The case in (Merseth, 1997) tells us about a successful teacher Erica Suzman who takes a step forward in her career and enters a new school as a principal. Despite Erica is full of inspiration and enthusiasm, her entry is not as smooth as she might expect. Trying to set rapport with her subordinates, Erica nevertheless cannot find a common language with some of the teachers, as well as with her assistant, Harriet Clyde. There are several reasons for the difficulties the new principal has with her entry.
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First of all, Erica’s challenging situation is caused by the fact that she does not manage to switch the model of her behavior and decision-making from a teacher to a principal. She has not developed a strategy for her principalship and has no neat vision of her leadership style. If we look at the set of pairs of mental representations offered by Reason (2010) (each pair helps to detect what point a leader is inclined to in his/her leadership style), we will notice that some of the pairs concern the very issues that Principal Suzman should have thought over: for example, “The leader’s role: master or servant?”, “Change solutions: prepackaged or cocreated?” et al.
These pairs of mental representations imply that a leader should have a deliberate view on whether he/she involves subordinates in decision-making, and when and how he/she should do it. Instead, Erica did not choose either this model or the opposite one, but focused on setting relations with colleagues and hired Mrs. Clyde under the influence of circumstances (Merseth, p.58). Thus, the main task that Miss Suzman has to cope with is to “use [her] head more than [her] heart” (p.68) and develop her position as a leader. Besides, she needs to get used to the fact that she should delegate responsibilities rather than trying to do everything on her own.
Another issue that Principal Suzman has to work on is flexibility and the ability to understand others’ positions. Erica Suzman forgot about the proverb that says, “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. Despite Miss Suzman is a talented teacher with her advanced vision of how the teaching process should be conducted, she entered a school where another style of teaching dominated: the majority of teachers focused on discipline and standards while Erica herself focused on individuality and personal approach.
If we again allude to Reason’s scheme of mental representations, we will find several pairs of representations that describe this difference: for example, “Learning goals: teaching to standard or adding value?”, “The purpose of school: reflect and maintain community standards or advance them?” et al. (Reason, 2010). Erica has to understand that changing the teaching style and leadership style that has dominated in the school for years is very difficult and time-consuming. She needs to access the distinctions in her and others’ styles of teaching and discern the difference between them and real problems and violations.
The particular case that Erica has to deal with is the case of Royal Collins, a fourth-grader who has problems in his family and often demonstrates misbehavior at school. Being an experienced teacher, she recognized correctly that the boy needed a personal approach and interest.
She also saw that neither Mrs. James nor Mrs. Clyde was willing to provide this interest to Royal; that is why her decision about taking this case under her control was correct, even so, that we see that her communication with the boy had a visible positive effect. At the same time, Miss Suzman should defend her position concerning this case in her conversation with the superintendent and explain that in this case, her interest in Royal’s case is reasonable.
As the school principal, Erica Suzman has responsibility for Royal Collins’s case. At the same time, she has the right to request the juvenile officer to coordinate the work between the department and the school. Dottie Bauer argued that “it isn’t clear whose job” it was to inform the school about cases analogous to Royal’s case (p.64), but Erica has to eliminate this “informational gap” and introduce a new model of communication with the department: she should insist on informing the school about unordinary cases connected with its students.
Merseth, K. K. (1997). Cases in Educational Administration. USA: Allyn & Bacon.
Reason, C. (2010). Competing Mental Representations in Schools. Solution-Tree.Com. Web.