Why leadership is so important in education

23 Sep

We often talk about the importance of leadership in education, but what does it actually mean?

My favourite definition of leadership is this:

Leadership is about leading others towards an imaginary future.

It is not easy, because we don’t actually know what is there.  But, by having sufficient knowledge and data, we can make educated guesses about it. Effective leadership in education is about engaging the whole team to improve educational outcomes – yes, this means including students into the improvement process, and engaging them in their own learning (not just schooling: see the previous blogpost).

The other hard, but oh so important step in leadership is to move the focus and action from what is urgent to what is important. In classroom this means teaching and learning for life, not for test (this also can be seen as engaging in deep learning).

For teachers and instructors the job description has (at least) three parts: leadership, management and coaching. A major part of my daily work is about my attempts to provide leadership and  empower my students to step up on the plate and be in charge of their own learning and meaning-making. The managerial aspect of being a teacher (grading, disciplining, being the gatekeeper) is not as appealing to me, and in my current position I am very happy that the assessment department does the grading, and I can just coach and support my students to understand what their tasks entail.

It is always important for students to interact with the content to get all the information provided about the topic of the lesson or unit, but an equally important thing is to engage in thinking, because otherwise the readings/lectures/videos only remain as information, they do not become knowledge. I really like the definition of information only becoming knowledge after it has been processed through our minds, because the individual interpretation of any given fact is what makes effective learning to happen.

Leadership is very much needed in everyday classroom situations to empower students to learn what they need to learn, not what others in the classroom need to learn. One size doesn’t fit all and blanket statements are quite useless when the focus is in learning instead of teaching. This personalization, of course, is also the premise of differentiated instruction, but it actually takes the student even further on the road towards self-directed and self-regulated learning. Knowing what I know and what I need to learn is the foundation of engagement in independent learning.

Leading each student forward on their path of individual learning process is what makes teaching so hard: all students have individual needs and should have personal goals in their learning, but setting and updating those goals would take a lot of teachers’ time. This is why it is so important to engage students in setting their own learning goals (within the classroom/curricular goals – or even beyond them, if the student is very advanced). The standards are an excellent tool for providing the descriptions of what good learning or good skill looks like. The next step on the path towards independent learning is providing opportunities for students to engage in self-assessment to “calibrate” their thinking about their own learning/skills to meet the view of curriculum designers.  Imagine how effective learning is in classrooms like this – and how students are learning for life, not just for the next test! And imagine the ownership of learning students have! This is where the appropriate leadership takes education in the classroom.

Equally important is to have the appropriate balance of leadership and management in school administration and school districts. Grant Wiggins wrote a wonderful post about the difference of leadership and management in regards of curriculum leadership:

Wanted: real curriculum leaders, not just managers

The questions of purpose, audience, the level of detail, feedback, etc. asked from curriculum writers are equally valid in the classroom practice, even if in a different scale.  Effective teaching, or instruction, is about providing learning facilitation and leadership for students, so that they can feel empowered to engage in learning and meaning-making and have solid ownership for their learning.

Collaborative meaning making is the best tool for engaging people in a dialogue. The shared vision of learning is the imaginary future; and real curriculum leadership, not just management is the way to get there. Unless students and teachers are buying into the district vision, it doesn’t really matter what the papers have written on them, or how beautifully crafted the mission and vision statements are.

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9 Responses to “Why leadership is so important in education”

  1. Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC September 24, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    The biz-blogs and podcasts are abuzz with “death of management” comments – you’re not the only one who finds that idea misguided.

    Way back in my coach training we discussed the difference between management and leadership quite a bit. It’s a distinction most good biz-coaches must work on with clients. (ADDers don’t tend to go into management, and their leadership is more of the entrepreneurial type, so I don’t find myself covering it so much in my niche).

    I LOVE your definition: Leadership is about leading others towards an imaginary future. Is it yours? If not, do you have the source. I’d like to quote it.

    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    • Nina September 24, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

      Hi Madelyn,

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, I know the discussion about management and leadership is ongoing, and during my doctoral studies I have endured several classes about it. I am very dedicated to learning oriented leadership (http://www.schoolreforminitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/JSD-drago-severson-08.pdf).

      I am actually not quite sure about the definition. 🙂

      I remember using it in one of my papers, and on the discussion boards, and just tried to google it to find the origin – couldn’t find an exact match. I often have wonderful discussions with my husband (very experienced senior manager in IT and health care), and the definition may be a result of one those discussions. 😀

      Nina

      • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC September 24, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

        lol re: “endured”

        Re: quote — I guess I’ll have to source YOU, until somebody supplies other, huh?
        “~ maybe Nina’s hubby” might be a bit confusing for my readers.

        btw- are you aware of Hazel Owen’s user-generated content blog – ICTenhancedLearning, out of NZ?? (If NOT, search for “Digital Literacy” on my blog – she wrote an article for my readers, and there are links to her)

        It’s an interesting group, primarily education-focused. I haven’t had much time to get over there, given the events of 2014 in MY life, but I think it might be right up your alley (and you would be a nice addition, too). Say hi for me.

        xx,
        mgh

      • Nina September 24, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

        In my humble (professional) opinion learning should be enjoyed!

        I checked with hubby, in his speeches he uses “towards envisioned future”, so in that case you can quote GRS. But for imaginary future I am happy to take the credit. 🙂

        Signed in to Hazel Owens – looks very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

        Nina

      • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC September 24, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

        My pleasure. Impressed that you got right on it. Clearly, you are not a member of Team ADD ::evil grin::
        xx, mgh

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