Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Leadership for mere mortals

More Dean Fink! Posted by Hello

In Dean’s most recent writing (of which he sent me a draft) he talks about the challenges of educational leaders to be 'three legged leaders’… and that this is not easy for mere mortals.

The first leg is the traditional bureaucratized hierarchal organizations that many schools still cling to in the name of timidity, community pressure, and teacher resistance. And I would think that many secondary principals can see no alternative – it is the only way. The organizational structures of most schools are still fundamentally unchanged since the beginning of the 20th C he writes.

The second leg is recent central governments technocratic focus on inputs, outputs, targets and measurable school results. These, Dean believes have, ‘undermined educational leadership and replaced it with instrumental managerialism.’

The third leg, now emerging, focuses on developing schools as ‘learning communities’; communities to ‘enhance the learning of all the participants.’

For principals still working in traditional bureaucracies, dealing with imposed compliance issues while developing their schools as learning communities, he writes, present ‘unprecedented but not impossible challenges.’

The answer Dean believes is sharing leadership issues across the school and district so ‘mere mortals’ can together solve each other problems. The trouble is, in New Zealand, we now no longer have any real official ‘regions’ and as well secondary and primary school have never really worked together except at the most superficial level.

The one thing principals must never compromise, he continues, is their ‘absolute commitment to student learning’, and ‘a set of life affirming values that sustain leaders through good times and bad.’

Successful leaders have one thing in common, they all have a clear sense of purpose, a ‘philosophy, a mindset, a story, a stance’, a value system, that guides all their leadership activities.

‘Great leader are led by great ideas’….they develop an attractive ‘invitational story’ and communicate ‘a message of hope’ to build a shared and evolving vision. They have a clear sense of the ‘big picture’.

‘It is’, he continues, ‘important for leader to instill confidence, to believe in his judgment even when people no longer believe in themselves’.

People want from their leaders a sense of direction, a vision, a destination. Followers need to know ‘if the trip is worth taking.’ Hope is at the centre of a positive school community.

All this is problematic in our central governments current addiction to reason, efficiency and rationality. They have created an environment of measurement, targets and compliance and have relegated ‘the creative arts, and the imagination’ to the periphery. These are very attributes that are required if we are to re-imagine real our education system to develop the talents of all students.

Dean concludes with three messages.

1 Leaders are ordinary people who through extra - ordinary commitment have become extra- ordinary and in turn have made people around them exceptional.

2 Leadership is about developing invitational messages to build up an evolving learning centred school.

3 We all have the ability to shape events in our lives.

It is these three attributes, Dean believes, that will ‘sustain mere mortals’ in such difficult times.

I wish I were going to the Otago NZ Principals Conference to hear more from Dean but unfortunately I wasn’t invited! I suggest though that all school leaders make a point of attending and, better still, for them to leave with a will to get together in their various areas to make a concerted difference.

I will take real leadership to do so.


Anonymous said...

Great to see a focus on real teaching and real learning issues.

Principals, and experienced teachers for that matter, have an important role to play here. In my opinion the best leaders lead by example-by actually becoming actively involved in the development and promotion of more personalized and responsive learning environments.

Developing the best conditions for successful learning! This is the 'life blood' of what schools should be about. At centre needs to be a school environment that respects, values and encourages individual thought and expression- for the sake of everyone concerned.

Bruce said...

I couldn't agree more.

Far too many principals have let themselves become diverted by managerial tasks and thus provide the wrong role model; they are no longer 'lead learners.'

To achieve, what you so rightly write, would require principals with the courage to say no to all the nonsense that so many have been trapped into doing.

We need a 'new story' - or a return to appreciating the power of creativity.

It is no wonder so many students leave school with no love of learning. Learning is at best infectious - 'caught not taught' ( or tested)