School Leadership

 

If a strong focus is made on schools as learning organisations, intermediary structures and networks might be thought to diminish the importance of leadership, this is not borne out in these articles.

 

In Networking for Educational Innovation: A Comparative Analysis, Sliwka argues that even in network structures defined by the absence of hierarchy and top-down lines of control, “they need to be understood as requiring both relatively stable structures as well as some form of organisational leadership to function effectively”. Johansson (in Schooling for Tomorrow — Principles and Directions for Policy) proposes that “strong autonomous schools meeting high ambitions… call for strong leaders, principals and managers”.

 

This is not leadership defined in traditional hierarchical terms. As Shuttleworth in Governance Management and Leadership maintains, this would be to seek solutions from earlier “scientific management” paradigms that are inappropriate to the post-industrial era, a mismatch that arguably has characterised some educational policy thinking over recent decades. Mulford (also in Governance Management and Leadership and Hirsch (in Management of Learning, Schools and Sytems) reject the “great man/woman theory of leadership”; Johansson (in Schooling for Tomorrow — Principles and Directions for Policy similarly argues against placing faith in “idiosyncratic influence of the charismatic individual”.

 

The arguments are two-fold: first, modern forms of organisation – whether schools or others – need leadership other than that defined in strongly hierarchical relationships; second, contemporary complex environments need teams not single individuals. Even as regards those individuals who are in key leadership positions, their role is not that of providing single-handed direction. Mulford in identifying the features of what he describes as the “transformational principal” emphasises the extent to which this person should bring all the staff into the decision-making and organisational change process rather than impose this “top-down”:


● Individual Support – providing moral support, showing appreciation for the work of individual staff and taking account of their opinions.
● Culture – promoting an atmosphere of caring and trust among staff, setting the tone for respectful interaction with students, and demonstrating a willingness to change practices in the light of new understandings.
● Structure – establishing a school structure that promotes participative decision making, supporting delegation and distributive leadership, and encouraging teacher decision-making autonomy.
● Vision and Goals – working toward whole-staff consensus on school priorities and communicating these to students and staff to establish a strong sense of overall purpose.
● Performance Expectation – having high expectations for students and for teachers to be effective and innovative.
● Intellectual Stimulation – encouraging staff to reflect on what they are trying to achieve with students and how they are doing it; facilitates opportunities for staff to learn from each other and models continual learning in his or her own practice.

 

Strong pressures towards relatively narrow forms of accountability may, however, sit uneasily with exhortations for leaders to be more “transformational” in the directions outlined in this list of desirable characteristics. Nor is it a question of replacing one outdated form of leadership with another that is more up-to-date, for various approaches will be needed. The context in which schools operate – Mulford (also in Governance Management and Leadership singles out the varying structures of governance and Mulford (also in Governance Management and Leadership identifies socio-economic environment as pertinent aspects of context – influences the room for manoeuvre available for the effective exercise of leadership. There is no one model of leadership that is best for all circumstances.