Coming as I did from a grounding in the Ontario Public education system, I was quite surprised to see the variety of models of leadership employed at International schools. Specifically, I was initially taken aback at the explicit criticism often directed at Principals/Heads of School by the faculty. Indeed the questioning of decisions even after they had become policy and their belief in an ongoing agency to negotiate such policy was new to me. It made me rethink my accepted models of leadership. What follows in the coming weeks will be parts of an essay I wrote for Mike Fertig at the University of Bath as a few years back. As it is rather long, I shall post in segments. The first instalment sets the field with an academic overview of what do we mean by educational leadership?
As we prepare to enter the third decade of the the twenty-first century, many new agents are at play, creating a need to rethink traditional paradigms. Aging populations in first world nations progressively scrutinized public spending and especially publicly funded organizations. Increasingly, free markets economies through the forces of globalisation, have not only increased global trade but also increased the number of transient workers. Unprecedented access to information that the Internet has permitted has aided in the democratization of knowledge. Not surprisingly, as such forces interact, societies look to secure their future and, in particular, the future of their children. Education has become a central concern for nations and citizens as they seek to make sense of the global changes. New curricula, standards based assessment, and efficiency of spending has begun to enter the lexicon of educational debate. Arguably, no area has received greater interest than the field of educational leadership. After all, it is these very leaders who are to ensure children are prepared to become effective participants in the new global paradigm. Or are they? Are traditional educational leadership models outdated and no-longer effective in dealing with new forces and expectations at play within schools? Or are these traditional models tested and true and thus guarantee past success will continue? The central question thus is: what constitutes effective school leadership? While an exploration of all literature within this field is impossible, a healthy sampling reveals the existence of two main schools of thought in educational leadership: principle-centred and leadership-team centred. Through an exploration of the major tenets within each of these schools of thought, and an assessment of how these theories compared to actual practice, what emerges is they offer viable insights into the dilemmas and challenges leaders must address in serving and leading educational communities.
Before we begin, it is necessary to identify some key terms. Those who are assigned the role of leading schools are known by various titles within private, public and international school sectors. For our purposes we shall call this central person the principal. Additionally confounding, is the idea of leadership. Again for our purposes, leadership entails those administrative, leadership and vision activities that enable schools to create effective learning environments. Lastly, the notion of ‘effective’ varies from society to society as well as between and within schools. What needs to be explored are those leadership attitudes, practices and formats that best suit the context of the school and lead to effective decisions and actions being undertaken. Thus, herein effective means effectiveness of leadership format. Finally while there are no actual educational schools of thought that define themselves as principal-centred and leadership team-centred, these are terms we shall use to embrace a wide spectrum of theories that share commonalities. Principal-centred theories are those that perceive the principal as the central agent leading a school towards increased effectiveness; team-centred theories are those that suggest the school is most effectively guided by the work and co-operation of teams with a shared agency and responsibility.
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan