A heroic ideal of leadership, which excludes women and is deeply rooted in Australian cultural mythology. Historical accounts and popular folklore have elevated our belief in the redemptive powers of solitary, courageous men who triumph through endurance, stamina and self-reliance.
If our notions of leadership are socially constructed and based in Australian white-settler mentality, what does this mean for women aspiring to leadership? AND should women even be aspiring to be that kind of leader?
Leadership is associated with the lone and powerful, self-reliant male. Notions of collaboration and collective leadership are viewed as weakness. Women in leadership roles that I have experienced have succeeded by perpetuating this image. Does that mean that unless women adopt this approach, they can never really succeed in leadership?
Statues from ancient societies remind us of the awesome powers of goddesses and high priestess. Mythology around the Amazons and Valkyries also painted women as fearless and powerful individuals. Yet, over time these models faded as patriarchal forms of authority became the norm. These were the result of a range of factors, including the different modes of economic production and the impact that then had on family structures.
As we move towards a more global, networked society where information technology is becoming a predominant tool, allowing a highly collaborative and flexible workforce that is valuing innovation and creativity, will our current notion of leadership begin to change?
By definition social construction refers to commonly accepted models and understandings that are results of social or cultural practice. They are jointly constructed, widely accepted and so difficult to change. Having now considered the structure of our schools, I actually find it perplexing. Education serves a civic purpose, so why is that in our schools, which are supposed to be preparing students for a democratic society, we model anything but? If anything, we model a very watered down version of democracy which may be considered consultative or delegatory. This autocratic power model perpetuates right down to the classroom level, where teachers reign over their students.
Despite the lack of transformation of leadership structures into the 21st Century, the role of the Principal or Head Teacher has grown and more closely resembles the role of a CEO. They are responsible for marketing and image management, external performance evaluations and the running of the school as "business" on top of being the leading professional practitioner. It is also easy to understand hesitancy to relinquish power when accountability is higher than ever.
This discussion raises far more questions than it answers. While different educational models exist, they do not represent the norm and still adhere to an autocratic leadership model beyond the classroom. Who is to say that a transformation of leadership structures would transform education itself? My inner classroom teacher senses the potential for chaos while my inner educational activist says "giddy-up!"
This year I am starting my Masters in Education. Despite specialising in Information Technologies, I have also decided to commit time to studying Education Leadership. It was my talents with technology that threw me into my current leadership role. Over the last few years, I have had to work hard to grow into the leadership side of my position. While I exhibit some characteristics, I am not the classic type A personality that so many leaders are and I recognise that it is a skill I want to develop further.
As I commence my first subjects this week, I found myself reflecting on my understandings of leadership in education. To be a successful leader, you need a deeply thought-through philosophy about leadership. You also need to constantly interrogate and re-evaluate your leadership practices and beliefs.
What is Leadership in Education?
I believe that leadership is a process and not a necessarily a position. While leadership positions exist in educational institutions, individuals can be leaders without any formal authority. Leaders are people who initiate change and growth. They are people that can see possibilities and develop a vision. It is for this reason, I feel that creativity can be a valuable skill in leadership. Leaders build culture, inspiring engagement and collaboration, and they maximise the potential of the talented individuals around them.
I do think there is some difference between being a leader and being a manager, although admit that many educational leadership roles require skills in both. Leadership is about producing change and growth by envisioning and designing strategies to move forward. Management is more about enacting these strategies, ensuring order and consistency. Management is more tactical and hands on while leadership is strategic and visionary.
What is the purpose of Educational Leadership?
Educational organisations have obligations to society, the needs of their learners and the requirements of other key stakeholders. Leadership in Education is somewhat responsive to these needs and obligations and responsible for driving them. People in these positions need to develop strategies and point their schools in the right direction after analysing industry trends in relation to their context.
Where do we gain leadership knowledge and skills?
Leadership skills are something that can be improved over time through study, mentorship and experience. Leaders are individuals who develop interpersonal and communication skills, build relationships and become more self aware. Learning more about the "business of education", change management, educational policies and compliance are key in becoming an educational leader. Many also model their leadership styles after those they have experienced themselves. Mentoring can be highly valuable to beginning leaders. Transparency within the organisation also permits a view inside and an opportunity to learn.
The tricky part can sometimes be, knowing what to use for different purposes. Here is my quick guide to using the different communication tools on Class Dojo.
DO: Keep this feed very visual - parents will keep coming back for more! Try to avoid posting just text messages – that is more what the “all parents” broadcast feature is for in Messages.
DON’T: Post a stream of individual photos of children. Parents will get annoyed at 20+ notifications and having to scroll through a river of posts. They only really want to see their own child. Groups of children and collages of photographs are better. Individual shots can go on individual Student Stories.
DO: Teach students to post themselves! Don’t worry, you approve all posts before they go live. Use it to document evidence of learning for reporting descriptors, to collect formative assessment and as a student reflection tool.
DON’T: Use this as a way to send messages to parents. The students can see this themselves.
DO: Use it for quick text reminders instead of posting them to the Class Story.
DON’T: Use informal language. Although it feels a bit like a chat interface, keep correspondence professional at all time.
Read all about my thoughts on teaching in the 21st Century, my experiences with technology in the classroom, running a Maker Space, launching STEAM and Design Thinking with students, coding, robotics and much more!
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