If one wanted to look at a prime example of the practice of Servant Leadership, a person doesn’t have to look very far. It is found in every school in the form of teachers and educators. But recently implemented reforms like the Common Core have stymied teachers in their role of servant leaders.
Servant Leadership is defined as a leadership that is based on serving others altruistically. Servant leaders put the wellbeing of their followers ahead of their own needs in order to see them grow to their fullest potential. The leader makes sure that their followers grow as persons, become wiser, healthier, freer, and more likely to become servant leaders themselves (Northouse, 2013).
Behaviors that are at the core of Servant Leadership are integral to the teaching occupation.
Being able to conceptualize allows a teacher to address problems creatively, which is necessary in teaching students of differing cultures, intellectual abilities and emotional maturity levels. Emotional healing speaks for itself; teachers, by nature of their job, have to be available for their students and provide them with support. Teachers do put their students first, often spending their own money (not their district’s money) on supplies that many students wouldn’t be able to have otherwise. Helping students grow and succeed is one of the core goals to teaching and ethical behavior is taught by teachers being an example of how to behave. Empowerment builds confidence for students to think and act on their own and by doing all of these things, teachers give back to the community when the students join the community as young adults, and as they become leaders themselves. But in order to be able to perform all of these behaviors, teachers have to have the support and the guidance of school districts and state governments. The Common Core Initiative that has been adopted by many states restricts those behaviors.
According to the Common Core Initiative’s Website (2014) the Common Core is “a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.” They were developed in 2009 and released in 2010; shortly after, they were endorsed by 45 states. The advocates of the Common Core saw the standards as a way to raise test scores by making sure that students everywhere in every grade were taught using the same standards (Strauss, 2014). What they did not take into consideration was the effect of these standards on the interaction between teacher and student.
The Common Core standards are based on the belief that all children should be taught in the same way with the same curriculum. Implemented, it makes no distinction for children with special needs or those who are disabled. By forcing teachers to deliver a set curriculum rather than teach children as individuals, the Common Core has removed the flexibility teachers need to reach children of all backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles (Townsend, 2014). When the tests were given in New York state, only 3% of English language learners, 5% of students with disabilities and fewer than 20% of African American and Hispanic students passed (Strauss, 2014). According to Northouse (2013), one of the defining behaviors of Servant Leaders (teachers) is having a social responsibility to be concerned about the “have-nots” and those less privileged. In some states, teachers say that the lessons are scripted and deprive them of their professional autonomy, the autonomy they need to tailor their lessons to the needs of the students in front of them (Strauss, 2014). In order to teach minority groups and children with disabilities, teachers have to have the freedom to teach them based on their own abilities and not government mandated ones.
There are some complaints that teachers are now being forced to teach to a test and deviation from the Common Core will result in poor evaluations and possible loss of their jobs (Minasian-Sommers, 2014). This, understandably, will force many teachers to move away from the altruistic behaviors of a Servant Leader, especially as most have their own families and must pay their bills.
While there are many proponents and critics of the Common Core based on educational standards alone, from a leadership standpoint, the Common Core is detrimental.
Frequenty Asked Questions. (2014). Retrieved from Common Core State Standard Initiatives: http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/frequently-asked-questions/
Minasian-Sommers, L. (2014, June 1). Common Core will harm education. Telegram & Gazette, p. A 13.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Strauss, V. (2014, January 18). Everything you need to know about Common Core — Ravitch. Retrieved from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/18/everything-you-need-to-know-about-common-core-ravitch/
Townsend, S. (2014, January 30). Common Core is too rigid. Times Union.