As I continue working through my PGP and reading Lincoln on Leadership, I continue to reflect on ways that I can use some of his techniques in my work.
Part 2 – Character
In my first post I wrote about Phillips description of Lincoln’s dealings with people. The second part of the book addresses Lincoln’s character. Since I first heard about Lincoln in elementary school his nickname, “Honest Abe”, has been one of the first things that I think about when I hear his name. This part of the book is broken up into three chapters:
- Honesty and Integrity Are the Best Policies
- Never Act Out of Vengeance or Spite
- Have the Courage to Handle Unjust Criticism
- Be a Master of Paradox
The first section, Honesty and Integrity Are the Best Policies, was an interesting and one that could be used to help students as they struggle to find themselves and determine what they actually believe. One of the principles that I continue to struggle with has to do with who you stand by and when you stand by them. According to Phillips, Lincoln believed that you should “stand with anybody who stands right. Stand with him with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.” For so many of the kids that I have taught in the past, loyalty is everything. It’s not a matter of whether one’s actions are right, it’s a matter of standing up for someone rather than for a cause. Truly, I find this one to be tough. Loyalty is important, but shouldn’t what’s right still come first as we leave the realm of adolescence.
The other principle from this section that I really liked was, “When you make it to the top, turn and reach down for the person behind you.” In education the top is different for everyone, but the principle remains the same. When a “level” is reached, it’s your responsibility to help the person behind you to reach that same level. As teachers, we strive to help our students. However, could we teach this principle to our students? What if, when they reached a level, they helped those around them until everyone came up to that level? What a community you would have. My Personal Learning Network (PLN) works that way for me. When someone learns something, typically they will share their learning. If it’s something that I need or want to know or be familiar with, there has not been a single time that I’ve asked that I wasn’t pleasantly rewarded with assistance. Usually, they go above and beyond. I, in turn, try to do the same thing. If students took on this attitude, education might look completely different.
The next chapter of the book, “Never Act Out of Vengeance or Spite” is one that should really hit home with educators. I remember a day in my classroom in which there all students were taking a quiz when suddenly a fight broke out between two boys without, to my knowledge, any provocation from either one. I was shocked, amazed and in awe that this was actually happening in my room. With the help of some other students we broke up the fight (which ended up being over a girl) and I marched them down to the principal’s office. I didn’t ask what caused it. I didn’t care at that point. I was angry, disappointed and embarrassed.
How many times have I graded a paper and been tempted to grade that essay just a little bit harder based on the behavior of a student. Yes, it’s wrong. Yes, it’s vengeful. Yes, I’m a professional and am pleased to say that I worked very hard to not let those feelings affect the grades my students earned. The key here is that students are earning these grades and I have no right to impose my will on those grades based on their behaviors. Educators are human and it’s hard to leave that frustration behind, but if we don’t, there are two problems – our actions are wrong and we’re modeling behaviors the same behaviors that we’re trying to keep our student’s from displaying.
“Have the Courage to Handle Unjust Criticism” is the title of chapter three. Not surprisingly, this should ring true for the entire education community. It seems that as teachers we are being criticized from nearly all sides these days. Obviously this is an extreme generalization, but we all have days that we feel that way. When Lincoln felt that he was unjustly criticized and he felt that he must respond, he would write a letter to the person or persons being critical and express his side of the story. However, rarely, if ever, were these letters sent. It was therapeutic for him. In his mind, his actions and reputation spoke for themselves and by responding to criticism that was unjust he was just perpetuating the misunderstanding. He had faith in his values and allowed them to guide his actions. Hopefully I’ll be able to remember that the next time I feel as though educators are being criticized by those who aren’t part of our world. I’m sure I’ll have that opportunity very soon.
The last chapter of the “Character” section is entitled “Be a Master of Paradox”. There are lessons in this chapter for the educator too but I think they are a little more cryptic. So many times I feel as though I’m walking a tightrope in which I can see the big picture in my district while at the same time I can see how that big picture gets interpreted by individuals. There’s always a little disconnect between administration and teachers, but, the biggest thing I’ve learned since I’ve been out of the classroom is that the principal is truly the educational leader in each building. They set the tone and interpret that big picture. I guess I always kind of knew that, but until I traveled between schools and saw the way different administrators ran their schools, I didn’t really understand how true that was.
Thus far, my experience with Lincoln On Leadership has been a good one. I’ve learned a little about Lincoln a little about leadership and have gotten a lot to think about.