Guest Post: Veterans Are the Education Leaders We Need

Guest post by Bellwether’s Jason Weeby: 

Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military and even fewer go to war. For those who do and return home safely, it is a life-altering experience that is incomprehensible to 99 percent of the people that surround them. And for all the visible and invisible wounds that service members incur, they also bring home valuable skills and a unique brand of leadership that the education sector needs.

About a year and a half ago, I launched the Sector Switcher program at Education Pioneers where we recruited mid-career military professionals for leadership roles in education nonprofits. Many of them were veterans of recent wars. Through the process, I was surprised to see how the skills and knowledge they developed during their military service align with what we need in system-level education leaders today.

Military leaders learn to complete a mission within the structure of a bureaucracy and with the people provided to them, limited resources, and significant externalities at play. They learn to be adaptable in ambiguous situations and think in terms of systems. They analyze situations methodically, put a plan in place, pursue it doggedly, and learn continuously. Many are responsible for the safe return of hundreds of subordinates and millions of dollars in equipment. But more importantly, they’re driven by a purpose larger than themselves.

Almost every single service member I talked to said they were interested in pursuing a career in education because they yearned for a job that provided them the sense of service to others they felt as part of the armed forces.

It’s Veterans Day and I want to challenge you to think beyond the platitudes and caricatures that tend to dominate the holiday and consider the tremendous leadership and management capabilities that veterans, today especially those of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, can bring to the civilian workforce when they separate from the military. I know that I’d count myself as lucky to work alongside one.

Jason Weeby is a senior fellow at Bellwether Education. 

2 Replies to “Guest Post: Veterans Are the Education Leaders We Need”

  1. I know it is politically incorrect to say this, but just because someone has leadership experience in the military does not mean “veterans are the educational leaders we need.” Just as any other human organization, the military has good and bad leaders. Any veteran who has served under an officer more concerned with their career than the mission can tell you this. Lord knows education has too many career focused leaders who bounce from one failed mission to another, always moving on before the communities realize the extent of their failure. Witness Michelle Rhee/Johnson who taught for a couple of years, quit, started a nonprofit, quit, became a superintendent, quit, started another nonprofit and quit again. Each time leaving dubious and unproven accomplishments in her wake. Sure we need veterans, but we needs veterans knowledgeable about education, are willing to collaborate with all parts of the education community and will stick with the mission. We need veterans, but no more than we need any leaders willing and able to dedicate themselves to education.

  2. I think that a veteran who wants to become a teacher should do so, by all means, but saying that being a military leader automatically makes someone an education leader is a lot like saying that being a business leader automatically makes someone an education leader. I think the nation is pretty much finding out that business leaders don’t know much about education.

    Certainly there are vets who would make fine teachers but I don’t think the career comparison is especially apt.

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