Professional Development Opinion

Leadership Standards Now and a Look Back #TBT

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — October 16, 2014 5 min read
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In September 1996 EdWeek announced the first draft of Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards*. Those standards stood in place until in 2008 an updated set of ISLLC standards** were unveiled. Now, there is a draft of the 2014 revision**. The proposed newer version increases the number of standards to 11 and consistently adds the words “well being” when talking about the success of every student as the introductory stem to every standard descriptor.

Over time, their use for evaluating school leaders has increased, often serving as the basis for any tool a state selects for licensing examinations, or district choses to evaluate their leaders. Legions of leaders have graduated from leadership preparation programs that have used these standards.

Can Standards Change Practice?
Richard Elmore questioned whether the change of these initiatives would actually change the practice of educational leaders in his 2008 EdWeek article:

Representatives of mainstream professional organizations, too, have begun to put their imprimatur on significant reform proposals for systems to prepare educational leaders. Clearly, a window of opportunity has opened around reforms in the preparation of educational leaders. Whether these many initiatives will actually change the practice of educational leaders on a large scale remains uncertain. In the education sector, the general rule is that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

In the meantime, 40 states have adopted these standards as guides for preparing school leaders in graduate schools of education, and for evaluating leaders on the job. But, too many leadership preparation programs continue to be challenged to break out of the walls that encase them and step into the world of the reformers. Many programs have been accredited without relevance to the world in which k-12 school leaders do their work. Elmore identified this challenge in his article six years ago:

The challenge to those who are interested in reforming leadership practice in the education sector is how to make the content and pedagogy of leadership-preparation programs match the aspirations of reformers, and how to make powerful new ideas about the practice of leadership in the sector accessible to a broader audience of individuals and institutions than the current collection of innovative, but marginal, providers.

Like it is in other professions, there is a shared responsibility held by those preparing professionals for work in the field and those already leading in the field. There are dedicated, expectant professionals in the pipeline who should be given the tools to work in the environment in which they will lead and there are those who are already leading, learning along the way.

Emotional Intelligence Matters
As in the earlier standards, the 2014 standards are followed by functions that describe ways in which leaders can demonstrate each standard. It is about action. The functions include words like those in the standards: develop, nurture, provide, facilitate, promote, and foster well-being. All are words associated with Emotional Intelligence (EI).

This set of standards has earned a place of respect; the proponents of the ISLLC standards include many voices of authority who are dedicated to developing and refining the model description of an exemplary leader. Nevertheless, Elmore’s early question about changing the practice of leaders is a key question. Leadership practice is, in fact, a mix of EI skills, management know-how, educational knowledge, and political savvy blended into the passionate and ethical character of the person.

Professional development is offered about the management know-how of the job. Training in using data to inform decisions, new instructional methods and programs, new student information systems, grading systems, budgeting methods, new observation and evaluation systems... these must be learned and become part of the leader’s decision making and actions. However, leaders become effective when they can communicate well and reach people on a deeper level. In their study of Presidents, Emrich, Brower, Feldman, & Garland found:

... leaders who use words that evoke pictures, sounds, smells, tastes, and other sensations tap more directly into followers’ life experiences than do leaders who use words that appeal solely to followers’ intellects. By engaging followers’ senses, not only their minds, leaders make their messages more immediate, real, and appealing to followers.

How leaders feel, who they are, how they respond to good news and bad, hard times and easy times, sad times and joyous times is how they develop, nurture, facilitate, and promote whatever needs to be done. Attention should be paid to developing the E/I side of leaders while growing their knowledge about all things current. How does a leader call the attention of the school community? How does a leader promote a sense of well-being? How does the leader construct and communicate the message? How do they make it understandable? And how can they make it so that it is received on a deeper level, one in which the community understands and cares deeply about the journey on which the leader is leading them? Attention to developing the ways in which the leader’s heart is developed and shared, the ways in which words are used to communicate and inspire or heal, and the way people feel about the authenticity of the person...where do we find these in leadership preparation programs and in the professional development offered leaders? Yet, what is skill without lofty purpose and why would anyone want a school where everyone’s well being wasn’t equal in importance to success? So, in the end, we wonder, where does the well being of the leader rate within the priorities of the school system? Should we have that conversation?

*1996 ISLLC Standards were supported by a grant fro the Pew Charitable Trusts
**2008 and 2014 ISLLC Standards were supported by a grant from The Wallace Foundation

Emrich, C. G., Brower, H. H., Feldman, J. M., & Garland, H. (2001). Images in words: Presidential rhetoric, charisma, and greatness. Administrative Science Quarterly, 46(3), 527-557. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/203964401?accountid=13645

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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.