Kirk and Spock: What they can Teach us about Educational Leadership

Star Trek

To say I am a passionate film buff is an understatement.  It is clear that the word “buff” doesn’t truly encapsulate my odd appreciation for the cinematic experience as one that not merely entertains but promotes and nurtures critical analysis beyond the film text itself. With that said, I was recently enjoying J.J. Abrams Star Trek into Darkness and while being truly amazed by the grandeur of the picture’s cinematic scope, I could not escape a self induced inner dialogue reflecting on the film’s examination of leadership – effective leadership within an milieu composed of multiple and diverse personalities, attitudes, values and moral codes. Thus, as Star Fleet was in battle against a menacing foe, I found that Captain Kirk and Spock can teach us much about educational leadership and how to effectively lead within a space defined by looming challenges and potential successes.

In examining and reflecting on 21st Century teaching and learning, much has been written about the teacher and student experience – how teachers push forward to provide students with authentic learning and how students transcend the norms and traditions of the classroom. In extension to this teacher and student centered conversation, it became apparent to me that much of the discourse is void of an administrator perspective – one that explores how leadership can nurture teachers to evolve in their practice and philosophy. Imagine if Kirk was your Principal and Spock your VP. So, what three things can Kirk and Spock teach us about educational leadership?

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ACTION:  Enter, Kirk. From the onset for Star Trek into Darkness, Kirk is placed immediately into the action. Fleeing from a tribe of alien ingenuous tribe, Kirk has not allowed the role of captain to limit his reach or participation within the Enterprises’ fold. His commitment to “action” earns him the respect of his administers and those on his crew. Thus, he directly and indirectly motivates his crew to take risks, engages debate, forms relationships and scaffolds others to become leaders in their own right- often leaving the Captain’s chair to others as he embarks on practical tasks.  However, with all of this action, Kirk continues to lead with a side of egotism where he perceives his actions to be morally right. Thus, where he is celebrated for his active leadership, his perceived weakness, especially by Spock, rests in a stubbornness to embrace convention (when applicable) and address his own limitations.

HUMILITY: It is with Kirk’s stubbornness, that Spock teaches him (and us) that active leadership must be married with humility and that moral code must be inclusive – aware of self and others. As Kirk and Spock bicker over Star Fleet regulation and the processes and conventions of leadership, it becomes clear that Kirk’s weakness is humility –  he has an intimate difficulty at admitting fault and consequentially recognizing the view point of others. Thus, where Spock deeply respects Kirk’s need to be an active leader , he continuously asserts that Kirk’s leadership needs to evolve to the point where system (in this case Star Fleet) goals must be obtained while managing difficult decisions,  taking ownership of faults and moving forward with the collective in mind.  Only when leadership is active and humbled (and by extension truthful), can it be morally whole– this is Kirk’s progression of growth through the film’s narrative.

CONSTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIPS:  From the onset of the film’s opening action scene where Kirk must decide between exposing The Enterprise to a new world or saving his friend and crew mate Spock from the inside of a volcano he is trying to prevent from eruption, the two leaders share very tense words and battle through conflicting ideas regarding Kirk’s choice of action to save Spock at the expense of the greater good and Spook’s willingness to sacrifice himself for a cause greater than his own survival. It is from the opening scene that the evolution of their relationships throughout the narrative becomes the foundation for their shared leadership – without the ability to share tense words and explore conflicting ideas, the two could not grow individually and more importantly allow their crew to evolve in their own practice.  Thus, the courage to constructively share  feelings, ideas and opinions, contributes to the growth of a constructive relationship between the two. This formation of a relationship, especially from Kirk’s lens lives beyond Spock and is evident in his encounter with crew. Never one to dismiss his appreciation for his team, Kirk is also able to grow relationships based on candidacy and an ability to recognize the strength in individuals – fostering autonomy which leads to moments where crew members showcase their own leadership abilities.

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Granted, reflecting on educational leadership through Star Trek is not reading Fullan, however, it does provide a very visceral approach to understanding the changing power strong leadership possesses.  With all of this, leadership is multi-layered.  Educational leadership, within an every evolving climate, most be one of action (leaders actively participating in the learning and teaching), humility (where practices are reflected upon and new ideas are shared) and where strong and real relationships exist – not afraid to face difficult conversations with the goal to push forward with a shared goal in mind.

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