Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Re-Thinking Leadership In Schools

I have always wanted to read High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them by J.F. Rischard.  According to Rischard, an economist for the World Bank, the next twenty years will be of critical importance (book was published in 2002) How the global community approaches problems delineated in the book will determine the fate of our planet for future generations.  I always thought the premise of the book would make for an interesting class.  Students could be challenged to examine issues that threaten the global community and collaborate to problem solve viable solutions.  What could be more authentic, genuine, empowering than examining complex contemporary issues.

In one section of book, Rischard discusses how traditional hierarchies are ill-equipped to deal with the demands of addressing problems that plague the global community.  Rischard says the following:

Government units or agencies, multilateral institutions, churches, multinational companies, large outfits of any kind-tend to reflect a hierarchical organizational model inherited from the industrial age, even in a way from the agricultural age. In periods of intense and complex change, traditional hierarchies fall short-the future belongs to flatter, faster, more network-like organizations.

There are three inherent faults in a hierarchical organizational model.  These organizations lack flexibility, fail to inspire employees and leaders at the top, who are supposed to control everything and call the shots, end up swamped when the rate of change is high.  All points are valid, but for schools, Rischard's commentary about the morale of staff is worth spending a few minutes reflecting on.  Success, not matter how one defines it, would be difficult to achieve if key contributors lack motivation and are never inspired to achieve greatness.  Unfortunately, schools are set up as traditional hierarchical structures with professional educators serving as middle men, facilitating information down the line.  To guard against an unmotivated organization, Rischard urges that people need to be empowered to act as independent agents.  Through empowerment stakeholders are inspired to make a critical difference within the organization and overall, a sense of ownership grows through taking pride in being a driving force for change .  

A greater sense of distributed leadership needs to be extended in our schools.  I see this as something more than educators "collaborating" or what is believed to be collaboration.  Teachers and even administrators need to view themselves as leaders and provided with the access to initiate change.  This is certainly possible if educators are open and willing to connect with one another.  Through the exchange of ideas and resources, educators can build the collective knowledge and will to make critical and enduring changes in schools.   As opposed to sporadic meetings, there is a consistent discussion about what needs to be addressed and how to address it.

We need to be consistent.  We cannot ask students to assume ownership in the classroom and not extend the same principles when it comes to educators.  Why support Unconferences for professional development but not extend the same spirit of Unconferences to govern decisions in schools.  Without a sense of ownership and pride, morale does suffer and change can become glacial.