The interplay between leading and learning
The interplay between leading and learning

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The interplay between leading and learning

4 Leadership dimensions

People demonstrate leadership behaviours for a variety of reasons – whether it be a formally designated ‘leader’, someone who has taken a lead opportunistically, someone who is leading implicitly or a peer providing mutual support. Again, these are not mutually exclusive – for example, the designated leader can also be a peer. The provenance of the leadership behaviour is entwined with the personality of the person leading. Thus, some people will naturally seize opportunities to lead, for example by coaching others or organising tasks, even if that is not their formal role.

These aspects, of the way in which leadership is undertaken and the personality of the ‘leader’, will influence the impact on learners. Here ‘learners’ is taken to mean all those being ‘led’, whether formally designated ‘learners’ or not.

Just as there are different dimensions to learning – formal and informal – there are different dimensions of leadership that impact on that learning. Leithwood (2011) identifies how ‘what’ leaders do is connected to ‘how’ they influence learning. In his model, four ‘paths’ are examined in respect of their relationship to the sphere of leadership, the development of learners, and the internal and external contexts in which the learning takes place. These four paths are:

  • rational – in which knowledge of curriculum, teaching and learning is used to determine leadership practices
  • emotional – in which the link between emotions in teachers and learners are considered in relation to learning
  • organisational – in which the processes, structures and policies are used to constitute frameworks for leading and learning
  • family – in which the impact of outside influences and cultures are included in an appraisal of what a leader does and the context in which leadership and learning operate.

Activity 6

Timing: Allow up to 1 hour

In this activity, you are asked to further your understanding of the opportunities for learning within your context by applying the four ‘paths’ discussed by Leithwood (2011). You will find that these cross over the more physical contexts that you identified in Activity 4.

Consider each of the four paths identified by Leithwood above (rational, emotional, organisational, family) in relation to your context. Identify and note down any new aspects of this context that you have noticed as a result of your reading and study of this theme so far.

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Your precise response will have depended on your context, but you should have considered each of the four paths in Leithwood’s model.

  • The rational path concerns aspects such as curriculum, assessment and policies. These are things that are laid down and provide a framework in which the leadership is shown. In the case of a short-term project it represents the objectives and parameters that frame the project. How long will it last? What resources are being used? Who is involved?
  • The rational is related to the organisational path. Consider two educational contexts in which the same leadership activity is taking place – for example, a reshaping of what is intended to be learnt in a particular block of activity. The two institutions will most probably implement this in slightly different ways to reflect the difference in structure, ethos and availability of resources in each.
  • The emotional path will draw from the culture in the organisation, its ethos and the way people feel about each other, the activity and the organisation. This will be influenced by activities that have taken place previously and a view of one’s place in the organisation. Such a view is dynamic, and the emotional response will also be influenced by one’s own ambitions for development in it.
  • The family path refers to the other stakeholders outside of the organisation, how the organisation is viewed in its community, and how it relates to it.

The type of leadership being exercised will affect the response to all of these paths. A more transactional leader will not affect the organisational path, for example, but will be influenced by, and work within, them. A more transformational leader will seek to change these as a result of the leadership activities. Those affected by change will respond in rational and emotional ways and the changes will be influenced by internal (organisational) and external (family) factors.


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