Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Leadership for what?

Winston Churchill, as with any true leader, was able to deliver, through his oratory, a powerful story to provide his people hope of better things to come. Leadership is about creating powerful future images through myth and story - and it is rare commodity.

I am critical of leadership courses run for school principals for, so far, I have not been able to discern any new story, or powerful vision for the future, they have provided for those who might be followers. Considering those providing the information are at best timid leaders or, worse still academics, it is no wonder. It sounds like a case of , 'Stick to your seats and never go to sea and you will be rulers of the Queen's navy'. Such leaders will be as effective as the peace time generals who are equipped to fight previous centuries wars. In war time true creative leaders 'emerge' often to be dispensed with when peace breaks out.

Developing lists of 'best practices' will never be good enough when times demand new questions and answers that can only come from future, or 'next practices'. And politicians are no better. As Michael Fullan writes 'politicians always get it wrong' .Look , for example of the easy answer of national testing. Mind you Fullan has done quite well out of such simplistic initiatives - busy measuring the wrong things. As Guy Claxton writes, 'most far reaching ideas and changes come from the outside'; think of Nelson Mandela.

As social commentator Eric Hoffer wrote, 'In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists'. 'The status quo' , as some one said, 'is Latin for the mess we are in'.

The world as we used to know it, following 9/11 , the ongoing financial crisis, the worsening environmental problems, and any number of social issues is on the verge of transformation but into what is the question. Current hierarchical organisations simply cannot cope and are failing, and this includes our outdated industrial age education system.

Little has really changed since Tomorrows Schools.The most innovative period, in my memory, was in the late 60s and 70s led by creative teachers assisted by a progressive advisory service. It is to their ideas that we must return to for inspiration if developing the creativity and 'learning power' of every student is the vision we want to aim for.

To combat the restrictive forces being imposed on schools. We need courageous leadership to create the conditions and the inspiration for teachers and schools to unlock the repressed creative capabilities of both teachers and students.

Such leaders must reach beyond the narrow conception of eduction based on literacy and numeracy achievement. Initiatives that have failed to work in other countries, distorting and subverting teaching. In the process of schools complying to such initiatives the enthusiasm and love of learning of the students is being put at risk, students who continue to 'disengage' from schooling.

If we want, as Jerome Bruner wrote in the 60s, for 'each man ( to be) his own artist, his own scientist, his own historian, his own navigator' then things have to change. Or, as Guy Claxton wrote in 2008, to ensure all students 'develop the ability to pay attention, to wonder, to construct imaginative explanations, and to develop the love of learning.'

'We need a new narrative for education' , Claxton writes, 'that can engage and inspire children and their families- a tale of adventure, of learning derring- do and learning heroism. Let's us fire up the kids with deep satisfaction of discovery and exploration. They are born with learning zeal; let us recognise, celebrate and protect it, but also stretch, strengthen and diversify it'.

That we need real leaders is a matter of urgency , it is, as HG Wells wrote decades ago, 'a race between education and catastrophe' We need leaders who can express the true purpose of education. Such a purpose will need to 'emerge' out of local explorations and the networking and sharing of ideas those at the centre no longer know, or never did! All new learning comes from the edge.

There are no road maps to the future. Leaders will need to have the courage to look towards distant horizons and make their own tracks for others to follow. They will have to learn to rock the boat without falling out. They need to be provocateurs strong enough to criticize the failings and constraints ( including the imposition of simplistic 'national' testing) of the current system, even if such views will at first be unpopular.

Leaders need to pose questions and enter into dialogue with all involved. We have had enough of the corrosion of compliance and passiveness and solving endless day to day, often imposed, problems. Creativity not compliance is required.

Principal leaders will have to be inspirational models of the 'seekers, users and creators' of their own learning that the new curriculum asks teachers to develop of their students.

There is no other way.

These are moral choices.

Are there any real leaders out there?


Anonymous said...

Are there any real leaders in our schools out there - principals with principles doing more than simply complying to what is expected of them well? Doing the 'right thing' not 'things right'. We have been 'overmanaged and underled' since the imposed 'reforms' of the 90s.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Bruce.

I concur with all you say here. I'd like to give you something 'out of the mouths of babes and little children':

My older daughter has finished her year 13 this year. She is smart. She has been accepted for 2 universities and is choosing which to accept, right now.

She and I had a conversation about NCEA recently. I had to winkle her opinion out of her, for she thinks little of NCEA.

She said, "Y'know the standards, like, that we have to work for getting? They're, like, boring. All the interesting stuff that you want to learn about isn't, like, in the standard? It's, like, boring."

For me, she said it all.

Catchya later

Bruce Hammonds said...

On reflection I might have been a bit hard on the Ministry leadership courses for principals - they probably make them 'better' principals but nothing really will change. Better is not good enough!

Real leadership is about implementing transformational ( often 'dangerous' to those in power) ideas. They should call their courses 'Better Principals Courses'! What about Educational Revolutionary Courses!!

As for students' views, Middle Earth, see my previous blog about tapping students' ideas.

NCEA is better than the 'half have to fail' School Certificate but somehow teachers need to imbed standards and units into realistic and relevant challenges for their students. This would mean breaking their lock step subject devisions and restrictive timetables.

Now that would take real leadership. Some schools have done this - mainly new schools with no restrictive traditions.

'Boring' is a word that sums up most traditional teaching (even for academic students) - except for extra mural activities.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Bruce.

Yes, but, I'm a teacher - of 35 years now - and I tend to agree with my daughter. What I've found is that the standards content is neither interesting to teach nor is it interesting to learn. I don't teach my daughter. Most of the time, she teaches herself - isn't that what most excellent secondary school students do these days. They have to, for their peers are mostly going after achieved and to a lesser extent merit.

The point I put forward here (on behalf of my daughter in actual fact) is that for an excellent student there is no real incentive to get into the subject - no fire that lights the scholarship.

If I ever wnted to find out if anything I taught to my classes was genuinely interesting (for whatever reason) I always asked my top scholars. They usually let me have it if they were not being extended.

Catchya later