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Commentary

Questions I Would Ask
Allen Berger, Heckert Professor of Reading and Writing

Nearly a quarter of a century ago I wrote an article titled “Old Questions Will Produce Old Answers to the Problem of Educational Leadership” (Education Week, October 13, 1982). In it I express my concern for the qualifications that we do not require of candidates seeking top jobs in schools and universities.

Because there are search committees now considering candidates for administrative positions here, I thought I_'d share the list because it still seems timely, although I would add one more qualification.

Here is a brief excerpt:

Minimum qualifications include imagination, intelligence, scholarship, compassion, honesty, courage, business and legal acumen, health, humor, magnanimity, as well as the usual requirements such as demonstrated administrative experience.

_Certainly this is not a complete list; but these qualities are necessary supplements to the traditional skills we associate with the capacity to hold a position of trust and leadership. Why are such qualities important?

_Imagination. The function of a school or university is to impart knowledge imaginatively, Alfred North Whitehead reminded us. … The more imaginative power a leader has, the more he or she is prepared for troubled times. In contrast to the person who is crisis-bound, the imaginative leader foresees change and prepares accordingly._


Through the article I explain the need for each of the qualities and then ask how these qualities can be assessed.
_Easily and simply. Search committees need only ask the appropriate questions. For example, ask the candidate what he or she has read recently. If the answer is, “I_'ve been too busy,” you will know right away that he or she does not value reading and does not know how to manage time and delegate tasks properly. Ask the candidate what he or she has written lately; ask to read his or her writing; and ask to read the reviews!

_I would ask other questions, which, admittedly, reflect my own biases: is the candidate willing to accept a salary lower than that of the highest-paid master teacher or professor? Will arrangements be made for incoming monies to be deposited daily? . . . The candidate_'s answers to these questions reveal his or her appreciation of the significance of teaching and of faculty and staff members, the value of interest on deposits, and the amount of personal and professional energy the candidate is willing to invest in the job for the sake of the institution.

_I would also ask: What does the candidate do for fun and to maintain optimal physical and emotional well-being? Will the prospective leader encourage an annual review of his or her performance by the same people whose performance he or she reviews annually? Does the candidate know how to conduct productive faculty and staff meetings that do not extend beyond an established length of time? Does he or she understand that burnout_ is merely another word for boredom and that productivity, the opposite side of the coin, can be enhanced by establishing and fostering a challenging, creative - in a word, educational - environment?_

One quality I would add to my list of long ago is the ability to solve problems creatively. In a way this connects with imagination. I would encourage search committees to present candidates with moral, ethical, and personnel problems and ask that they come up with creative solutions.

Let_'s remember that demonstrated administrative experience is not enough. It never was. Past experience doesn_'t predict future performance. These are challenging times, and if we continue to ask old questions, we will continue to get what we ask for.

Date Published: 11/17/2005
Volume: 25   Number: 16

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