1 Thinking about the interplay of leading and learning
Leadership in learning settings, from formal schooling and training to informal voluntary organisations, has several dimensions. There is the leadership defined by the role of a person such as a headteacher, director or coordinator – positional leadership. Positional leadership in this sense does not imply being in any specific part of the hierarchy. Rather, it comes from having been appointed to a particular role or responsibility. And so headteachers have positional leadership through their role, but so can an ordinary member of staff who is allocated the lead in a particular development or activity: a headteacher has a formal leadership role; others adopt informal ones.
Then there is the leadership of the teacher, youth worker, trainer or adult in charge that comes from the way they work with others, rather than through their formal role – what might be termed as opportunistic leadership – taking on leadership opportunistically. It is this type of leadership that we focus more on here. In considering these roles we need to look at the relationship between how people ‘lead’ and how those they are working with ‘learn’. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive. In ‘leading’ one is also ‘learning’. Harris (2009) considers this interplay, summarising the literature and research around teachers-as-leaders.
As a consequence of this interplay of leadership and learning, there is a complex set of interactions between those involved – for example, teachers and pupils, trainers and trainees, youth workers and young people. Roles are blurred and learning does not take place solely because of any fixed relationship between roles.
Watch the film, which was shot in the North Bedfordshire Federation of schools. As you watch note down where the staff are leading, where they are learning and what the interplay between the two is.
Transcript: Leading and learning
The schools have moved from being separate institutions to working as a single federation. This has given them opportunities to learn from each other as they spread an ‘enquiry culture’ (in the words of David Balderstone, Assistant Headteacher at Sharnbrook Upper School). Teachers are trusted, and indeed expected, to lead projects for others. The professional development is initially focused on sharing and developing practice internally. A key aspect of this is trust. It is an expectation that staff are learners and so they are trusted to lead others in their learning. Of course those who lead will also be learning as they see their own practice in a new light.
Those chosen, or who emerged, as leaders were not necessarily those in positions in which leadership was intrinsic. There was an emphasis on interpersonal skills and the ability to take colleagues along with new projects and initiatives. Having four different schools and cultures to work with meant that the Federation was able to find natural opportunities for developing practice as it was self-evident that staff were able to learn from others who had now become closer colleagues. The differences and ‘patchiness’ across the schools acted as a catalyst for leadership activities among staff.
Consider your own role and context. Note down:
- any leadership activities or roles that you, or others, undertake as a consequence of job title or description
- any leadership activities or roles that you, or others, have taken on through your, or their, own initiative. It might help here to think of specific projects, events or developments that you, or they, have taken leadership of, and who were led in those situations.
The focus is on activity rather than ‘position’. It may be that some people in an organisation are defined as ‘leaders’, but our approach here is that all may take on leadership roles with respect to particular activities or projects. Thus we see that people move in and out of leadership as opportunities arise. Before one acquires a leadership ‘position’ one will have demonstrated leadership skills as part of other roles. Such roles and activities prepare for leadership positions, probably through distributed leadership structures. These skills and capabilities may have been acquired outside the organisation through paid and/or unpaid work – for example, in helping with youth organisations or voluntary bodies.