Interview with Charles Warner


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Q: Dr. Warner, would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, in essence, birthplace, elementary and secondary education, and family characteristics?

warner audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: Warner: OK, I was born and raised in the coalfields of southern West Virginia. I came from a family of three children; I have two siblings, other than myself, two brothers. The culture of that environment if these labels were, had been able to be applied then that we do now, I guess perhaps that you could characterize me as being socio-culturally disadvantaged. There were not a lot of opportunities for different cultures and things like that. I came from a family that probably did not have a lot of financial resources, but we were a close-knit family. My parents were nurturing parents, consequently I was never deprived or anything like that. After graduating from high school, I received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Concord College with a major in Political Science and a minor in English. I received a Master of Science degree from Radford University with a major in School Administration and a minor in History. And I received a Doctorate in Education from Virginia Tech with an emphasis on Curriculum and Instruction.

Q: Outstanding accomplishments. Second question: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? How many years did you serve as a teacher? How many years did you serve as a principal?

A: Warner: Well, I'm a rather strange individual in terms of my preparation for teaching, because when I was an undergraduate student, I had no intention of entering the teaching profession. My career goals were in another area, so consequently I do not have an undergraduate degree in education. After I decided to go into education, I returned to school to take those professional education courses that I needed, never had any student teaching or anything like that. I served four years as a classroom teacher at the elementary level, and I taught grade levels of grades four through seven, and was a Title 1 teacher the first time it was referred to as Title 1. And I spent seven years as an elementary school principal.

Q: Outstanding. I wonder if you would discuss these experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now.

A: Warner: Well, the biggest event, I guess that basically had an impact on my career is when I, at the time I was ready to graduate from college with my Bachelor's degree, I was basically at a crossroads in my life in terms of what to do vocationally. My wife, whom we had been married for six months and who had already been teaching for a year, suggested to me that I try teaching. She said, "Why don't you try it for a year. If you don't like it, you can do something else." I took her advice, took a teaching job for a year. The first teaching job I ever had was teaching fourth grade. I loved it. Decided to stay in education, for which I did for twenty eight years and have had no regrets.

Q: Great. Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship, especially since you enjoyed the fourth grade so well?

A: Warner: Well, this is probably not a positive thing to say, but one of the reasons, not the only reasons that motivated me to go into the principalship, I guess was greed. Here I'm a young married man with a lot of family financial obligations, and I'm looking for something, I guess, that will give me a little more financial remuneration, but I also like the administrative side of education appealed to me. And that's something that I thought I would enjoy, which I certainly did.

Q: Well, you've kind of answered the next question. Obviously, what motivated you to enter the principalship is a pretty common denominator, usually the financial respects on that. But I guess the other part of the question, how did your motives change over the years, or did they?

A: Warner: Uh, I don't think that they did. I will say that of the twenty-eight years that I've spent in professional education, the years that I spent as an elementary school principal were by far the most rewarding years that I had. And once I got into the principalship, I found it very interesting work. And I was very fortunate to be able to work with a lot of outstanding teachers.

Q: Well, I might add that having served during your tenure, that it was an outstanding educational career, there's no question on that. You've guided and touched many students of Tazewell County. I guess we'll get into the meat of the matter now; certainly is an impressive resume. Would you describe your personal philosophy of education? And how did it evolve over the years?

A: Warner: Well, I guess most of my personal philosophy of education, in a lot of ways, has been based on experience, and some of that philosophy comes from my experience as a student. Many times after I got into the education profession, I tried to look back on the experience as a student that I had had in public education and based some of the parts of my philosophy around that. Also, by becoming a professional educator, it allowed me to kind of place some labels, I guess, on my educational philosophy that, you know, that I believe certain things, but I just really didn't know how to categorize those before. And, part of my educational philosophy came from teachers that I taught with. One teacher in particular, whom I learned the craft of teaching kind of under her wing, and I based my philosophy a lot on many of the things that I observed from her. Also, I guess that I probably formed some of my educational philosophy that I learned probably at the expense of a lot of really nice little kids that I taught through the process of trial and error. I learned to do some things that some worked and some didn't.

