The Fairness Rule


Sometimes Fairness Means Not Getting the Same

Sometimes Fairness Means Not Getting the Same

Being a teacher I feel I get to practice my leadership style on 25 test subjects each and every day. Over the past 7 years of teaching I feel I have greatly improved as a transformational leader. Many skeptics may say that leading children is vastly different than leading adults, but I disagree.

If you would like me to prove it to you, please volunteer to be an assistant in my classroom. We can see how well you can keep my students motivated through reading, writing, and math assignments. Have them line up in a perfect line, or be silent and focused through hours of standardized testing. Just try getting students excited about a book when they are now surrounded with video games, the internet, and other more entertaining technologies. Finally, make every student leave each day feeling happy and excited to come back tomorrow. If you easily manage all of this, then you can criticize my leadership skills.

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Although I feel I am strong leader, I have experienced my share of failures. One failure that soon became a triumph was when I learned the rule of fairness. When I was a new teacher I wanted a very fair and equal classroom. My goal was to not show favoritism, and to have the same rules and expectations for everyone. In order to be consistent with my students, I felt I needed concrete rules, with unbendable consequences if they were not followed.


Leadership Lesson: Not everyone is the same, quit treating them that way.
In my example, when a student would forget their homework (regardless of the reason) they had to miss recess. Homework was due exactly at 9:30 a.m. without exception, and to miss it was a detention. Soon I began having two students that missed homework every day. They would try to tell me their excuse and I wouldn’t even listen to them, I just saw their excuses together with many of the other sad stories I heard from other students, and thought that this firm approach was going to help teach them to be responsible.

The truth is I was being very irresponsible. It was the lazy way out. It’s very easy to make a blanket statement and be unbendable, it allows you to be mentally dormant and ignore those upper level thinking skills of rationalization and compassion. What I didn’t know, and was too stubborn to learn at first, was that these students had issues they could not control.
The two students that were not getting their homework done every night didn’t have a home to do it in. One of the students was living in and out of random hotel rooms with whoever her mom could stay with that night. The second student was either spending his nights in a shelter or in his parent’s car. Who was being irrational, irresponsible and an overall jerk? Me.

After learning this, my approach changed. I minimized their homework or gave them extra time to do it before or after school. They only had to take work home that was really important, and I removed any assignments that were review. I realized that they were trying their best, but I was not putting them in a situation that would make them successful. With this new approach, I was seeing greater results as they were given an opportunity to do their best.
Soon after the other students saw that their classmates were not getting as much work, many of them cried out with, “That’s not fair!”

At that moment I had one of the best thoughts I ever had in my life. (I don’t know if it was a saying I have heard before, and I could remember who told me this, I would give them all of the credit.) My response to my students was:

“Fairness is not everyone getting the same; fairness is everyone getting what they need.”

After learning this lesson I have been a much better leader. Obviously there are situations in which everyone needs to be treated the exact same, but are you providing all of the people you lead and guide with the compassion, resources, and opportunities to succeed? Do you examine your leadership style, and make adjustments to maximize everyone’s potential? Or are you trying to make everyone the same, and hope for the best?

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