School Climate & Safety Opinion

School Leadership Demands Imagination

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — August 30, 2017 4 min read
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Sometimes summertime includes a purging of the old, making space for the new. For educators, often that includes a review of what is in the files and sometimes a jewel is uncovered. In this case, it was an article by Tayloe Harding a composer, music administrator and Dean of the School of Music at the University of South Carolina entitled ‘Fostering Creativity for Leadership and Leading Change’. In the article, the author posits “creativity is more than imagining or making something that has not previously existed”. We agree.

We also contend that any contemporary successful leader will be one who can lead change. There is certainly value in someone who offers stability, not allowing an organization to vacillate between one set of beliefs and practices and another. Holding the organization steady is how some define successful. Yet, for some time now, schools have held fast to the structure of the past and, using the measures of the past, have come to believe they are doing well. The problem with that is the world has changed, what students need to graduate knowing and able to do has changed, and schools, over all, have not kept pace. Still one finds separate subjects, isolation from community and business and higher education, teacher-training programs without leading edge technology and thought, administrative responsibilities distracting the attention of the leader and satisfaction, rather than urgency.

Creativity is essential for anything new to emerge. Harding wrote:

Leaders are people who ignite change--and by change, I do not mean the typical “something new” definition, but instead, something that propels existing goals and actions to realization.

Once, long ago, there was a course in educational administration in which students were asked to design public education and a school for the future. They weren’t asked to redesign the current system and they weren’t given limitations of any kind. It was fascinating to observe these aspiring leaders free themselves from the past and present to energize their imagination.

What should schools look like? We believe there are some overarching concepts that should apply to all schools. They begin with purpose and what we know about children learning. We also believe that there are local visionaries who includes advocates and adversaries from within and outside of the community and wonders about what might be.

That leader is attuned to scanning and listening to find other places who are asking similar questions and seeking new answers. They may host visits and establish connections with schools and districts also on the journey, and return home excited to design how these ideas will work in the home community. Again from Harding, “

Like creativity, effecting change also requires beginning with a yearning to answer that unanswered question by imagining a variety of possible solutions.

Leaders spend so much time answering questions, it is seldom they allow themselves and their communities to hold and explore unanswered ones. What are your school’s/district’s unanswered questions? It is in finding those questions and investigating possibilities that the seeds for successful change are planted. The process of creating the vision begins with the leader who will find...

...an individual vision, one that is clear and concise and motivating, is a difficult task. Creating a vision, collectively, for a system, is even more complex. Multiple layers of personal judgment and bias and experience enter the fray. But neither the personal one nor the organizational one will serve well if not operationalized with integrity” (Myers-Berkowicz 2015).

The school year has begun for some and is about to begin for others. Before becoming lost in the business of doing business, we begin by asking these questions:

  1. Do I want to know my school’s/district’s unanswered questions?
  2. Does my faculty and staff know what they are?
  3. Do I have a sense of where I believe our school/district should be in relation to where it is now?
  4. Does my faculty and staff?
  5. Do I typically empower and invite others to come forward with imaginative ideas?

School leaders and their teachers spend little time imagining school beyond the classroom. We think it is a necessary part of opening the door to school change. In closing, from Tayloe Harding:

Whether or not a need for change inspires our creative thinking, I believe that creativity and change are inexplicably linked, because a shared aspect of humanity that motivates change and inspires creativity is imagination.

Harding, T. Fostering Creativity for Leadership and Leading Change
Arts Education Policy Review, 111:51-53, 2010
Copyright© Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1063-2913
DOI: 10.1080/10632910903455827

Myers, A. Berkowicz, J. (2015) The STEM Shift: A Guide for School Leaders. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo by dweedon1 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.