Administration is the process or activity of running a business or organization. And while that is the given definition, I propose that there is far more to administration in your classical school than simply filling out paperwork, checking boxes, attending meetings, and nodding your head.
The task of administration is a gift. It is also a grave responsibility. As an administrator at a classical school you are tasked with affecting the hearts and minds of your staff with a love for a culture that is often foreign in the modern age. As classical educators, we seek to renew a love for all that has been lost.
A Continuing Education
To be an administrator requires wisdom; there is no escaping this fact. This is a leadership position, and if you are not a person who feels comfortable taking the lead, administration is wrong for you. But natural inclination is not the only determining factor. A desire to continue educating yourself and your staff is crucial.
The wise administrator is always learning and ever growing and drinking in knowledge. Books must be your daily diet, for if you take nothing in, you will have nothing to give. You must love to learn and constantly be on the alert for good reading material. Yes, we know, there are many modern books on methods of administration, growing a school, and all the self-help methods one can pursue. But how much better to take the advice of those wise souls who have gone before us and paved the way with their words. You must make friends with the ancients, so that their wisdom falls easily from your lips. This will prepare you as you lead teachers in the present age. For you are leading a group of souls in an endeavor to renew a love for good and lasting things, to revive a deep and thorough thought process, to encourage hearts toward what is most important in life.
Your teachers, too, must do this. Ask yourself: Are my teachers reading on their own? Am I assigning them something to read? Do we talk about the books we are reading? Staff meetings are often comprised of going over work done and planning what will be done. While that is indeed important, so is spending time talking about books and promoting a love of good reading in your staff. Yes, they can teach a class by preparing a lesson and knowing the subject, but they will teach better when they are infused with a love of reading and learning.
The Education of the Heart
The wise administrator sees the importance of the inner man. If you agree with Aristotle that “educating the mind without educating the heart” is a danger, then you must realize that, as an administrator, you have a responsibility to minister to both the mind and the heart of your staff. The opportunity to touch another life is a serious undertaking, and indeed, as you lead your teachers, just so will they lead their students. When you remind your teachers that the classroom is a sacred place, a place where both the heart and mind will be affected, you will also be reminded that there is a sacredness to administration. Are you encouraging your teachers to make time for personal study, for contemplation and reflection? Sweet time is spent mulling over great works and the thoughts presented in them. There must be a conscious slowing down, an appreciation for time spent in discussion and reflection.
A wise administrator will be able to handle adversity. Because classical education is regarded as a new endeavor (even though we know it is very old) you will meet teachers who are fine people, but who need to gain a fuller understanding of what we are really about. There will be those who have been “enlightened” by the progressive mindset and will not agree when you share your love for the old truths that have stood the test of time. You will come upon that young and very smart teacher who is quite sure that the new methods are the best methods. There will be an old teacher who is sure the way it was is the way it should be, claiming that classrooms have survived without Latin for the last fifty years.
You should not be defeated or dissuaded by either of these situations. You will be challenged as you share the richness of great books and deep study. The young teacher’s eyes will light up with understanding and the older teacher will suddenly notice Latin roots in everything she reads. You will smile to yourself and resolve to continue this grand journey. Suddenly, your job is not a job, it is your love, and you will rejoice as you see others delight in learning.
The Importance of Communication
The wise administrator communicates well. At this time in history we have more ways to communicate than ever before, and yet in the low level of communication skills we see how fractured our society has become. In a world of cryptic texts and emojis, you must be the one to elevate the language, to encourage an appreciation for the beauty of language. Words are important. You must know how to use them wisely and guard your language skills fiercely. Always think before you write or speak and always be aware of guiding your teachers in developing better communication skills. Language is a beautiful thing. You must be the one to raise the standard, to promote a love of words and how to use them. Never accept poor grammar or overuse of vague terms. Make your speech beautiful and others will notice. You will find that you will often be the one to introduce your teachers to Cicero and to guide them in their skills of rhetoric. Speak well, and the goodness and beauty of your speech will inspire your teachers. As Augustine put it,
Whether one is just now making ready to speak … or is composing something to be spoken later … or to be read … he should pray that God may place a good speech in his mouth … and for the profitable result of their speech they should give thanks to Him from whom they should not doubt they have received it, so that he who glories may glory in Him in whose hand are both we and our words.
