leadership

I have n’t had much time to write a blog for a while. Overtaken somewhat by work and family, and it’s an exceptionally busy time. I’ve slowed down to about once a month. I must improve!

One of the reasons why I’ve had so little time is because the Spring Term is taken up with the vital task of retention and recruitment. For those of us in new schools, this is vital, vital, vital. This was supported by many of the interviews I conducted recently and was blogged about last month. I’ve managed to secure some great staff, and I’m looking forward to next year already. It will be a challenge to move things on. We’ve settled in and the time has come to really push on. The ethos has been set, routines secured, a vision of excellence established. Now it’s time to get there.

But how to get there? Leadership is vital, so I’ve decided to this week to focus my thinking upon the styles of leadership that a headteacher can adopt. One of my own self reflections last year was the realisation that to be a good leader, I must understand my staff, students and parents more. I must understand where they’re coming from, their experiences, their strengths, weaknesses and concerns. In this way I must adapt my leadership, and accept that it cannot be a ‘one size, fits all’ policy. I must attempt to secure everyone within a common vision of the school and have them all believing in it. Easier said than done! One of these reasons is that considering our mixed culture narrative at my current school, concepts of leadership are not always shared.

So, in order to develop context for my thoughts, it would seem pertinent to begin with an exploration of the work of a headteacher, based upon literature gleaned from a traditional ‘Western’ perspective. In this manner one can then compare with headship in new, Asian ‘local’ international schools. Initially, it should be noted that the educational leadership is complex, combining a focus upon both transformational and transactional styles (Zeleznik in Blandford and Shaw, 2001). It is particularly complicated if one also considers other tasks, which can include buildings management, finance, local authority collaboration, personal issues and planning (Goldring et al, 2008). It therefore becomes apparent that being a headteacher requires many skills. Day (2005:287) states that in managing these competing tensions, headteachers must remain “vision orientated and people centred” and this visionary concept is one that occurs regularly throughout research (Crum and Sherman, 2008, Chapman and Harris, 2010 and Gurr et al, 2006).

This charismatic vision is perhaps typical of early attempts to discuss educational leadership, which tended to focus upon the personality of headteachers (Fidler, 1997). This means placing great importance upon the value of transformational leadership, which creates vision, sets an example, demonstrates high expectations and symbolises the headteacher (Bogler, 2001). However, it does not take into account the individual characteristics of people – both as leaders or followers. What perhaps should be considered is that to be transformational, one can lead in a number of ways and that although leadership has personal characteristics, it should rather be viewed as a process (Fidler, 1997). Zaccaro et al in Goldring et al (2008:336), explain this changing notion of leadership as;

“An amalgamation of attributes reflecting cognitive capacities, personal orientation, motives and values, social appraisal skills, problem solving competencies, and general and domain specific expertise.”

This sense of adapting leadership according to individual skills or contexts, is also supported by Blandford and Shaw (2001, citing Green et al), who state that judgement, organisational ability, decisiveness and stress tolerance are also important. Leadership therefore needs to be situational, demonstrating flexibility according to what the context demands. Fidler (1997:25) writes;

“What is appropriate leadership at a particular point in time depends on the context and pre-history, the nature of followers, the particular issues involved, in addition to the pre-dispositions of the leader.”

Facilitative leadership, evident through the ability to empower teams, delegate and develop personnel, very much shares themes with Distributed Leadership. This style of leadership has been described by Lakomski as encouraging collaboration and cohesion between staff members with different experiences (King-fai Hui and Cheung, 2006). The concept of distributed leadership is also one that is popular within research. It has been linked with more “beneficial organisational outcomes” (Leithwood et al, 2008:35) which take advantage of the knowledge, skills and abilities present within groups (Ensley et al, 2006). As schools are essentially staffed with those who are professionally qualified, it seeks to empower and create a sense of collegiality that increases motivation and as such, has almost become “enshrined in the folklore of management” (Bush, 1995:52). It can be argued however, that collaboration has to be carefully considered, and is not possible without concise planning of goals, with clear roles assigned. This process of change, therefore, requires strategic leadership. To act strategically has been defined by Sarros and Sarros (2011:239) as creating “meaning and purpose for the organisation” and thinking through the steps needed to achieve this. It is interesting to note, how this sense of establishing vision also links to transformational leadership. This is a fact not lost on Sarros and Sarros who have espoused ‘transformational strategic’ leadership. This has a “powerful capacity to induce change” and can lead to “increased confidence and purpose in staff, students, the Board and the wider school community” (2011:256).

Crum and Sherman’s findings (2008) also outline that facilitating instruction is a major role of the headteacher. This can be clearly referred to as instructional leadership, which has been described by Leithwood et al, (2008:32) as “the strongest contribution to altered classroom practices.” It develops staff confidence in their ability to implement strategy, and requires a headteacher to demonstrate effective practices and a supportive attitude to enable staff improvement.

Lastly from Crum and Sherman (2008), is the concept of ultimate accountability, which can be linked to elements of transactional leadership, as it focusses upon concepts of hierarchy. Transactional leadership can be seen as a means to use bargaining to achieve progress. This type of positional leadership is quite common according to Bush (1995), who describes it as the main leadership style experienced by teachers in their daily working lives. Bush (1995) further elaborates upon the use of transactions and relates them to micropolitical strategy. This means that the headteacher can wield power, and therefore influence, in a number of ways. This includes positional power, the authority of expertise, personal power, control of rewards, coercive power and control of resources. Although it may not be fashionable to promote such strategies, (particularly when research promotes a more holistic, distributed leadership), it is perhaps the most immediate and effective style for busy leaders to use. It bears resemblance with the use of formal position and vertical leadership. This form of leadership has been described by Bush (1995) as an emphasis upon systems, structures and clear roles. It can be criticised for being too ‘top down,’ but considering its potential use in new school contexts, it would be suitable for placement within a leadership framework.

For me, I like the concept of transformational, strategic leadership. Having been able to recruit and retain a strong senior and middle leadership team for next year, I believe that the time has come to begin to distribute leadership more. Having established the school, we now need to focus upon the next stage. The time for increased stategy has come. It’s now my job to transform our staff into leaders who can achieve it.