Thomas R. Hoerr
Who Decides What?
giving it away.
Thomas R. Hoerr
school.org) is head
of school at the New
City School, 5209
Waterman Ave., St.
Louis, MO 63108. He is
the author of The Art
of School Leadership
(ASCD, 2005) and
for the Future (NAIS
Idon’t agree with you, but go ahead,” I said to a teacher after a long discussion about whether she should contact a certain child’s
mother. The student was having difficulties, and
I felt that we needed to bring everyone together
and get on top of the situation right away. The
teacher, though, wanted to wait and see what
happened over the next couple of weeks before
sharing her concern with his mom. She thought
that things could be turned around with just a
bit more time.
I knew the student and had dealt with this
parent in the past, and it
was obvious to me that
communicating sooner was
better than waiting. I also
suspected that the teacher
wanted to delay to avoid a
confrontation; that’s understandable. But to me, it
was a no-brainer: Act now!
Yet, here I was, giving the
teacher authority to ignore
my take on the problem.
“What’s going on?” you may
ask. Indeed, I ask that, too.
How much autonomy I
should give teachers is an issue I think about a
lot. On what issues should I simply follow my
own thinking and make the decision? When do
I allow others to make a decision even if I disagree with them? Who decides what?
The question is difficult because teachers
expect me to take a position. It’s my job!
And even if a topic falls outside my area of
expertise—which is often the case—I have an
opinion. Roland Barth’s “myth of presumed
competence” illustrates that principals often
need to present an aura of confidence and act as
though they know just about everything, even
though everyone realizes this is far from true.
Of course, even though I am in charge,
I don’t have a monopoly on knowledge. I
wouldn’t begin to try to teach 1st graders how
to read, I’m still working to understand Sin-
gapore math, and our beginning Spanish class
is beyond me. Particularly on curriculum issues,
teachers often know more than I do; this is a
good thing. I delegate and learn.