Education in Ireland

Perspectives on the Irish education system distilled through the crucible of experience,leavened with the empirical wisdom of the perpetual student!

Friday, September 01, 2006

School Leadership: some key ideas

Brian Fidler highlights some key ideas on leadership. In particular, he looks at curricular or instructional leadership.

Fidler concentrates on theoretical literature rather than empirical findings. He presents a number of theoretical perspectives for understanding and analysis.

Leadership has been widely recognised by politicians, researchers and inspectors. Leadership is distinguished from management and administration through using five perspectives.

1. Appropriate leadership needs to be situational.
2. 4 frames through which leadership can be viewed – each is related to a way of viewing the organisation – structural, human relations, political and symbolic
3. Professional leadership should have 2 components – Chief Executive and leading professional
4. Moral component of leading schools and
5. Curriculum/Instructional leadership.

Bennis (1989) suggests that leadership is like beauty, hard to define but people can recognise it when they see it. The 2 key features of leadership are:
· A sense of purpose is engendered in followers
· Followers are influenced towards goal achievement.

Leadership is thus manifested in the feelings and actions of followers and in goal achievement. Personal action is at the core of leadership. Leadership is contingent. The appropriate leadership at any time depends on the context and the nature of the followers, the issues involved and the predisposition of the leader. Although the leader may have a preferred leadership style, this may have to change according to circumstances.

Relationship of leadership and management

The two components of the role of leader are concern for people and concern for results. The sources of power and influence used by leaders and managers share a common framework:

Power based on organisational position
Power based on expertises
Power based on personal characteristics and behaviour

Schon (1984) said that managers should be leaders but not all leaders need to be in management positions. There is however a close relationship between the two positions, especially in motivating people and in giving a sense of purpose to the organisation.

Leadership is identified with the proactive aspects of the direction of the organisation’s affairs. Leadership is associated with problem solving, formulating and implementing strategy and inspiring followers to strive towards a vision of a better future. A leader will demonstrate the need to consider the future and take the organisation forward in a way that engenders the support of all who work there and a manager will plan systematic procedures to ensure the developments take place and problems re solved along the way. The two activities are complementary and need to be synchronised.

Leadership is thus likely to be high in vision and strategic planning while management will be more systematic and mundane.

Perspectives on leadership

Five perspectives on leadership are offered:

situational leadership
4 frames of leadership
leading professional and chief executive
moral leadership and
curricular or instructional leadership

No single theory can subsume all the complexities of leadership. The effectiveness of leadership can be assessed through examining the actions of leadership or the results of the actions of leadership.

Situational leadership

Hersey and Blanchard (1988) describe situational leadership as being in the “mainstream of leadership thought”. Th4 appropriate leadership style depends on the context. Some of the following variables will be taken into account:

preferred style of leadership
maturity of staff
expectations of staff
nature of task to be undertaken

Bolman and Deal’s 4 frames

They suggest four approaches to leadership:

human relations
political and

Appropriate leadership needs to be situational but a leader will have a preferred style that reflects his/her own personality. The structural framework focuses on a rational view of management. Leadership concentrates on goals and uses rational analysis, operating through a hierarchy of control and organisational structure.

The human relations frame concentrates on the behavioural aspects of management and harnessing the motivation of staff.

The political frame recognises that individuals both in side and outside the organisation have their own private interests and agendas. There will be conflicts of interest and seats of power that may lead to conflict unless bargaining, negotiation and skilful coalitions are not formed.

The symbolic frame or visionary leadership or transformational leadership is concerned with providing staff with insights into the nature of new challenges and what is to be achieved. The vision of the future may be drawn up collaboratively but the leader has the task of articulating the vision in a compelling way. Transformational leadership is contrasted with transactional leadership that is concerned with carrying out routine tasks.

Leading professional and chief executive

Leader needs to act as a chief executive in a managerial capacity and as a leader in the symbolic and political senses. The leader of a professionally staffed organisation needs to be the leading professional or a leading professional. He must espouse professional values and possess appropriate professional knowledge and judgement. If he is to lead classroom practice the quality and recency of his pedagogic and professional knowledge must be first rate.

Moral leadership

Duignan and Macpherson (1992) ascribe a “realm of ideas” to judgement about what is of value on the education of children. They see this as a third component, along with management and leadership, which is required of an educational leader.

Instructional leadership

The concept of a leading professional implies that the head teacher has an impact on the professional work of the school, including the teaching and learning. Instructional leadership has 2 aspects; the tasks to be achieved (functional approach) and the means whereby those tasks are achieved (process approach).

Functional approach has five components:

1. defining mission – aims of school and resources – communicated to staff and pupils by principal
2. managing curriculum and instruction – co-ordination of work of teachers, decisions re timetabling and information for staff to enable them to plan work. Implies up-to-the-minute knowledge of curriculum research and theoretical developments
3. supervising teaching
4. monitoring progress – implies principal has good understanding of student assessment methods.
5. promoting instructional climate – motivate staff by creating the right “atmosphere”

Process approach

Firestone and Wilson (1985) identified 3 ways to link the principal’s behaviour to that of classroom processes:

· bureaucratic and structural linkages – school policies, rules and procedures, plans/schedules, vertical information systems and supervision and evaluation
· interpersonal linkages – working with and influencing teachers’ classroom practice
· cultural linkages – shared meanings and assumptions. Firestone and Wilson identify Stories, icons and rituals.

What leaders pay attention to matters a great deal. There has to be consonance between what is declared to be a priority and what is seen to command time and resources. Fidler and Wilson point out that research in effective schools highlights principal behaviour and the effects of direct supervision and underemphasized the more indirect cultural and social linkages. Bureaucratic and cultural influences should reinforce each other.



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