Tellin’ Ain’t Leadin’

There’s a folksy saying that people sometimes cite when they want to talk about the merits of active learning: Tellin’ ain’t teachin’. The idea is that if a teacher simply provides information, students don’t learn to think critically or find out how to discover things on their own. The goal of the teacher is to make himself or herself unnecessary. And you can’t do that if you merely spout facts and formulas. You’re basically making yourself a walking encyclopedia, not a trainer of people’s minds. In much the same way, I think we need a parallel folksy saying: Tellin’ ain’t leadin’ either. If a provost, chair, or dean merely tells a faculty member what to do (and by the way, if you’re ever successful doing that to begin with, let me know how you did it), the administrator is failing in his or her responsibility to be a mentor to others. The goal of the academic leader is to make the work of the faculty and students more fruitful. And you can’t do that if you merely spout rules and regulations. You’re basically making yourself a walking policy manual, not a genuine academic leader.

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