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October 1, 2002
Vol. 60
No. 2

Voices . . . The Professor / When Principals Carry Pistols

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      I recently met with a Tel Aviv high school principal in my office at the Open University of Israel to discuss a lecture he was to give our students. As he turned to leave, I noticed that he was carrying a pistol on his belt. Lately, it hasn't been unusual to see Israeli citizens carrying guns wherever they go, but I hadn't expected to see school principals joining the trend. He informed me that he openly carried the pistol to school, and that he believed students felt more protected during unstable times when they saw their principal armed. After his departure, I considered the implications that this situation might have on the educational leadership of school principals in Israel.
      School principals are viewed as role models by both school staff and students. As the theory of the “falling dominoes effect” shows (Bass, Waldman, Avolio, & Bebb, 1987), individuals tend to adopt patterns of behavior similar to those exhibited by their superiors. It is plausible to expect that teachers, who look up to their principal, will strive to adopt his or her conduct. An armed principal may be perceived as a heroic leader who provides the powerful sense of security that is in high demand by people in this country, and that corresponds to people's basic need for safety (Maslow, 1954). The principal, however, may substitute this newfound power for other crucial resources that are more appropriate to the education setting. While occupied with the basic obligation of maintaining school security, principals may find less time to devote to the education work and the higher-order needs of students.
      To juggle these two levels of student needs is a demanding and occasionally risky task. For example, I was recently invited to attend a school activity commemorating Memorial Day, a holiday Israeli schools honor annually. The ceremony I attended took place at a school in a large town and was attended by the 1,300 students enrolled there, in addition to teachers and guests. A number of guards, mostly high school seniors, patrolled the school rooftop to protect the participants below. On the ground, the physical education teacher patrolled the school site armed with a pistol, while armed guards from a local security company secured the two school entrances. This is just one way in which school leaders balance students' “lower” and “upper” needs by continuing at all costs the traditions that are at the core of each school's existence.
      So is the principal perceived more as a security guard than as a transformational leader (Bass, 1985; Burns, 1978) who listens to his or her staff and students, provides them with intellectual stimulation, and inspires them to achieve their goals? To use Sergiovanni's concept of leadership, the question is whether the principal uses the hand rather than the heart or the head of leadership. Each principalmust find her or his way, develop her or his approach if the heart, head, and hand of leadership are to come together in the form of successful principalship practice. (Sergiovanni, 1995, p. 308)
      This is especially true in vulnerable times when individuals feel too unsafe to continue their routine life. It is easy to be swept away by immediate external threats. We should measure the worth of principals by their ability to keep in mind and in practice the vision that can lead their schools through both peaceful and turbulent times.

      Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press.

      Bass, B. M., Waldman, D. A., Avolio, B. J., & Bebb, M. (1987). Transformational leadership and the falling dominoes effect. Group & Organization Studies, 12(1), 73–87.

      Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.

      Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row.

      Sergiovanni, T. J. (1995). The principalship: A reflective practice perspective (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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