Q: That's all interesting, and it kind of prompts this next question. You talked about all the experiences as a student and as a teacher, as a principal that kind of molded your philosophy, but what experiences or events, if there's anything in particular in your professional life, influenced your management philosophy? And, if you can, please discuss some of these events.

A: Warner: OK. Basically, especially working from a leadership position in administration, a couple of things that kind of influenced my philosophy also kind of come from the experience side. My basic philosophy of management is that I think that people will, are more productive with a pat on the back than they are with a kick in the seat of the pants. That's kind of the way that I operate. You know, I'm much more highly motivated in a supportive role than I am in an assertive role. Also, I think basically, that if you wish to bring about change, you need to work from the inside rather that the outside. And by that I mean you've got to win the confidence of the people with whom you work before you can expect them to follow any of the things that you wish them to do. And then, I think too, that if you really want to create change, one of the most effective ways to do that is for whatever change you want to bring about, you've got to convince the people whom will be, have the responsibility for doing this that it's their idea instead of yours.

Q: That's a pretty prophetic answer. I guess since we're right in the middle of our classwork, that that kind of goes hand-in-hand with the text. That's pretty, as a matter of fact, that's pretty spine-tingling. Dr. Warner, if you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?

A: Warner: The first thing I think I would say to someone in, that's in that situation is the first thing that you need to do is to make sure that this is what interests you. Kind of look into what the job entails, talk to people who are in this job, so that you don't go through the preparation phase and maybe get into this job and find out that there's something that, that this is something that you don't like. And if you are, especially if you are going to be a principal, I think you need to prepare yourself to be able to assume different roles. In addition to management, you must be familiar with the instructional process. You must be able to deal with people on a, you know, a human relations side of things. You must be a representative of the superintendent in that particular school. And then there's an important relationship that you need to establish with your community.

Q: Well that kind of prompts the next question. It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations. Which community organizations or groups had the greatest influence on your career?

A: Warner: I did do a lot of, of civic types of work. And I might say to anyone aspiring to be a principal that you should really get into those types of things before you become a principal. I think that by being involved in community and civic types of things, that that really kind of helped me gain my first administrative job. I was involved in many of the service types of clubs in the community, for example, Lions Club, Jaycees, those types of things. I did a considerable amount of work in youth-oriented programs, little league, so forth, and then, even as a teacher, and even much more so as a principal, I became, I worked, became very much involved in PTA types of functions and things like that.

Q: It's the middle of July of 1998 and we're on a, Mark McGuire's on a tear here to hit Roger, break Roger Maris's record. I heard something on the media what the miniscule amount of money he made back in the 1961 school year compared to Mark McGuire. I guess that kind of prompts my next question. Salaries and other compensation have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of your school system during your early years as principal and give your views on developments in this area since then?

A: Warner: When I entered the principalship, as far as I know, there really were no well defined issues or variables determining principals' compensation. Basically, it was kind of what the superintendent kind of decided you should have. I don't know thatŠ I'm sure he had a system, but that system was not very well known, you know, by other people. While I was a principal, in our school district we formed a principals' association and were successful in implementing an index system for administrative salaries. And as far as I know, that index, or at least a variation of it, probably is still in effect today. I might say that the compensation has come a long way since I was a principal.

Q: Well, I'm sure that it has. I guess as your role in following through as a teacher and a Title teacher and as a principal of elementary school, and the later stages of your career, Assistant Superintendent for Administration and then also in the final year serving a term back in the high school, basically having seen all these things, and also now in your present position with Computer Curriculum Corporation, I guess the next question is just burning at my heart here to ask you. If you could change any three areas in the curriculum of overall, or overall operations of American schools, what would they be?

