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When I began reading Servant Teaching—Practices for Renewing Christian Higher Education, by Quintin Schultze, I felt like I had discovered a priceless jewel for which countless educators had searched for decades.

Schultze addresses, with grace and humility, the theme of teacher dispositions. And, he does not just dance around the topic of character-based leadership, as we so often do.  He lays on the table a genuine description of what teachers embodying servant leader attributes add to the classroom. The book is transformative.

I have studied, written, and taught about servant leadership since I began my doctoral journey almost 20 years ago. Yet, I have never had the privilege of reading about the mind, heart, and soul of a ‘servant teacher’ with such a deep dive into the teacher/student relationship until I was gifted this book.

How do our students perceive us? Why do they rate our courses with mixed reviews when we have poured our intellectual savvy into them for several weeks or months? What do they want from us?

In joining Parker Palmer, Robert Greenleaf, Larry Spears, Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Scott Peck, and many others who have added to the literature on servant leadership in recent decades, Quintin Schultze has captured the essence. The classroom is about connection…It’s about engaging the student…It’s about learning their names…It’s about relationships…It’s about asking for their honest feedback and then using it to improve our routines…It’s about “sitting in their seat” and seeing our courses through their lens…It’s about letting our guard down and being authentic and real with them…It’s about caring—from the heart.

By the way, these are not novel discoveries. But, they are so much harder to actually do than to plan to do. Just last week, several of my students graduated with a masters degree in school administration. And I will say—I poured into them the essential characteristics of modeling servant leadership in the school setting as school leaders.

But as I sent the last email to the group, congratulating them for their stellar work in our program, I realized that with some, I had not built the bridge as much as I should have. And, I will never have that opportunity again. I realized, and a bit too late—I had nailed it on the technical piece. Oh yes, they are keenly aware that I know a whole lot about servant leadership and practicing it in life and at work. Yet, for a few in the group, I missed out on the rich bond that comes from making the time to connect with every student as if they are the only one in the class.

Servant teaching. Somehow, this simple two-word phrase describes so well the core values of the people over profit transformative classroom. We can ask nearly any parent (yes, even of college-age kids),  our own kids, or even ourselves as we think back to our own college days. In each case, we are sure to find that teacher dispositions matter—a lot! I’m thinking back right now to those mentors I’ve had over the years in college and university classrooms, and later as colleagues. They all have had one common trait: They built the bridge and made me feel that I mattered to them far beyond my production in their class. They truly have been mentors—servant teachers.

Joseph 'Rocky' Wallace

Rocky Wallace is an associate professor of Education at Campbellsville University, and he teaches/writes extensively about the domain of servant leadership. He may be reached at [email protected]. His four-part series ‘Principal to Principal’, published by Rowman & Littlefield, illustrates in story format how servant leadership in the school setting transforms school leaders and school cultures. He has also co-written or edited five other books for Rowman & Littlefield on servant leadership and organizational health.