Today I attended the first day of the Developing Leaders for tomorrow (Primary) programme from the National College and the SSAT. This is a 14 month course looking at various aspects of school leadership, including regional visits and a school based project. The day has provided me with many themes for reflection
The big theme of today was definitions of leadership. What interested me was the complexity of the issue, such that it was a real challenge for us to come to a shared understanding of what leadership is. Words such as ‘inspiring’, ‘supportive’ and ‘visionary’ were discussed a lot, but these are broad brush strokes and getting to the point where everyone is interpreting these in the same specific way in order to discuss their influence in a meaningful way is difficult.
I think one of the problems of discussing ‘leadership’ in this way is it is often presented as being diametrically opposed to ‘management’. We talked about the qualities of leaders as being inspirational, supportive figures, people who manage change and provide exciting opportunities for learning well matched to the needs of their learners, both children and staff. What I think is often left out of this, but was touched on during the day, was that this needs to be underpinned by a structure that enables the more ‘visionary’ ideas to flourish in a sustainable way.
Rather than taking leadership as the next evolutionary stage after management, I think management is essential to support leadership, and that the two really need to go hand in hand. To introduce visionary ideas without the structures in place to support and nurture them is, to me, just as undesirable as micro managing an organization without a clear vision in place. Therefore, I think any successful leader needs to have their eye firmly on the issues of both leadership and management for transformative, and sustainable change to happen.
To me, the most effective leaders are those who have that visionary, idealistic thinking and inspire their staff with high expectations, but also enable those expectations to be met through managerially supporting their day to day needs.
The idea of leading change also came up a lot. I do worry about the concept of ‘change’, in that these days in education we often talk of change for change’s sake. I am no educational conservative, but I do think that we are often too quick to decide that ‘change’ must equate to ‘progress’ in schools. Semantically I think it would be more appropriate to come up with a term that defines a constant state of flux; one that is always shifting in response to the needs of cohorts and staff. Without this we risk promoting a model whereby significant organizational change is expected as people are promoted or recruited for no reason other than they are expected to make ‘their mark’.
What is needed is a constant state of adaptive change, in which the organization adapts organically to the needs of those involved. As I see it right now, this needs to be by allowing those at the business end of a school, i.e. classroom teachers but more importantly the learners themselves, to have a genuine say in how the organization functions. To do great work people need to be inspired, and inspiration comes from being given ownership, time to reflect, and the remit and permission to creatively act on that reflection.
So, to me, great leadership is about being responsive to the needs and interests of learners and staff, and supporting the adaptation of the organization to these needs using structured management as an enabling force.
It is about lighting the fires of inspiration where they need to be lit, but being content to merely tend those fires that are burning well of their own accord.