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How A Servant Leadership Model Can Help Educators Move Beyond Test Scores

Tom Hoerr and Mindy Bier joined host Sarah Fenske for a conversation before a live audience Feb. 20.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Today’s teachers and school administrators are under increasing pressure on many fronts. There’s the increased focus on standardized testing, large class sizes and funding issues, not to mention the outside-the-classroom challenges complicating their students’ ability to learn.

In the midst of all of this comes a refreshing focus — and a new graduate-level course — from two UMSL-connected leaders: Mindy Bier, co-director of the university’s Center for Character and Citizenship, and Tom Hoerr, assistant teaching professor and scholar in residence in the College of Education and former head of the New City School

During this year’s Pierre Laclede Society Community Confluence donor event that took place at UMSL on Feb. 20, Bier and Hoerr talked with St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske.

They discussed how a servant leadership model can help educators avoid empathy fatigue and foster social-emotional learning among educators and children alike. The conversation was recorded for broadcast and aired during Monday’s noon show.

Bier said that the servant leadership model starts with an overarching purpose: to serve kids, to serve teachers and to serve the community.

“It starts with noble purpose, and then we think that if you cultivate the virtues of humility, courage, gratitude and forgiveness, that that package — and virtues are kind of always a package; you can’t just have one virtue — but those virtues will allow you to practice empowerment, foresight and stewardship,” she said.

“And that package has been shown in business, in the military, in health care to produce these really important outcomes for education, although the research in education hasn’t been done yet. So we’re hoping to do that research — to show the really powerful effects of servant leadership on things that are very important for schools.”

Hoerr, who is the author of the book “The Art of School Leadership,” said he sees these virtues fitting in closely with the topic of that volume.

“The case that I think I try to make is basically [that] who you are is more important than what you know,” he said, “and that leadership is a function of relationships. And when you talk about leading a group, whether it’s a school, whether it’s a medical organization, whether it’s a radio station, it really boils down to how people interact and how you relate with them.

“And we can’t assume that children are going to learn that naturally. We can’t assume that administrators are going to learn that naturally. What we need to do is formally teach people how to hear other folks, how to learn with them, learn from them. I talk about the formative five in my last book, and I talk about empathy, self-control, integrity, embracing diversity and grit. And I think empathy’s the one with which I begin, because that’s what we’re really needing in the world.”

Listen to the full discussion:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.