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April 1, 2004
Vol. 61
No. 7

EL Study Guide / Leading in Tough Times

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The April 2004 issue of Educational Leadership on “Leading in Tough Times” stimulates thinking about leadership practices and presents multiple perspectives on what it means to be a school leader today.

The Perils of Leading

Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky (“When Leadership Spells Danger,” p. 33) point out that true leadership is dangerous because it involves challenging people to accept new realities. The biggest challenges are adaptive challenges—those that require profound change. J. Timothy Waters, Robert J. Marzano, and Brian McNulty refer to challenges of this magnitude as second-order changes (“Leadership That Sparks Learning,” p. 48). To meet such challenges, note Heifetz and Linsky, “we must change people's values, beliefs, habits, ways of working, or ways of life” (p. 35).
What is the number-one adaptive challenge that your school or district currently faces? Heifetz and Linsky suggest that education leaders keep personal relationships central in their change efforts when dealing with such challenges, and they propose five strategies that can mobilize support. How might you implement these strategies in terms of your particular challenge?
Richard H. Ackerman and Pat Maslin-Ostrowski (“The Wounded Leader,” p. 28) tackle the inevitability of leadership wounding. As an education leader, have you lived through a wounding experience? In retrospect, were you able to learn and grow from it? What supports or tools—such as meeting with a clearness committee (p. 31) or engaging in positive self-talk (“Leading From the Eye of the Storm,” p. 60)—have helped you ease the burden and vulnerability of leadership? What supports or tools would greatly assist leaders in such times of crisis? Are they readily available in your school or district? If not, how might you remedy this situation?

Sustainable Leadership

“The prime responsibility of all education leaders,” notes Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink (“The Seven Principles of Sustainable Leadership,” p. 8),is to put in place learning that engages students intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Sustainable leadership goes beyond temporary gains in achievement scores to create lasting, meaningful improvements in learning.
Discuss your school's or district's progress in supporting sustainable leadership in terms of Hargreave's and Fink's seven principles: What initiatives currently in place in your school or district satisfy the requirements of some or all of the principles? What policies or programs are currently lacking? How can you ensure that your school or district is making headway in all seven areas?
According to the authors, “Standardization is the enemy of sustainability.” In this era of test-based accountability, what has been your greatest challenge in terms of implementing policies and programs in support of sustainable leadership? What has been your greatest success?
Michael Fullan, Al Bertani, and Joanne Quinn (“New Lessons for Districtwide Reform,” p. 42) tackle sustainable leadership for change at the district level. “How,” they ask, “can school districts implement systemic reforms that will last?” Such reforms generally are not due to “the individual phenomenon—the heroic teacher, principal, or superintendent who succeeds for brief periods against all odds” but depend, rather, on the education system in place.
The authors use the Chicago public school system as an example of a district mobilized for reform. Does your school district have a comparably effective structure in place for managing districtwide improvement? What programs in your district—such as weekly meetings, study groups, focused institutes, extended academies, or walkthrough site visits—target capacity-building within schools? What lateral capacity-building initiatives—such as pairing above-average schools with below-average schools to improve student achievement—are currently in place?

Leading Urban Schools

  • “Too often the call for leadership is a less-than-subtle call to educators to do more with less.” (Cuban)
  • “We were up against an attitude—an assumption—that the geographic location of a school could determine whether great education could happen there.” (Monroe)
Monroe points out the importance—not just in urban schools but in schools everywhere—of clearly stated objectives in the classroom. Students should leave the classroom with the ability to articulate exactly what they learned that day. “Students can't just say, ‘I learned math.’ Rather, they must know that ‘Today I learned to add mixed fractions.’” Does the leadership in your school aggressively support such practices? Could you step into most classrooms in your school and receive a clear assessment from students of what they are learning?

Models of Leadership

Models of leadership in schools generally gravitate toward one of two poles: either a school focuses all responsibilities on the principal or the school environment promotes shared leadership. (Read Bradley Portin's “The Roles That Principals Play,” p. 14.) Portin identifies seven functions of leadership that all principals must oversee regardless of their particular environments. In your school, who is responsible for providing leadership in each of these seven areas? How does the school principal “keep a finger on the pulse” of those areas for which he or she is not directly responsible?
For more on the topic of shared leadership, see Janice Patterson's and Jerry Patterson's article, “Sharing the Lead” (p. 74), which discusses the influence that teacher leaders can wield, and “The Power of Student Voice” (p. 79), in which authors Stephen McKibben and Kenneth Hood discuss how students can actively participate in a school's democratic learning community. In your school or district, is the teacher culture relatively more stable over time than shorter-term principals? If so, what opportunities are available for teachers to shape the school culture? Do students have meaningful leadership responsibilities as well, such as opportunities to serve as researchers, mentors, or advisors?

Amy Azzam has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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