There are two main objectives in any learning environment; to complete learning tasks and to maintain positive and effective relationships among group members. Leadership is not only the influence in which learners need to be guided to fulfill these two objectives, but it plays an important part in classroom life. A leader, particularly in the classroom, is there to instill a sense of trust as well as communicate efficiently and effectively with those who look for that guidance - particularly young students.
Leading a class is a very important job. It is one that must be conducted properly in order for the students to be influenced and motivated in the classroom. As a leader, you are there to guide, help, support, encourage and even appropriately discipline if necessary.
Learning environments vary from pre-school right up to university, and beyond. In early years learning, a teacher may play all leadership within the classroom, taking the reins by leading and guiding the class through lessons. A lecturer or professor of a university may pass the roles of leadership over to a member of the class, allowing them to have more control over their learning experience.
Leadership, especially in education, is about knowing your audience. Do your students want to be guided and directed by you, or would they prefer to have more control and lead their own learning independently or within a small group in the classroom? The historical paradigm, in which instruction (some may argue leadership) is solely the job of the teacher, is an obstacle to children reaching academic goals.
If the educational system is to continue to deliver high standards to all students, leaders in education must endeavor to provide conditions for high-quality instruction within the classroom. Like successful individuals in other walks of life; company executives, sports coaches, and some politicians, effective school leaders have always usually been viewed as stellar. This is not because of their expertise in instructional practice, but because of their individual character, traits and actions.
Professor Richard Elmore talked about structural leadership in his book, ‘School Reform from the Inside Out: Policy, Practice, and Performance (Harvard Education Press, 2004)’. In it, he proposes five foundational principles for the success of structured leadership in education.
1. All leaders, regardless of role, should be working at the improvement of instructional practice and performance, rather than working to shield their institutions from outside interference.
2. All educators should take part in continuous learning, and be open to having their ideas and practices subjected to the scrutiny of their colleagues.
3. Leaders must be able to model the behaviors, the learning, and the instructional knowledge they seek from their teachers.
4. The roles and activities of leadership should flow from the differences in expertise among the individuals involved, not from the formal dictates of the institution.
5. Policymakers should discover and take into account the circumstances that make doing the work possible and provide the resources necessary for improvement.
Elmore’s five procedural principals are widely used by a number of educational professionals, both in and out of the classroom.
American Politician and activist, Sargent Shriver, possessed some unrivaled leadership skills in the American public service. He strongly believed and communicated that all leaders, whether leading a large or small group, must follow these seven steps for successful leadership.
1) A sense of purpose: The values of an organization must be clear, members of the organization should know them, and they should exemplify and uphold them in their own actions.
2) Justice: Everyone in an organization should be held to common standards, with rules and procedures that are clear, firm, fair, and consistent.
3) Temperance: A leader must strive to maintain a proper balance of emotions; Shriver did not mean that leaders should be dispassionate. Quite the contrary- but there is time for passionate advocacy and times for quiet reflection and reconsideration. Balance is the key.
4) Respect: The dignity of each individual is the concern of any leader, and this is preserved by treating all members of the organization with respect and ensuring they treat one another similarly, regardless of differences.
5) Empowerment: Leaders are just that- leaders. Most of what happens in organizations is carried out by individuals other than those in formal leadership positions. Therefore, the more skilled they are, the more they feel confident in their abilities and competent to make decisions, raise questions, see new possibilities, and disagree respectfully with others at all levels of the organizational hierarchy, the stronger and more successful the organization will be.
6) Courage: Leaders are paid to set direction, not wait for direction to emerge. They have to be willing to follow their convictions and bring their organization to new places. In education, this is most sorely needed in response to the test-based regimen that has taken over our schools at the expense of true education and social-emotional and character development.
7) Deep Commitment: Leaders must not be polishing their resumes, but rather should have deep commitment to their organizations, the advancement of the organizations' missions, and the wellbeing of everyone in them. It is this deep commitment that makes leadership in schools so challenging because it requires a commitment to every employee, student, and parent.
While these points aren’t directed at those working specifically in teaching, they can easily be applied to the role of a leader in education. Elmore then goes on to say, “The performance of a leader must be judged by his or her skills and the character of his or her performance in the many and complex roles that leadership demands. Using the seven cornerstones of leading with character, derived from the life and work of Sargent Shriver, educators and those concerned with education have a tool for both evaluating and improving leadership competencies along both moral and performance dimensions.”
Leaders help to shape culture and identities within education. School leaders from all levels are key when it comes to shaping school culture. While principals communicate core values in their everyday role, teachers reinforce values in their actions and words inside the classroom. Parents encourage and strengthen the confidence of their child, as well as participate in authority, and celebrate success, which means that in the strongest of schools, leadership comes from many sources.
Over time, a good and effective leader will have influenced the norms, values, beliefs and traditions of their students and colleagues. The current structure of schools is designed not to be continuously developed. However, over time, schools are becoming a place where both young individuals and adults can learn, not only about what’s on the curriculum but how to lead.