

Wes was right. Without the authority to tell people to “do it because I tell you to,” I had been forced to be creative in finding methods to persuade people to change. I had demonstrated directed reading assignments; I had used model lesson plans to show teachers how to teach grammar and writing together; I had taught demonstration lessons on how to teach spelling; how to use the Great Books approach to discussing literature; how to have fun with language; and how to make word processing a part of the writing program. I had even shown teachers how to find the time to read professional literature so they could gain ides that would help them improve their teaching. The results were real. Teachers changed because they wanted to change. They saw how to do their job better and they did it better. Real change.

Without authority, I had fun finding creative methods for helping people see the need for change. Without authority, I was trusted by the teachers who were willing to talk out problems in an effort to find solutions. That was the joy of supervision.

I stood up. “Thanks, Wes,” I said. “I get your point.”

Good man, that Wes. He too practiced what he preached. I changed my attitude about the need for authority, not because he told me I had to—he could have said, “That’s the nature of the job; live with it or find another job”—but because he showed me how authority had little or nothing to do with my success as a supervisor. Nor with his. Because, although he had authority, he almost never used it, preferring instead to talk, reason, persuade and demonstrate how teachers and supervisors should perform their responsibilities.

Thanks, Wes.

I never again asked for, or felt I needed, authority. It was too much fun helping people change without the authority to tell them what to do.

Note: That chapter, like other chapters in my book, is right from the heart. RayS.

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