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Through the role of the principal, we can consider a number of differing approaches to educational leadership and how they manifest in light of today's most pressing challenges. Considering Transformational Leadership, Political Leadership and Strategic Leadership, we will establish a greater understanding of the value in this diversity of perspective.
Such diversity is necessary because of the principal's unique role in both the lives of teachers and students, serving simultaneously as a figure of authority and as an advocate in the face of administrative and political demands. This makes the principalship a deeply complex position, imposed upon by the challenges of organizational stewardship, economic constraint and political imposition. The experience of developing into and serving in the position of the principal is of importance to those aspiring to evolve to the role.
Strategic Leadership is an approach which seeks to achieve a critical balance amongst these responsibilities through a carefully measured integration of both persona and product oriented emphases. The effectiveness of leadership is largely observable in the success with which this leadership motivates, encourages and maintains the competency of personnel. This is something which can only be achieved through the application of sound interpersonal relationships between leaders or members of an organization such that responsibilities are clear but oversight is neither oppressive or authoritative. As Robbins et al. (1998) would report, "leaders high in concern for task lead to greater grievance, absenteeism and turnover, and lower levels of job satisfaction." (studies found that high concern for people negatively related to performance ratings of the leader by his or her superior." (Robbins et al., 403) We can see in this part of the discussion that the salient features of strategic leadership are its room for flexibility and its focus on using leadership as a way to optimize strategies of motivating teachers.
In my school, this is an approach which is perhaps best demonstrated by the manner in which teachers are given relative freedom within the parameters of the curriculum. There is modest dictation over teaching styles and strategies, with instructors being allowed a degree of latitude in how they meet specific demands which are articulated by the curriculum. This is a strategically heeled orientation that denotes a certain faith that leadership at the principal level has been sufficient to effect the qualifications of teachers to take this initiative.
Still, in many ways, our private school is deeply political as are most public schools. The interest of the school community which encompasses parents, faculty and other invested parties from the area is highly diversified and imposes a real and pressing set of pressures upon its leadership.
This experience of our principal in seeking to balance these various demands from often divergent party perspectives indicates that the responsibilities of the principal as a leader in various capacities must be heavily considered, particularly in light of such issues as the heightened demanded for leadership in the face of new and permeating political realities. Issues such as the need to answer to various sectors of the community, the demand to establish a rapport with faculty that induces support and the overarching presence of all-encompassing standardized testing frameworks as those implied by federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy all have the effect of shaping the leadership responsibilities and experiences of the principal.
According to a 2003 article on the subject of the imposition of politics on school leadership, with a focus on the role of the superintendent, there are compelling reasons for many in the relatively specialized field to avoid those school systems which are known to apply undue pressures and inappropriately expansive public burdens on this position of educational leadership. To this extent, the research finds "that some districts have a history of 'churning' superintendents, which contributes disproportionately to these districts having high turnover rates and a relatively small number of qualified applicants." (Glass et al., 264) This is not to dissuade us from the view that there is a relationship between the political realities of the position and the consequences as they have manifested in some districts. Quite to the contrary, it reinforces the notion that it remains a challenge for many educational leaders to properly balance the notion of an effective and accountable structural authority with the presence of a sound educational orientation, with a host of political consequences resulting from a failure to achieve this equation. Such is to say that a core reality impacting educational leaders is the impingement of the political upon the fulfillment of one's practical responsibilities, making it very frustrating to work in an environment where one's hands are tied both by the challenges inherent to improvement of troubled school districts and the requirement to answer to various external parties such as teachers, parents, communities and local public officials.
A more specialized approach to leadership than either of these is the Transformational Leadership approach, which is centered on the dual ideological foundations determining that students must be instructed toward literacy, comprehension, compositional and foundational math and science disciplines with a focus on the factors of evolving technology and increasingly interconnected cultures. Implied here, therefore, is a fundamental demand for some dramatic reconsideration of instructional approaches with the primary goals of curricular and conceptual change being to improve classroom performance results by increasing cultural inclusiveness within the classroom, to assimilating new information technologies with traditional media and increasing the resources made available to students in the district.
This is, of course, an approach to leadership which implies a fundamental need for change, which may not always be the case. In some instances, it may be less appropriate for leadership features to be driven by a demand for progressive change. This may depend on the cultural and resource orientation of the school amongst many other factors. But its key features are the perception that there is a need for improvement, that it is realistic to believe that transformation can be effected with a clear identification of aim and procedures and that the relationship between leadership and membership is likely to facilitate this change without resistance.
In our school, this is a process that has been somewhat elemental to the integration of new computer and internet technologies in the classroom. As a counterbalance to the potentially isolating aspects of a private school learning experience, we allow a great deal of in-class flexibility today which revolves on access to the information and communication which such a transformation has allowed. It has taken both the measured effort of effective leadership and the willingness of the staff to adopt transformational changes to allow for this to succeed.
The fact that our school tends to demonstrate in its core leadership some elements of all three of the approaches here discussion is illustrative of the value in this ongoing philosophical and practical discourse. To this point, we are left with a useful statement from the Maccoby (2000) text, which denotes that "the combination of intrinsic motivation with extrinsic rewards and recognition can produce highly motivated people. Of course, incentives, reward and recognition should reinforce the kind of behavior needed for the team's success. If you want people to cooperate, you need to reward and recognize successful cooperation." (Maccoby, 58)
The implications of this discussion, therefore, are that there is no one way to apply leadership correctly. Indeed, every school, district and region will come with its own unique challenges and benefits. Therefore, it is incumbent upon effective leadership to be drawn from an understanding of that which works best in all of these approaches. More than likely, the effective educational leaders, whether principal, superintendent, administrator or teacher, will act from some pragmatic hybrid of all available philosophies.
Davies, B. & Davies, B.J. (?). Strategic Leadership. The Essentials of School Leadership.
Glass, T. & Bjork, L.G. (2003). The Superintendent Shortage: Findings from Research on School Board. Journal of School Leadership, 13(3).
Lashway, L. (2003). Distributed Leadership. Research Roundup, 19(4).
Maccoby, M. (2000). Understanding the difference between management and leadership. Research Technology Management, 43(1), 57-59.
Robbins, S.P.; Millet, B.; Cacioppe, R. & Waters-Marsh, T. (1998). 'Leadership,' in Organizational Leading and Managing in Australia and New Zealand,…[continue]
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