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Educational Leadership & Its Involvement in Strategy Management

Posted May 23, 2012 2:37 PM by Ted Jackson

The following is a guest blog by Hanna Lindstrom

Administrative management in opposition to leadership management has been the buzz of the corporate world for the last decade. As American schools struggle to produce student outcomes on par with international standards, school systems are resorting the management theories of the private sector in the attempt to better themselves, and the opposition between these two managerial styles is now becoming a topic in many different fields of study. Both business schools and educational leadership courses have begun debating how best to hone management skills in order to produce far more with very little.

Middle and senior managers are unavoidable in the structure of school administration. Multiple departments, such as math, language, sciences, as well as the seniority of staff members mandate that a system of hierarchy be in place. The curriculum is influenced by voter-citizens and involved parents, as well as national standards. Traditional management models are necessary for enforcing the status quo and providing execution on a predetermined plan. But this leaves schools vulnerable to "managerialism," a system in which rules and regulations become inflexible, hierarchies are cherished. Creative problem solving in these systems is often looked at with suspicion.

Enter leadership management style, where the boss leads with creative vision. The Wall Street Journal published an excellent overview of the differences in managerial style. Under this leadership style, teachers and mid-level managers are challenged to engage in critical decision making, to transform and to own a portion of the process of administration. They are encouraged to act with abstract goals in mind, as opposed to reacting to micro-managerial breaches of regulation.

Tony Bush emphasizesTony Bush emphasizes the need for school administrators to take on both roles of manager-enforcer and leader-inspirer simultaneously. In the course of the day-to-day affairs of the administration, principals may not be able to distinguish these roles from one another, and Bush emphasizes the need for full understanding of the context of economies of labor and resources. For example, an underperforming school with little in the way of stability or structure requires a heavier hand in management, rather than a visionary approach.

Distributive leadership is a tool for flattening decision-making hierarchies and assigning administrative challenges to task forces or teams. It allows the senior school managers to relinquish administration to the people who keep themselves apprised of the needs of the students. Outcomes improve with flexibility and responsiveness.

And yet distributive leadership is not a panacea, according to educators Alma Harris and James Spillane. It is more a way of offering a critical reexamination of our current administrative model in schools. It points to the revaluation of leadership as a practice rather than as the role of heroic individuals with transformational vision. Implicit is the knowledge that engaged followers are critical to the success of any leader, which contradicts the more traditional view of underlings as automatons.

All of these moves toward restructuring management have little evidence base to build on. More study is needed when introducing a flat or lean structure to schools. Bush highlights the need for concrete, underpinning values in order that these new styles of administration be safeguarded from constant manipulation by external stakeholders, such as voters, politicians and parents. Ultimately, educational staff are most aware of how to make improvements to the education of their students. This administrative approach to the current problems with secondary school education does not have a definitive thesis for what individual schools should do to change, but its perspective does have the potential to create leaders in business, thought and public policy.