The Successful School Leader

A surgeon, soldier, accountant, philosopher, and architect are applying for the job of principal at ABC School. Who gets hired? According to Morrison in Of The Five Types Of School Leader, Only One Truly Succeeds , Philosophers, or those who encourage teachers to collaborate and observe one another in an effort to improve their teaching practice, are most often hired. Additionally, these school leaders are the ones most likely to receive public recognition for their work. However, the short and long term effect these leaders leave on a school are limited with no indication of improved performance in regards to assessments.

On the other hand architects, or those who are in it for the long haul when improving a school, are the least likely to be publicly honored. It is these leaders who demonstrate a clear impact on long term improvement within a school community. In fact, the impact these leaders have on a school’s performance often continues beyond their employment at a school.

This article struck me for several reasons. Primarily, if there is research that supports the notion that architects are the ones bringing about the most change why are there practices in place that do not foster this type of leadership? For example, why are different leader types (primarily philosophers) that do not promote the long term growth among the most frequently hired? Or why are there practices in place like the Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program that value surgeon leaders and their short term gains? When we consider the purpose of education and doing what is in the best interest of our students, shouldn’t we be awarding positions and public recognition to those who are proven most effective over the long term?

The behaviors indicative of an architect leader tie directly into Leithwood’s (2007) practices that demonstrate transformational school leadership, including clearly establishing a school’s mission, managing instructional programs within the school, and developing a learning environment that is conducive to learning. While there are many external pressures such as test scores, finances, and community expectations a school administrator faces, it is essential that the best interest of students is kept at the forefront of our work. As leaders we must resist the temptation to be enticed by the awards often given to philosopher leaders or the short term gains experienced by the surgeons. If only our legislative and societal expectations could fall in line with this idea.

In 603 (Leading Supervision & Instruction), we’ve talked about the impact leaders can have on improving instruction and the benefits of peer observations. However, based on research from this article, we must realize that this is only a small piece of a successful school leader. Yes, the philosophers who practice these ideas are often publically recognized; however, such practices are only a small piece (managing instructional programs) of a truly effective school leader’s role.

On a final note, if you’re curious about who these “architects” typically are, it’s often individuals with history or economic backgrounds. I’m curious as to what it is about these people and/or their educational background that leads them to engage in a transformational leadership style.

Leithwood, K. (2007). Transformation School Leadership in a Transactional Policy World. In The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership. (2nd ed.) (pp. 183-196). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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