School Climate & Safety Opinion

Leaders Must Be More Than Managers and Instructional Leaders

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — June 07, 2016 5 min read
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Future school leaders are taught management skills as they prepare for entering new roles in schools. They learn the important work of keeping the schools and those who learn and work in them safe, they learn about the fiscal and human systems that keep schools functioning efficiently, they learn how resources are planned and allocated, and they learn supervision and the law and regulations governing schools and its people. Certainly, we need those in charge to know how to manage the organizations they lead. That is what the preparation programs and their accompanying certification tests focus on - the nuts and bolts of what administrators need to know and be able to do.

Principals Took Control of Their Instructional Leadership
But, the standards for preparation programs also require a focus on instructional leadership and on vison and leadership. These are more difficult to test. There are many who were instructional leaders already, but now the demand for instructional leadership became imperative. No learning organization can shift practice without an informed guiding leader. So to their credit, principals went about the business of learning and becoming more knowledgeable about instructional models. They readied themselves to observe and offer meaningful feedback to the teachers involved in meeting the new standards, curriculum, and assessment demands for a wide array of student talents and challenges.

Through professional development and the changing demands of their jobs, principals have become stronger instructional leaders. They are more prepared to support the teachers who are working with these 21st century challenges. But as with all things, this is not enough. Instructional leadership added to organizational management leaves the leader in much the same stressed place that many teachers find themselves in. Just as we have seen that making changes in our schools and programs by adding or pushing at the edges has brought us to a place of bursting becoming an instructional leader is not the end point. Managing the building, leading instruction and the assessment, providing support for teachers as they develop practice with new partners and technology, and being supervisor ...all while visible and involved with student needs, activities and demands...is a herculean task that cannot be accomplished alone.

Leadership With a Capital “L”
This is the time that calls for leadership with a capital “L”. Building leaders cannot be successful as one or the other, managers or instructional leaders, nor can their superintendents. In order to meet the demands of this century, the leaders’ success can only be found in becoming a Leader. Those in positions of power, authority and responsibility, who are responsible for safety, making sure rules are followed, records are accurately kept, jobs are done properly, instruction is changing in the right direction, assessments are worthy, technology use is growing, and everyone is held accountable, now have the difficult job of leading unstoppable change. Like our systems, and our teachers, our leaders are stressed. They are Leaders who live leadership in its purest sense, beyond the abstract definitions. They are finding their way like pioneers in territory where others have not gone, leading their schools and districts through these beginning years of the 21st century. What does that mean?

To answer that question we turn to C. Otto Scharmer’s work. Spoiler alert: no blog or article can effectively reveal the scope and the depth of his work. We are proponents of reading his book Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges but it is not an easy read as he explores science and theory supporting his premise. But, he describes the world for which we are preparing students and in which we lead. Our thriving global economy leaves 850 million suffering from hunger and 3 billion people living in poverty, we invest in mass production of low-quality junk food, and focus health care on solutions rather than prevention. Schools and higher education institutions fail to develop people’s innate capacities to sense and shape their futures, we still fail to do something about climate change, and it remains a fact that more than half of the world’s children suffer from poverty, war, and HIV/AIDS. 40,000 children die of preventable diseases every day (p.3). We are leading schools that are part of this global reality and our students are living in this reality and will be asked to live and lead beyond this reality. Put simply Scharmer states:

We need to let go of the old body of institutionalized collective behavior in order to meet and connect with the presence of our highest future possibility (p.5).

That is why we believe that school and district leaders are called to be Leaders with a capital “L”. The dynamics, the personal capacities that are required in order to lead in this way are far more complex and much deeper than discussed in leadership standards. They exist as foundational for management and instructional leadership and for the development of human beings at their highest potential. It is a personal and a professional journey.

There is no question this is a complex idea and that professional development in this arena is sorely lacking. But it is this type of thinking and leading our schools need. So is it possible that those administrative retreats and faculty retreats in educational leadership programs that will be held this summer have a day or so without an accountability focus? What would it be like if we have a bit of time to consider what our individual highest potential might be for next year and then to have engage one another to determine what our collective highest potential might be? We have a history of goal setting and of objective generation but when we sit around the table with our leadership team have we approached the question of our highest future possibility? It might be good summer work that might just change the next year and our relationships as well.

Scharmer, C.O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

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Illustration courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.