A: Warner: Well, the first thing I think I would do would be to try to limit the focus of what we're trying to do instructionally. You know, as I look at the public school curriculum today, and I even felt this way as a principal, is that we're constantly adding things to the curriculum, but we never take anything out. And consequently, we're maybe being asked to do too many things and not doing any of them well. My own personal feeling is that if we could limit, you know, the focus of instruction that we probably could do a better job than what we're doing now. And by limiting it, I'm thinking at the elementary school, all we need to focus on, basically, are basic skills in language arts and mathematics. Perhaps maybe at the secondary level, you know, there's some things that schools do that probably somebody else could do just as well. Driver's Ed, you know, do we need to do that? Uh, Family Life, although I realize that the only reason that that's dropped in the lap of public education is because that the home fails to do that. Another thing that I think probably that we need to do is we need to identify the students who are serious about their education, provide everything we can to deliver that instruction to them, and we need to find some other course for those disruptive students who are there only to disrupt the educational process. And in light of that, and basically you see more of that at the secondary level than you do the elementary level, and in light of that, one of the things that might be worth looking at, and I think perhaps maybe a state or two is doing this now, is to talk about eliminating the compulsory attendance law. You know, if those kids don't want to be here, then let's not ask them to be here where they really disrupt the process for other students. I know that this does not solve the problems of those particular students, it merely moves that problem to some other social institution, say the courts, the welfare system, things like that, but at least it would be able to allow the education profession to educate those students who really seriously want the education and perhaps maybe could improve the public image of education.

Q: Well that was a powerful response to that question. Very thought provoking. It's obvious that you've spent a great deal of time adopting a philosophy on that. Let's change gears a little bit. You served in your tenure probably three, maybe four superintendents, maybe more than that, and probably the one that you served the most, I guess, directly underneath would have been Mr. Lester Jones, Superintendent of Tazewell County Schools for a number of years. But anyway, you went through several relationships obviously with these different superintendents. Could you describe in terms of their or his or whatever direction you want to take that, their general demeanor toward you and your school?

A: Warner: Ok, first of all, the superintendent for whom I served when I became a principal, as you mentioned, was Lester Jones. Of course I will always be grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to get into administration. My relationship with Mr. Jones, we had a very formal relationship. Basically, we had the relationship that required doing whatever needed to be done to make sure that the school where I was principal ran smoothly and efficiently. Ours was a very professional relationship, very little social interaction, if any. However, away from the profession, we had a very close and warm social relationship. But those two relationships were separated between our social lives and our professional lives. I also had the opportunity to work with another superintendent who was, had a completely opposite administrative management philosophy than Lester Jones, and he was the type of fellow that basically just kind of said, "Here's your job," just, "you know what to do. If I see you doing something wrong, I'll tell you." So that was a, and this type of relationship, the social and professional relationships tended to be intermingled.

Q: Interesting. Would you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis, explain how you coped with them? I know you officiated the football sports for years, I always wondered about that, was that kind of a relief or whatever? Describe your biggest headaches or concerns on the job. Describe the toughest decision or decisions that you had to make. I know that's, we're going back into the archives and going around and around the brain a little bit on that (Dr. Warner chuckles), but if you can come up with a response to that soliloquy I'd appreciate it.

A: Warner: Well, first of all, let me say that my years as a principal were positive and rewarding years, and the problems were far less than the rewards. There were some, there are some challenges to the principalship that I think that no matter, you know, how well things go for you that are always there. And I didn't, I saw this particular problem started to present itself just about the time I was getting out of the principalship, but it seems like sometimes parents become a little more demanding of what they expect from the school. One of the problems I think that principals have to deal with is the fact that every parent thinks their child is gifted. And sometimes that, that creates some problems from a school/community relations standpoint with many parents. Also, I think that a part of the problem too is many times is along with this same line of thought is schools, principals and teachers sometimes do not get the support that they need from home in terms of dealing with students at school. I also found as a principal one of the challenges that I had was finding time to devote to the instructional program. You know a principal wears a lot of hats. And many times when you wanted to visit classrooms, when you wanted to look at instruction, when you wanted to evaluate what was going on in terms of the students, there were always those administrative details that were calling for your time and you just have to kind of fight and make yourself set aside time to deal with instructional issues and not let anything infringe on that time. The toughest decision, or the toughest thing that I had to do as a principal, was dealing with incompetent teachers. It's never a pleasant experience to have to let teachers go, and I've had to deal with that on a few occasions. But on the other side of that coin, I will also say, is when you see a weak teacher improve themselves is maybe one of the most rewarding parts of your job.

