Guest Column

Songs of Life for School Leaders

by William R. Capps

In Alaska, the native Americans speak of education being about the songs of life. School administrators need to embrace the songs of life too, but it is all too easy to forsake the beauty of lyric and melody in the rut of leadership.

I use songs in my educational leadership classes as a threshold to reflection, solace and self-deprecation among prospective school administrators.

Many of us in school administration, sadly, have lost touch with the music of life and its redemptive qualities.

I remember hearing John Stanford, the late superintendent in Seattle, Wash., and a retired Army general, expressing dismay at the “valley of despair” pall that hung over so many of the principal and superintendent conferences he attended. He lamented the “woe is me” so prevalent amongst us, and he noted: “We in education do not have the luxury of self-pity.”

And so, I give you my songs. If you do not like them, look for those you might have buried somewhere in your own psyche. You will be a happier person, and by turn, a better administrator for the effort.


  • “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” by The Byrds. The words are from the book of Ecclesiastes. Our days are marked by turns--laughing, weeping, sowing and reaping. And yes, it seems we are called “for every purpose under heaven,” yet there is no more noble pursuit.



  • “The Great Pretender” by The Platters. We must pretend we are the beloved of the world. Leadership can be lonely and too often there is a feeling of make believe associated with what we do. Good leaders hide the hurt.



  • “Adagio for Strings, Op. 11” by Samuel Barber. This is a haunting piece that has been used on several movie soundtracks including Platoon. After hearing it you may decide to have it played at your funeral. I promise even your ex-spouse will cry.



  • “Desperado” by The Eagles. All good school administrators have a bit of the desperado in them. Riding those isolated fences can leave us hard and wizened but as the song says, “It may be rainin’ but there’s a rainbow above you.”



  • “Twelfth of Never” by Johnny Mathis. This is when you will get it all done and make everyone happy. Get it?



  • “Dancing Queen” by Abba. This is bubblegum music, fun music. Get off of your rear-end and dance once in a while. It is good for your soul and your heart. People might even come to look upon you as a normal human being.



  • “The Dance” by Garth Brooks. I played this as a love song to my staff when I retired from the superintendency. We never know how it all will go and there is pain in the dance of leadership but it is worth even the anguish.



  • “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copland. This is a stirring piece of classical Americana. In celebrating the common man we celebrate our traditions of public education.



  • “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. We are there for the forlorn child, distraught colleague or venting parent. “When you’re weary, feeling small. When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all. I’m on your side.”



  • “Eighteen Wheels and A Dozen Roses” by Kathy Mattea. This is a “remember where you came from” and trucker song. Charlie wears a blue collar, grinds it out every day, loves his kids and tries to be a good man. We are his debtor-servants. Some of us come from Charlie’s world and shame upon us if we forget it. Charlie and his moral compass, in countless incarnations, guided many of us to our good fortune.


You get the idea. In my leadership classes, education includes the songs of life and hopefully enriches the professional prospects of my students. May you find songs of life to see you through your days and nights.

William Capps recently retired as chair of the department of educational leadership at Troy State University in Dothan, Ala. He can be reached at P.O. Box 131, Currituck, NC 27929. E-mail: