Exploring educational leadership
Exploring educational leadership

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Exploring educational leadership

1 The leader, educational leadership and management

There has been a tremendous amount written about being a leader, how to be a good leader, how to offer effective leadership and many other permutations of those words. We have all experienced the leadership of others in our professional and personal lives, and will have a view about which leadership actions, behaviours and strategies might be required in a given situation. In our professional lives as educators, we have also experienced being managed and may ourselves manage the work of others. However, what is meant by ‘leadership’, ‘leading’, ‘administration’ and ‘management’ can vary across organisations, situations, times and culture.

In the USA and Canada, the term ‘administrator’ is synonymous with ‘manager’, and some senior administrators will have strategic leadership responsibilities. In the UK and Australia, there has been growing recognition since the 1990s of the requirement for people in management roles to have leadership qualities. Over time the names of roles have changed to reflect the amount of leadership expected. For example, ‘heads of department’ in schools became ‘middle managers’ and then ‘subject leaders’, and ‘senior management teams’ have become ‘senior leadership teams’ (Gunter, 2004).

It is important to note that we are not suggesting that people are either leaders or managers, but rather that most roles are an amalgam of the two and that the proportions may vary according to the context or situation. It may not be helpful to force a distinction between leaders and managers as that narrows down the focus of attention to individuals and the ways in which roles are named and defined rather than the activities that take place. One view is that leaders work with people to change behaviours, attitudes and values, whereas managers work with a steady state within the setting, maintaining the performance of people, inanimate objects and systems (Cuban, 1988). From this perspective, for example, a subject leader may manage the resources to support a change in teaching method that they have been leading their colleagues to consider.

This course adopts a critical perspective and argues that educational leadership and management are contested concepts. For example, we can question Cuban’s (1988) view that leadership and management are linked to role designations such as ‘team leader’ or ‘lead worker’ because although these people are expected to lead, others without designated titles can also show leadership. It is also important to think critically about the ways in which definitions of leadership are used at different times and in different places. This situated approach to understanding leadership means that we recognise that leadership varies with the contexts and cultures in which it operates. Leadership can involve spontaneous and/or planned activity. It can emerge in response to a situation that arises, or as a result of long-standing vision for the future. As you work through this course, you will start to develop your own understanding of leadership within your setting.

Activity 1

Timing: Allow approximately 60 minutes

Read the three contrasting ideas below.

The first two quotations are from the broader field of leadership studies in the USA and the last from the field of educational leadership in the UK.

  1. Leaders are ‘persons who, by word and/or personal example, markedly influence the behaviours, thoughts, and/or feelings of a significant number of their fellow human beings’ (Gardner and Laskin, 1995, p. 8)
  2. Leadership is ‘a process of social influence in which one person is able to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task’ (Chemers, 2000, p. 27).
  3. Leadership is a process of influence leading to the achievement of desired purposes. Successful leaders develop a vision for their schools based on their personal and professional values. They articulate this vision at every opportunity and influence their staff and other stakeholders to share the vision (Bush and Glover, 2003, p. 5).

Note down your thoughts about these differing views of leadership. You might find it useful to discuss your views with a colleague.

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Described image
Figure 1 Educational leadership

A sense of the scope of the field of study is provided in Figure 1. You are not expected to be familiar with all of these terms at present, but you will return to some of them as you move through the course.


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