Q: How interesting. Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions, keeping in mind that a lot of people said that you did not remain sane during that time-span? (Dr. Warner chuckles.)

A: Warner: Well sometimes I think you just kind of have to back off. You know, when you get in situations of stress, you just kind of have to back off. Mainly what I would do, I would just go off by myself, get a little privacy, sit and kind of compose myself for a few minutes and then kind of return back to the fray.

Q: Super. Since you've now had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and your weaknesses.

A: Warner: Well, I would like to think that for all of my years as an administrator, that people would have found me an easy person to talk with. I would like to think that people would also feel like that they would think that I could see their side of an issue. As far as weaknesses are concerned, sometimes I felt like that my time management types of things could have been a little better. Sometimes my time-on-task orientations were a little better and I think that was probably my biggest weakness.

Q: Well, I'm a little disappointed in that answer because I always found you extremely competent. I was hoping you were going to say that if you ask you anything you uh, there was never any wishy-washy or beating around the bush on it. You knew exactly what the problem was and the exact place to look for it. Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service, and any advice you would wish passed along to today's principals?

A: Warner: Well, if it's something that interests people, it could be a very, very rewarding profession. Of course, you look at the research now and sometime in the next five to ten years what, like 40% to 50% of all administrators are going to retire. So this will provide an excellent opportunity for some people to get into the administrative field. I would suggest to anyone aspiring to get into the field, that they prepare themselves as best they can from an, from an educational point of view, from a kind of a school / community relations point of view. And they must also remember that no matter how well the job goes, there will always be problems and there will be at times be conflict. And I think the real successful administrators are the ones who can manage these conflict uh, conflict problems successfully.

Q: Thank you. I'm really going to hit you hard here now. Please discuss the way in which you learned to lead; that is, what procedures or experiences you were involved in that contributed to your effectiveness, and the contribution that professional graduate education made to your progress.

A: Warner: Well, the best way I guess that I learned to lead generally was by trial and error. I can't think of a whole lot of classroom types of instruction that allowed me to do that. When I first became a principal, when I was an elementary school principal, and I had never taught below the fourth grade level. And so when primary teachers came to me with instructional questions or concerns and so forth, I had to do a lot of work in order to find out about the background of these situations and so forth and so on. I also used role models in terms of trying to develop leadership skills. There were people that I had known, teachers, administrators, whatever, in my life that when I was confronted with certain questions I would say, "What would Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so do in a situation like this?" So I picked up a lot of my leadership skills merely by observing models of other people.

Q: Well, I sure didn't cross you up on that one. Great answer. It's been said, and this is, I hate to even ask you this question, because I am so, in my professional life, so, so terrible at this, but anyway. It has been said that good leaders encourage their subordinated and peers by staging celebrations of their successes, no matter how small or insignificant. To what extent engage in this particular practice during your tenure as a principal, and to what extent did it improve morale and organizational effectiveness?

A: Warner: I think that's very important. Everybody likes to be recognized for a job well done. I was quick to do a lot of this. And, you know, basically, my perception about the principalship is that if you have good teachers, it's the easiest job in the world. And if you do not, it perhaps might be one of the most difficult. I was extremely fortunate while I was a principal to have outstanding people on our faculty. And I always labored under the conception that probably at the beginning of every school year the faculty would get together and say, "Now this principal has no idea about what he's doing. We're all going to have to work a little harder to make him look good." (Mr. Brown chuckles.)

Q: Good answer. I know you alluded this a little earlier here, but I guess the question is still is rattling around in my mind. I know that you uh, that you enjoyed your teaching assignment before you were thrust into this administrative role, I guess the question I'm asking here, discuss the way in which you were chosen for this first administrative role, as well as any subsequent assignments. Was it something that, basically because, and this kind of bothers me I guess in my own professional life, that you get people really good at something and then because they have a great deal of initiative, or get-up-and-go, that they kind of go up the ladder and sometime seems like they get a little bit further away from the people that they can do the most for. That bothers me somewhat. But anyway, I'm not here to answer the question - that job is yours.

