Is being a leader in today's schools more like directing a marching band or coaching a soccer game? It is a soccer game world, according to Thomas Sergiovanni, who spoke to educators about “Enduring Principles of Leadership” at ASCD's Annual Conference in March.
The band leader can conduct an impressive performance if the band plays in unison, if the program does not change, and if the individuals perform with precision and heart, but the soccer coach faces a different reality. The soccer game has few rules and the team must be both flexible and coordinated because individuals make on-the-spot decisions that the coach cannot anticipate. The chaotic action of a soccer game, with its fluid movements and shared accountability, is what the school leader typically experiences, said Sergiovanni. The coach and school leader learn that they must build a community whose combined teamwork can substitute for the direction and structure that the leaders cannot provide.
The changing metaphors for leadership reflect how the situations in schools have changed in the past 25 years. In the 1980s, the Effective Schools research introduced the term instructional leadership, establishing that in effective schools, principals focused on student and teacher learning and on monitoring progress and achieving key instructional objectives. In the '90s, influenced by corporate models, the managerial focus on funding, facilities, mandates, and politics became vital. Realizing the importance of instructional leaders, superintendents from industry and the military sometimes hired a chief academic officer to serve as No. 2 in the district and to provide the support of an education insider. In schools, principals assisted teachers in becoming instructional leaders, defining the principal's role as the leader of leaders. Site-based management and distributed leadership became the often underachieved ideals.
Recent research concerning the traits of high-achieving schools confirms earlier findings on effective school leadership. In a review of the literature since 1985, Kathleen Cotton and Robert Blum find, for example, that principals in high-achieving schools create safe and orderly environments where students feel a sense of responsibility for their learning.1
Principals are highly visible, visiting classrooms frequently so that they know what is going on. The most successful principals engage their staff in decision making and collaboration. They write,
A key difference between highly effective and less effective principals is that the former are actively involved in the curricular and instructional life of their schools. (p. 33)
This issue of Educational Leadership explores how educators are moving “beyond instructional leadership,” becoming ever more sophisticated in their understanding of the term and incorporating such roles as culture builder (p. 6), lead learner (p. 12), and change agent (p. 16).
In addition to articles on leadership, Educational Leadership is pleased to publish the second of a series of research reports sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. Bruce J. Biddle and David C. Berliner (p. 48) explore a topic that is the uppermost challenge to leaders—unequal funding in schools. One way the disparities within and among states affect student outcomes is that poorer schools cannot afford the most highly qualified teachers necessary for success. The soccer game gets rougher when the playing field is so grossly unlevel.
Cotton, K., & Blum, R. E. (2001, March). Principals of high achieving schools: What the research says. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Unpublished manuscript.
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