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Hierarchy in Education: Let's Rattle the Chain of Command

Earlier this week I was sitting in a conference session titled "Fostering Relationships With Your Superintendent and Board Chair," lead by a former district Superintendent and a former School Board member. I was happy to be in the room, especially since the advocacy session I was facilitating later in the day culminated in what I think is the number one advocacy tool: building relationships. Sitting on the edge of my seat (nerd alert), I couldn't hold my pen still to write my notes for I was shaking with excitement, eager to hear their perspectives and engage in juicy dialogue with a room full of teachers.

The session began with an overview of what they recommended to new Board members.

That Board members are perceived differently. True.

That Board members must play nice together. Yes! Collaboration.

That Board work is all about building relationships. Right on!

And then we took a U-turn.

While the word "relationship" was still lingering in our minds and ringing in our ears, the speaker began to talk about how teachers should speak to Board members. That Board members need to know it is not their job to "carry everyone's water."

Wait--isn't that these officials are elected to do? To hear and address constituent concerns? To be our voice?

That if a teacher has a specific issue that they want to address with their Board of Education, they should go "up the chain of command." Teachers should follow protocol of talking to their principal or come to the meetings during times scheduled for public comment.


My stomach turned and my skin crawled hearing these words, thinking of where teachers--and more importantly students--fell in this chain. And my inner voice immediately replied: What if the chain of command isn't working? That's most likely why teachers are coming to you!

A chain of command implies a strict hierarchy and an archaic way of doing things--a traditional model of school organization that teachers and other education leaders are working hard to change. And just when I think we are making some progress in this mission, I realize that we still have a long way to go.

We need bold thinking here, and even braver action.

In my former home of Hillsborough County, Florida, there is a new district superintendent. After coming into the position after a tumultuous overturn of our former superintendent by the Hillsborough County School Board (don't you worry--she's doing alright as the new Commissioner of Education of New York), newly appointed Superintendent Eakins immediately addressed the power structure in the district. He took the organizational chart--the chain of command from decades past--and flipped it. He turned it on its head. So the students are at the top, and everyone else is below, supporting them. Instead of a chain of command, it is an inverted pyramid of support.

A move like this is not just bold, it's gargantuan. And it's like steering a barge--it will take a long time for that ship to change directions. The change process is mighty slow, but especially in large districts where things have been done the same way for decades. But I'm hopeful. Though it might not immediately change the chain of command, I think it's beginning to rattle it.

My call to action: I think it's time to reconsider the archaic organizational charts in many of our schools, districts, and states.

Let's begin by starting conversations. Let's think about how we can put students at the top of the organizational and see all the educators and administrators as a team of support, working together to build a solid foundation to carry the students. Let's build the relationships in order to have these hard conversations that start moving the barge of change.

It's time to do a little chain rattling.

Photo courtesy of sfu.marchin.

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The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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