24 October 2016

Elements of Leadership in Education


It's no secret that educational institutions often struggle with innovation. Often innovation is outsourced to consultants from outside the institution, and sometimes, even from outside the country. In many instances, collaboration and models of success are an inspiration for the receivers. Other times, teachers are left in a quagmire of demands, high, stressful expectations and more disappointment regarding educational change. Cultural differences are often to blame for these less successful experiences of transplanting educational practices.

Culture, though, is a fuzzy word at times. Too often I have seen how, with the excuse of local cultural norms, educational innovation cannot be implemented.

In many cases, it is not simply a case of the local culture but yes, a clear case of leadership - or, rather, in other words the  lack of  leadership of/for change.  There are river of books written on leadership and educational leadership - one merely has to look at what is available on Amazon. Although I do not regard myself in any way as an "expert" on transformational leadership, there is one thing I do know - and that is that effective leadership in education is not an individual endeavour but one that is collective. Educational leadership can not achieve change if it is pursued by an individual only; effective leadership in implementing change needs to have the consensus and support of a collective team.

Today I had the privilege of visiting Aki Puustinen's school in Muurame, Finland, where he is the headmaster of Muurame Senior High School. Although the purpose of my visit was not connected  to observations of leadership, I could not help but notice Aki's energy and commitment to his staff, students and professional network around the world. The 3 key words that Guy Kawasaki points out (below) - empathy, honesty, humility - are visible in Aki Puustinen's daily leadership practices.

Rather than isolating himself in his office, Aki actively participates in staff rituals  - every day one teacher has the responsibility of arriving earlier and preparing coffee for all the staff, for example. Today happened to be his turn and we duly arrived at the school earlier to ensure that coffee for all the staff would be ready for when they arrived.

As the school's headmaster and an agent of educational change, Aki does not act alone either, but with the support of his teaching staff.

In the staff room, there are sheets where individual teachers can write their names and mini projects which they are carrying out with their students. They share this information in a common area for teachers, in a way that others may see what is being done in one subject area, for example, and then, if they wish,  try to adopt/adapt the same or similar approach to their subject. It is an informal way of sharing approaches, commenting on what went well or not so well; it is an approach to informal learning among teachers in their immediate teaching context. Honesty (if a project did not go as successfully as initially planned) is not penalised - nor is introducing change. Teachers are empowered to contribute, share and comment. Teachers are openly encouraged and supported in their professional learning. Curiosity is fostered, sharing is valued.

The school has its own mascot - with a smile!

Placed strategically, throughout the school, Keke unites both teachers and students, as well as Aki's professional network of educational innovators and practitioners. Leadership in Aki's practices, includes the role of sustainability, and Keke means sustainable development in Finish (kestava kehitys).

Colleagues and educators are welcomed here by the staff and students; both teachers and students do not hesitate in pointing out the positive features of education in Finland,  but  they equally open to learning from others, to collaborate and to pursue projects of sustainable development which benefit everyone.

These traits of humility, honesty and empathy are not an isolated feature of one individual. They are values which are shared, fostered and encouraged among all, making Aki's leadership approach a collective success. Being an active leader, and not a boss who hides behind closed doors sending out emails with orders and deadlines, demands that one participates with equality in the educational setting. This equal participation with staff and colleagues contributes to a culture of cooperation, trust and professional satisfaction among all.

To lead, one needs followers.

To be a leader, one needs to connect with others.

To be a successful leader in education, one needs to engage others in one's vision of change, foster a collective culture of trust, respect and professional support among those a leader works for and with.

Transformation in education may happen slowly.

The need for change does not slow down because of that.

More educational leaders like Aki Puustinen are needed around the world, making educational change a reality and not merely a byword to justify an administrative position.

How do you perceive effective educational leadership?

Further Suggestions:

The Flight of Leadership in Education

Change by Leading

Digital Delights - Digital Tribes - Leadership 

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