A: Warner: OK, I would like to think that I was chosen for my first administrative role on the basis of my teaching ability. I was fortunate that I got into administration at a young age. I prepared myself, you know, with a graduate degree to go into administration, and as a matter of fact, before I had finished my graduate work, I was chosen for a principalship. And this decision was made by the superintendent, which I'm assuming he might have conferred with other people as well on making this decision. But, I might also say that at the time I became a principal, there really were not a whole lot of people that were preparing themselves for leadership roles in administration. So I might have been at the right place at the right time. (Dr. Warner chuckles.)

Q: Well that's interesting. I know you joked about this a little while ago, that your first assignment with your faculty was to make you look good during the year, but it is kind of interesting. Some writers recommend that principals adjust their leadership styles to meet the individual needs of their staff. How do you feel about that idea and to what extent did you practice individualized leadership?

A: Warner: I think there's probably some significance to that statement. Basically, you know, there were, I mentioned my management philosophy is kind of a supportive one, rather than an assertive one, but there are some people that cannot relate to the supportive management philosophy. Now there were, I can remember a few teachers in my career that I had to be more assertive with them than I did with others, and I adjusted my relationship to them to try to meet those needs.

Q: Some principals hold the view that teachers and other staff members are, in general, well motivated and reliable self-starters. Other principals feel that they must closely monitor the activities of their employees to insure that they are performing "to standard." What supervisory approach did you customarily use during your career as principal?

A: Warner: I basically was a kind of a supportive type of thing. Basically I always told our faculty that my job was to stay out of their way and let them teach. But if there were things that needed to be brought to their attention, I did not hesitate to do that. But, my philosophy is that most, I go with the idea that most teachers are well-motivated and are fairly competent. What they need is support rather that direction.

Q: Well, you kind of stole my thunder on my last question I was going to ask you, because this theme just permeates every time that you talk. One model of leadership describes people as either assertive, supportive, or contemplative. And obviously you've categorized yourself as supportive.

A: Warner: Yes.

Q: And I guess, it kind of, I wonder about that. Do you, did you feel like that was, I mean you've given us reasons that, generally speaking, that faculties are well-prepared, and highly motivated, and ready to do their job. If you could, just comment very briefly on why you found supportive to be primarily your main leadership style.

A: Warner: Basically that's another kind of a role model I adapted from other people. The people that dealt with me in that manner, I responded much better than to some other types of assertive types of management styles and so forth. And so that's a philosophy that I built around some of my experience of relating to how people dealt with me, and me watching the different types of administrative styles and decided which one I felt most comfortable with.

Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questions, there's probably something I've left out. What have I not asked you that I should've asked you? Is there anything, this tape's entering the archives, as you're well aware. For furthermore, the grandchildren, the great grandchildren will be pulling this up on the Internet here in a matter of days trying to see what you've said. (Dr. Warner chuckles.) But, is there anything that I probably should've asked you that I didn't?

A: Warner: There's nothing that I can think of. The only comment that I would like to add to what I've already said is that the principalship experience for me was a great one. And as a matter of fact, after I left the principalship and went into central office work to do some other types of activities, I asked myself many times why I ever left. It seems like that the position that a principal holds in the community is something that you cannot find working out of a central office or something like that. So, for me, and too, the community for which I worked were outstanding people and I don't think that I could've ever worked with a more appreciative group of people. And I think one reason that I liked that setting so much, it was the same environment in which I grew up in. And I felt like that I maybe could relate to the kids that we had in our school a little better.

Q: Thank you, sir. What a fantastic interview. I'm tickled to death with myself for choosing such a fine scholar in a gentleman. I appreciate the interview, and have a great time when you finally decide to retire. Thank you.

A: Warner: My pleasure.

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