I was traveling last month and met some engineers from Canada who were talking about the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, a ceremony aimed at fostering a spirit of pride and responsibility in the engineering field.
The ceremony includes an oath and a ring, worn on the pinky finger, to remind engineers of the oath they have taken.
Prior to entering the education profession, I was an engineer for 10 years. I remember those days practicing engineering with much pride. While I wasn’t a doctor, I still felt responsible for the lives of millions of people. Though there were plenty of safeguards in place, I still believed my role to be an integral part of the progression of mankind.
The oath begins by acknowledging the efforts and progress made by those who came before us and requires the oath taker to make a promise to uphold the responsibility an engineer has to humanity.
Our political leaders need the same kind of ritual, the same kind of oath, the same sense of responsibility. Chicago has had a long history of scandal. I’m not sure how people feel about this most recent one, involving fraud by our school system’s former chief executive officer. I don’t think many were surprised, but I feel confident in saying that we all were disappointed.
We have become accustomed to crooked politics, and I think that many think that this has been seeping into our school system. Is there now an expectation that educators who rise to the top also become educational profiteers? Do we assume that Local School Councils are motivated by kickbacks or potential favors?
If this in fact is the case, I would say that no one starts there. Rather, we feel an emotional tug, because this job is personal. You do this to change the world. This is a calling, an obligation.
The President of the United States takes an Oath of Office so that the American people can bear witness to his commitment to our country. How could we follow suit with education leaders — our school board members, our superintendents, our principals, our local school council members?
If school leaders took an oath in front of their student bodies, faculties and parents at the signing of their contract. If LSC presidents and board presidents took an oath in front of taxpayers. If the superintendent is sworn in by the people. If these rituals took place, we all might better hold our bearings on the course of public service.
If I were asked to write the Leadership Oath, it would go something like this.
I am a Leader.
In my role I take responsibility for whom I lead, and to them I owe solemn obligations. Since the dawn of time, leaders have shaped the minds and spirits of mankind. Leaders have made theory, strategy and growth their mission to benefit all.
Leaders have re-energized the Laws of Power, Leadership 101, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and other great leadership guides. If not for the vision and leadership lineage, today’s leaders would not have their own light to shine.
As a leader, I, [Insert name], promise to lead with integrity and honor. I vow to be reflective, principled and balanced. I will be devoted to promoting access and equity. I will mentor others who want to take this oath.
As a leader, I shall not be corrupted by the promise of wealth and power. I shall not lead for the recognition and praise. When I am needed, I will stand up and lead for the good of mankind. I lead to serve humanity. I lead to be a part of the solution. I lead for others.
LeeAndra Khan is a former Chicago school principal and the mother of a CPS 6th-grader, She is now principal of Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Oak Park.