Responsive Leadership: Telling the Truth | Editorial | 3 Min Read

Dear Intrepid Ed News reader,

As you read the title of this announcement, you might be wondering what responsive leadership is and how we define “the truth.” Both are essential to our theme for the fall. Responsive leadership is about leading by listening. It doesn’t mean doing everything others tell you to do, but it does mean considering the needs of all the constituencies you represent before taking action or making a decision. Telling the truth these days is a more elusive goal. We live in a world in which science and logic are being challenged, where narratives compete for airspace, and those that receive the most “likes” become reality. Rather than trying to fashion a definition of truth, it is more useful, in the context of responsive leadership, to equate telling the truth with transparency. It operates in lockstep with responsive listening. One cannot honor the needs of all constituencies without transparent communication.

The articles in the Responsive Leadership series this Fall are all about listening, both to your school constituents and the culture at large. Recognizing internal and external shifts that will challenge current practice is a key component of responsive leadership. The pieces to be published will also be transparent, and that means some readers will read them with a resulting unhappy, disappointed, or angry feeling about the revelations or contentions of the authors. If you feel that the words you read are an assault on principles and beliefs you have held for some time, that’s okay. The authors are simply asking you to rethink those beliefs in the context of their narrative. If it doesn’t work for you, then you haven’t been convinced and everybody goes home. But if you see a sliver of possibility in the new narrative, then you owe it to yourself to relate what you are reading to your own situation and assess whether there is room for improvement.

While several contributors have been lined up to seed the article pool, Intrepid Ed News is looking for more voices and points of view. If you don’t want to start a conversation, then consider responding to an article that you might agree or disagree with. Feel free to express your views, challenge the statements of others, and introduce contexts that may not have been considered by the original author. The only rule is to maintain an atmosphere of civil discourse. Public reticence has been the rule over the past couple of years, particularly in independent schools. In our spirit of transparency, there is a hesitancy to speak up about controversial issues for fear of being branded to your viewpoint, and your position in your organization jeopardized. I don’t have any “get out of jail free” cards to give you, but am hoping that the open expression of views about responsive leadership in any portion of a school or supporting organization will not cost anybody their livelihood. That action would speak volumes about listening and transparency in our communities.

If you do want to express yourself and are not certain what to write about, here are some  responsive leadership questions to ponder:

  • Are we truly preparing our students to be successful global citizens in the 21st century?
  • Do we believe the adage that it takes a village to raise a child, and if so, are we committed to including all members of that village?
  • Do our current school governance systems meet the demands of 21st-century education?
  • Have we defined our current expectations for school leadership and trusteeship?
  • Do you know who you are as a school, and would you be able to get consensus from your constituents regarding that question?
  • How much of our leadership style is reflected in our financial management of the institution?
  • Are we strategic thinkers once every five years or do we carve out time regularly to see the forest through the trees (I’ve written about this before)?
  • Are we prepared to take equity and inclusion beyond the words expressed on our websites and into the realm of school policies, practices, and culture?

The first article will be featured on Sept. 17 and explores the evolution and results of independent school governance practices over the past 50 years. It is a good introduction to what should be an energetic exchange of ideas. I look forward to hearing from you in the form of an Article, Letter to the Editor, or Comment at the end of an article.

Responsively and transparently,

Joel Backon


Intrepid Ed News

Joel Backon

Joel Backon has been the Editor of Intrepid Ed News since its inception in January 2021, responsible for all educator content on the website. He joined the OESIS Network, owner of Intrepid, in 2019 as Vice President. Joel spent much of his career at Choate Rosemary Hall (CT) where for 27 years he held founding roles in Information and Academic Technology, as well as being a classroom teacher, curriculum designer, coach, dorm head, and student adviser. Prior to Choate, Joel spent 15 years in the printing and publishing industry educating printers on how to maximize their strengths and minimize weaknesses. He has crusaded to achieve consensus on the question of why we educate kids in an effort to meet the learning needs of every student.

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