Leadership as Art

By Linda Nathan

We don’t lead the easy way at my school. The process is often a work in progress, as is the product. Collaboration and input are big and important words in our leadership model. With a lot of careful navigating, this ship sails well for us, even if the ride gets bumpy along the way.

I am the co-headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy, the city’s first and only public high school for the visual and performing arts. The role presents the ultimate challenge in collaboration. How do we do it, and most important, how do we do it successfully?

Two philosophies guide me. First, my work as a leader should take place within the larger life of the school. Second, relationships between teachers and students are the most crucial to a school’s success or failure. I respect the work that teachers do immensely, and realize that only kids can make their own learning and growth happen.

As an administrator, I also recognize that some things I do occur only behind closed doors. The hardest is firing teachers who are not doing their jobs. I also spend time resolving issues between staff, students, and parents, in various combinations.

I hire new teachers, a happy and delicate part of the job that requires me to rely on my instincts and judgments about how this person will fit into this intense, quirky place. I must deal with discipline, which means living with tons of anger and resentment without taking any of it personally. I make choices about what gets funding and what doesn’t, and what gets time and priority in the schedule and what doesn’t. I have to be a teacher to my faculty. I create and work with an excellent leadership team.

Finally, and sometimes utterly in conflict with all of the above, I must take care and balance what I demand of myself.

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