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Guest Thinkers


[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]



. noun. conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency

between one’s beliefs and one’s actions. [definition from the American Heritage



I believe that one of the biggest challenges facing school leaders today is

the issue of dissonance. As the definition above

notes, cognitive dissonance refers to the disconnects

between what we believe as leaders and what we do. Here are some examples of

dissonance that regularly occur in the lives of school administrators:

  • Few administrators believe that the current American focus on yearly,

one-time, standardized tests (as opposed to more instructionally-sensitive

progress monitoring assessments) is healthy for students, teachers, or schools,

yet they spend a great deal of time and energy on preparing for and working with

the results from those tests.

  • Administrators know that the predominant ‘sit and get’?? model of professional
  • development almost never leads to long-lasting, substantive changes in

    practice, yet most school systems continue to provide training for teachers and

    staff using that very model.

  • Most administrators probably would admit that more teachers should be
  • terminated (after appropriate remediation opportunities are given) than actually


    These are just a few examples. I’??m sure that you can come up with others and

    invite you to add your own in the comments to this post. There are other

    dissonance issues too. For example…

    • time dissonance: the disconnect between the amount

    of time administrators have and the amount of work they have to do it;

  • expectation dissonance: the disconnect between
  • what our society expects schools to do and what they actually are able to


  • curricular dissonance: the disconnect between what
  • is best instructional practice (i.e., high-yield instructional strategies) and

    what occurs on a day-to-day basis in many teachers’?? classrooms;

  • technology dissonance: the disconnect between the
  • technology skills and knowledge that students need for the new millennium and

    the capacity of most schools to prepare students for their future lives and


  • moral dissonance: the disconnect between how we
  • currently serve disadvantaged students and how we should be.

    We must find ways to resolve these conflicts. Although most states have

    adequate numbers of people with administrative licenses, fewer individuals are

    willing to actually take the job of principal or superintendent. The time

    demands, stress, community and legal pressures, and other factors are just too

    much for many educators, who look at administrative jobs and say, “??Who wants to

    deal with that? Not me!”

    We know that sustainable success in schools never occurs without effective

    leadership. If schools are to attract talented, creative people to serve in

    leadership positions, we must somehow figure out how to reduce the



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