The Tyrant

I looked across the table at the concerned face of the Superintendent of one of our consortium school districts.

“Pete, your team has screwed up badly. We’ve had problems for weeks now, we’ve complained to your staff, and things haven’t gotten any better. I’m at the end of my rope.” Her face showed she was terribly serious.

We had known each other for years and were friends, so this conversation was not easy for either of us. It was meant as a wake up call to us, “Improve things, or else.” If it had been anyone else, we probably wouldn’t have been given another chance to turn things around.


When I got back, I called the entire support team into our conference room. I was angry. I related what happened at the meeting to them. My face was red, my voice was filled with anger, and I threatened them with major consequences if they didn’t fix the situation immediately. I didn’t let anyone speak, explain, or ask questions. In my mind, they were completely to blame and they deserved my righteous wrath. I wanted a game plan on how they were going to turn things around before the end of the day. I turned my back on them to leave.

Just as I was slamming the door, for emphasis, on the way out, I heard an inner voice whisper clearly, “This behavior is not right. It will not serve you in the long run.” The image of the team sitting in the room suddenly came to me. The body language of some was frightened; but most looked really angry. I could almost hear their unspoken, “What an A..hole!” as I walked down the hall.

That was the beginning of the end for “the tyrant”. The tyrant was a part of me that came forward whenever I felt threatened. It was the opposite of the timid, “little guy” who would show up whenever I was presented with a big opportunity. It was a crazy pattern; when I felt powerless, enter the angry tyrant and when I was on the verge of stepping into larger power, enter the “little guy”.

The tyrant could be arrogant, self-righteous, defiant, and on rare occasions downright scary. My shoutng at the team was definitely on the “scary” side. If this part of me continued to come forth this way, it wouldn’t be long before I would lose the ability to lead. Fear and anger are the worst motivators of change.

The tyrant had served a purpose once. He helped me survive some difficult times in my childhood. His angry and defiant nature insured that no matter what happened to me, my spirit would refuse to be crushed. He was most useful when I felt the most powerless. Now, decades later, the tyrant was out of place. I didn’t need him to survive. I was simply holding onto a childhood pattern as if I was on automatic pilot. It was time to choose a more effective way of leading people.

Having insight about the tyrant didn’t change things overnight. Over the years a number of wonderful teachers worked with me to build new behaviors while helping me accept the tyrant within me. After all, he had helped get me where I am today. Without him, well, let’s say things would have been very different.

This isn’t something I would normally make public. In truth, over the years I have been in various states of denial about the existence of the angry and defiant side of me, as well as the timid and fearful side. After all, the actions of the tyrant aren’t very flattering. I may have been hiding the tyrant from myself; but to other people who have experienced him, it was definitely no secret.

I share this because as we work to transform our schools, we can get frustrated. It is not unusual to feel powerless. Things don’t happen quickly enough or exactly as we would like them. We feel passionate about the benefits of educational technology while others seem apathetic. We can’t seem to transfer our views of the benefits and possiblities of our vision to the staff or the leadership. No one seems to care as much as we do.

As our frustration grows, so do our feelings of powerlessness. Sometimes the part of ourselves that has the outlines of the tyrant can show up. Our arguments grow more one sided, we become more angry, shrill, judgmental, and self-righteous. When we allow the tyrant to come forth this way people get defensive. They push back. They stop listening. We fail. Failure makes us feel even more powerless and angrier.

Here is an abridged exchange from a blog I ran across several months ago.

Change Leader:
“The teachers that really need this training are the old bloods that have been teaching for 15, 20, 25 years. They are set in their ways, they “know what we should be teaching”. I’ve run into these types of teachers in my effort to get them to stop using 10 to 15 year old CD’s to teach students how to read and write. We are here for the kids. They need to either jump into the 21st Century or retire so that we can get teachers who want to grow and use the new technology. We need people who want to teach the kids what they need, what they deserve.”

“Why take teachers who are good without technology, and make them mediocre with it? Let them do what they are good at, and use them to teach the newer teachers to teach. And the newer teachers can add the technology piece.”

Change Leader:
You miss the point. It’s not the teachers that matter, it’s the kids. Teachers must use and teach with the new technology or else they are not giving the students the education they deserve. There is no such thing nowadays as a teacher who is good without technology. The world is technology, the kids learn from technology today, methods change, students change. You cannot teach and be effective today without knowing how to use the technology.

Oh, I have to say that’s pure bunk. It is English and Math and Social Studies that are being taught, not gadgets and computers. Effective teachers pre-PC were doing something right. Tech-geeks want to toss that out and say that a university graduate who can play with computers but doesn’t know a lick about teaching is more valuable. Nonesense. Teaching comes first. Integrate technology as possible, but this sort of “technology is primary” attitude would be silly if it weren’t so injurious to our students.

Change Leader:
If pre-PC teachers were doing something right then the United States would not rank 24th out of 29 surveyed countries in the reading and science literacy as well as mathematical abilities of its high school students when compared with other developed nations. Source: The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Regardless of whether you agree with one side or another. Exchanges like this will yield nothing but hardened positions, resistance, anger, and mistrust.

I believe it’s not possible to change an educational culture and individual behaviors that have existed for decades on the strength of logic alone. If that were the case, no one would be overweight, or smoke, or leave their seatbelt unbuckled.

It is time to bid the Tyrant farewell and to add a new dimension to our discourse…the heart.




6 thoughts on “The Tyrant

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