The Importance of Content
A wise administrator sees past methodology to content. If there is one thing that is killing education, it is the idea that if we cover a certain amount of prescribed material, using a certain method, we have done our job. The idea is not to examine exactly what is in the material, but rather to complete all the required steps—like the old example of cutting off the ends of the ham simply because that is the way it is done. I am reminded of the term “Modern Madness of Method” spoken of in a recent article by CLSA Director Martin Cothran in which he talks of the infernal searching for new methods that is so popular in this time. We have become so addicted to methods that the emptiness of content goes unobserved. Go into any governmental office today and you will be directed from desk to desk so that all may touch the paper, because, well, that is the way it is done! Unfortunately, this way of looking at things has trickled down to our places of learning and can be seen in schools that are top-heavy—much adherence to paperwork, much talk of how to document all things, yet little attention paid to what is actually going on in the classroom.
Knowing that a classical education is defined by its content and simply supported by its method, we minimize the paperwork to maximize the learning.
Teach the Basics
A wise administrator frees teachers to teach the basics. It is easy to get so wrapped up in process that we are led away from the clear truth of simplicity and become completely lost in prescribed activities. C. S. Lewis, in his essay, “On the Reading of Old Books,” states,
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books …. If the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing, is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.
As usual, Lewis is right. For some reason we have turned from reading the originals—the real and the true—and instead embraced a false idea that by walking around a subject and discussing it outside of the actual work, we are accomplishing something. What we are accomplishing we do not really know, but we insist that we are now enlightened; we have had discussions, our students feel good about themselves, and so we must have met the prescribed goal. This is contrary to true learning. Teachers need to be guided and encouraged to stick to the basics, the heart of the subject. It is truly a comfort and a help when we give our teachers permission to teach the basics deeply and thoroughly, rather than insisting on filling the hours of each day trying to focus on the kerfuffle that so often stands in the way of true learning.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Lastly, the wise administrator is full of happiness. We want our classrooms to be structured and organized, and yet we also realize that that very organization provides a place for happiness. When a school is well ordered and the staff knows what is expected of them, when students know the order of the day and are challenged to reach their highest potential, there is a certain amount of happiness that comes from that. What is the atmosphere of your school? Take time to walk the halls and observe. When you conduct your teacher observations, notice the atmosphere of the classroom. Besides being orderly, is it a happy place?
“Peace,” Aquinas says, “is the tranquility of order.” We live in a chaotic world. Life in America has become a race to see who can do the most in the least amount of time. Sit and listen to the conversations swirling around you in almost any setting and you will hear people sharing how busy they are, as if busyness is the epitome of success. You would think there is evidence for this belief. There is not. The only evidence we see is exhaustion, high blood pressure, stressed and broken families, and worn out people who spend their lives talking about all they do and how they must plan a time of escape.
I am reminded of a little kindergarten girl who attended the school where I was the administrator. She joined our school as a frightened child. Her life was in upheaval because of parental difficulties. At first, not knowing the lay of the land in this new world, she was unable to focus and her beginning weeks of school were a time of great adjustment for her. She would often cry and did not like to play with others. But soon, she began to come to school smiling and glad to be there. Why? Because of the order of the day, the order of her classroom. She knew that each day she would arrive and be welcomed at the gate, that her teacher would have a place for her to hang her coat and the same seat for her to sit in daily. She knew the order of the subjects and that if she raised her hand properly she would be able to ask or answer a question. She learned the delightful feeling of knowing what would come next. This was something new for her and it freed her mind to learn, increasing her ability to focus on the task before her. At school there was order, and in that order there was peace. It was a taste of all that is good and true and beautiful and it stemmed from an orderly classroom.
If you take away societal traditions, you will see order replaced with chaos. Laws are made to promote order. There is a line one cannot cross, and when we obey the laws our society functions in an orderly fashion. But take away the traditions, the laws, the agreed upon behavior, and what do you have? Anarchy.
In the little world of the classroom we see the same thing. There must be an understood leader, the teacher, and understood followers, the students. Our classrooms must be a place of imbuing knowledge, and that is best done when we have our order set for the day. While present-day psychology would say that the most important points to focus on in the classroom are problem-solving, creativity, and personal communication, we realize that teaching clear subjects and being committed to delivering defined knowledge will produce students who can also problem solve, create, and communicate.
If you can share these truths with your teachers, you will soon find they will be much happier in their work. They will also see joyful students and the tenor of your school will be one of joy—the joy of learning.
Administration consists of time alone and time together. This means that you will need time alone for personal study and you will need time with your teachers to learn about them and to encourage and develop a learning relationship with them. We are people. We are not machines. In our humanity, we have a need to connect and understand. You are leading a team of intrepid souls, for true teachers are fearless in their search for truth and it is an adventure to travel with them. Dedication to truth is a grand thing. It is a beautiful thing. And it is surely a good thing.