Friday, October 5, 2012

Education Leadership

Educational Leadership- Part I


That’s not German…It’s phonetic for a question more people should ask themselves.  If you couldn't figure it out, you probably shouldn't be in charge.

What could we, the TU, know about Educational Leadership?  Truth be told we know a thing or two.  This post is an adaptation of a presentation the Underground was privileged enough to conduct with members of the student body while they attended a school leadership retreat. It is relevant because the void of true leadership from anyone in a high enough position to make a difference is starting to hurt.   The only thing worse than no leadership is bad leadership.  And that is exectly what the Feds and state legislatures have been giving us the past few years.  In fact I am beginning to think the term Educational Leader is actually an oxymoron. As we grow accustomed to gridlock in DC, the only thing clear is we are lacking enough leaders willing or capable to lead us to a better place. This might also be true in education.

Above the building level what we need systemically is great leadership. Not common in a profession where upward mobility is rather non-existent.   School divisions find leadership even harder to come by because promotion from the classroom is often an escape for some.  Still others see the classroom as a necessary chore to enter educational leadership. It is increasingly easy to hop online and pick their Ed.L.D. with little or no teaching experience and whamo...they are making decisions for us all.  It's not that outsiders shouldn't contribute but Corporate style leadership in education is not too popular with many people in education. 

Many good teachers don't want to leave the kids thus restricting their influence. But they aren't too fond of seagulls either.  New leadership hires usually come with a dizzying list of degrees but potentially absent the insights and experience most needed. When you look even higher, the void is so pronounced that few people in the upper echelons have any connection as to what is actually happening and what is actually needed on the student level.   How frequent and in what context was the word education used in the recent Presidential debate?  That says a lot about where education fits into the public consciousness. Is that an indictment of current education policy makers nationally…yeah…I guess it is.  But they are not all purposefully disconnected.  Some are victims of time and distance from the classroom. 

Defining leadership is simple…defining good leadership…not as easy. Defining Good Educational Leadership even more so.  In its most basic form leadership is the capacity or ability to lead. To lead is to either get in front to show people the way or to go along with them, maybe even push from behind. One thing that becomes immediately clear is those who are the leaders can’t always show the way directly.  

Jobs within education are very different and quite stratified.  So the "lead by Example" motto falls by the wayside. It's hard to provide the example when you have no experience in a specific area from which to draw.  There are currently so many levels of leadership in what some call the bloated education bureaucracy.

We’ve said before that anyone referred to as an "educator" should be required to teach a class.  Just to keep their feet on the ground and their heads out of their rumps. More importantly would be the fact that they would get to deal with kids each day.  A leader takes an active role in making something happen with others. Teachers do this all the time.  The “others” are referred to as followers, so I guess I am a leader and a follower(hey by the way are you an official follower of the TU…if not you can do so on the menu at the right).  Kids are the constant in education and people who wall themselves off from that figuratively or literally impede their ability to lead effectively. 

In reality leaders in education are not only outside of the classroom, they are in it. Principals, Superintendents, and School Board Members all play a key role in the chain of leadership and direction of policy. But the anchor points of that chain are the teachers and the parents. They are both the ones with the most understanding but also often the most disconnected the point of influence.   This disconnect from leadership and students causes or results in an over-reliance on data and numbers.

Too often they operate with suspect understanding and a predetermined outcome devoid of feedback or empathy to those affected. They are too often asked to make decisions absent key information.  Leading by mandate handed down from above alienates followers and often loses sight of the real needs of students. 

The skills of leadership are elusive and fluid.  They take practice.  Some aspects of leadership can be learned and developed and this makes perfect sense.   What is often missing in educational leaders is that they work with people that don't see they have to earn the position. That relationship has grown even more complicated as education has become politicized. The educational, economic and political considerations now seem to overshadow an individual’s ability to make a difference. That is after all what good or bad leadership eventually does…make a difference.

Give some thought to a several important questions. What is the Goal of Educational Leadership? A better way to think about this might be to ask what do good educational leaders do? Think about their impact, their influence on other people, how they spend their time. Why they became a leader in the first place? 

A brief answer would be good leaders make things better. They make it easier and better for kids, teachers, parents…everyone.   Educational leadership should improve our schools thus ultimately the future for our kids.   Such positions should not and cannot be used for personal advancement, promotion or for any other reason but to make things better.  While at the top level this may show as pushing hard for a change to gain a desired national outcome to put a feather in the cap, at my level it would be empowering people to create, develop and improve things all the while forging relationships that move us all forward.  That isn't a lot to ask is it?

We may write a bit more on this topic but in the meantime take a few moments to view this video and see if you can think of how it might apply to educational leadership.

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