The Impact of Leadership: Leadership for Students
John Dewey argued that the curriculum should be relevant to students’ lives. He saw that students “learned by doing.” As a 14-year Career and Technical Education instructor, I have implemented every teaching strategy presented to me but, I have always circled back to these simple words, “Learning by doing.” True to these words, I have patiently waited to find a leader in education with a leadership style that is inclusive in providing individuals with opportunities to acquire a skill by trying to do it rather than theoretical situations that rarely occur in the actual application. I am still searching for this individual.
It was reported that Dewey was concerned with living as a “divided self.” This is where leaders encounter a divided self and are consumed with a narrow-minded sense of purpose (Hartman, 2014). In one division, leaders are more concerned with the purpose of their business, rather than the “capacity of business to produce socially useful goods and services.” This can lead to a lack of contribution to the common good. All too often, leaders find it easier to measure success by numerical data, instead of a sometimes more complicated means of measurement like contribution to society, or performance growth.
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This essay on leadership philosophy will provide an overview of a personal understanding and philosophy of the role of leadership in education. It will address how the philosophy of leadership affects my personal decisions for a future leadership position. An investigation of leadership theories and approaches that match my personal understanding of the role of a leader. Finally, a reflection of what I hope to achieve from observations of current leaders, and also, what leadership styles to avoid that I do not support.
Personal Leadership Philosophy Evolution
Ever since my first leadership position as a manager of a retail company in high school, I believed that if I surrounded myself with a strong team, the team could accomplish any task. The evidence of success in this business setting was customer satisfaction and of course, the gross receipts, or sales, for each quarter. I liked having a strong support team, as a leader. I came to the table with ideas that usually required a team to complete. It was important for me to know that I could rely on others when moderate to difficult decisions needed to be made. In the end, I always took the advice or suggestions and make my own final decision. Later in life, I realized that I was a manager rather than a true leader. I was directing lower skilled employees to complete tasks that I knew they could handle. Most of the employees that I hired were college students trying to make money instead of individuals who wanted to make a difference in a retail environment.
Reflecting on this, I have worked extremely hard as a leader in education to be more inclusive of others’ opinions. I have listened to advice from current and past leaders but unlike retail, our evidence is not always clear, as we do not always have a perfect separation of manager and employee. I have not met a leader that has had the same advice as another as there is a lack of proof or evidence that one style works better than the next. Allio (2012) wrote that “leading academic don’t even agree on what constitutes leadership or which leadership practices can be successfully emulated.” There is not a scientific method on leadership or a perfect recipe to make the perfect leader for every situation. In education, we need to take into consideration the multiple viewpoints from highly educated individuals of which choices are often driven by emotions rather than an actual measurable outcome. An argument could be made, that not everyone wants the same type of leader. Additionally, a variety of leadership styles are needed for the differenced in situations and
Daft mentioned that “most leadership experts agree that a primary characteristic of effective leaders is that they know who they are and what they stand for” (Daft, 2018, p. 100). I have worked with leaders that have made decisions based on their personal philosophy even when it was not the best decision for all involved. I appreciated that these leaders made a decision and committed to their decisions. I struggle to let go of control with difficult decisions, especially when I can predict the outcome. Letting go of this control can be difficult for me, as I know who I am and what I stand for, and I am not always able or willing to change my decisions when needed.
I am still practicing acts of leadership to truly find my philosophy of leadership. I have leadership qualities that I am unaware of until I am told about it. Robert Allio (2016) states it best when he said: “organizations need to stop investing in spurious exercised that purport to teach leadership and instead find ways to enrich and improve their leadership learning practices.” I have worked diligently to use the vision of an organization and decide where we must go and how to get there. Leaders need to learn about their stakeholder’s viewpoints and a variety of needs to determine how to address these needs in a meaningful way.
As I learn more about leadership styles in schools, I have realized that school leadership is one of the most important facets of the educational system. In fact, school leadership ranks second only to teaching as a school-related factor impacting student learning (Leithwood, Seashore, Anderson & Wahlstrom, 2010). I see the need for a cohesive leadership unit that is able to effectively create teams that can handle the changes and challenges of the educational environment
Mission and Vision
I believe that a school district should have a shared vision to ensure all stakeholders understand the core values of the school system. The mission of Osseo Area Schools is to inspire and prepare all students with the confidence, courage, and competence to achieve their dreams; contribute to community, and engage in a lifetime of learning. This statement is posted all over the school district. A highlight of the mission statement is “lifetime of learning.” This powerful statement supports that there is no end to learning, even after students leave our district. All students and staff recite this mission statement throughout the year. There are classroom discussions about what it means to be confident, have courage, and what competence really means. All members of the school are able to reflect on their own personal experience throughout the day when viewing our district mission. My personal mission statement parallels this statement in which I believe that all stakeholders need to understand the core values of the school system. Transparency is needed from all stakeholders in order for all involved to understand the objectives of the school system and implement practices in which key results are achieved at high levels.
Setting goals are extremely important in education. John Doerr (2018), in Measure What Matters, offers information about quality goal setting, not just setting goals. Doerr discusses the use of OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results. Using OKRs turns “good ideas into superior execution and workplace satisfaction.” Doerr introduced four OKR Superpowers: focus, align, track, and stretch. (Doerr, 2018, P. 16).
As a leader in education, I will need to make hard choices that do not cause confusion, giving the focus needed to be successful. In addition, bringing meaning to our work within the organization’s goals with top-down transparent alignment, starting with district leadership. Also, keeping everyone on track with measurable assessments and objective evaluations geared by “key result triggers action to get back on track or to revise or replace if it is warranted” (Doerr, 2018, p. 17). Furthermore, OKRs are designed to “Stretch for Amazing”, to motivate individuals to do more than they thought possible, giving freedom to fail or work with their strengths. Doerr said the “book offers a blueprint for dealing with leadership crisis in America.” He is hoping for a movement to bring OKRs to schools, to have greater success with goal-setting.
Current Leadership Style
With my prior experiences, my behavior approach tends to be more autocratic than democratic (Daft, 2018. p.43-46). Harry Truman stated, “leadership is the ability to get men (people) to do what they don’t want to do and like it.” It has always been a goal for me to allow people to make a final decision that I wanted without actually directing them to come to this final decision. Working with people in retail sales, home construction, and education, I have been able to create an environment where peoples higher level needs are met. Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory (Daft, 2018, p. 233), by creating an environment that is free of judgment where all individuals belong, as a leader, I am able to create a workplace where coworkers, supervisors, and clients work with each other rather than in competition. The effect of this team is greater than the sum of the individual efforts.
Social perceptions are also another way that I influence behavior. Research has shown that social knowledge is automatically activated without people even knowing that it is happening (Ferguson, Bargh, 2004). Ferguson and Barh explained that this activated information “shapes and guides people’s impressions, judgments, feelings, and intentions.” With an autocratic approach to leadership, I use social knowledge to shape my actions, intended to ensure I receive the results that I believe are necessary to achieve an objective.
Leadership in an Alternative Learning Environment
Currently, I am developing leadership skills in alternative learning environments, in order to create a pathway where students who need a viable educational option compared to the customary United States educational setting. Students would be provided an opportunity to learn in a different learning environment. This would not be the typical Alternative Learning Center (ALC) as outlined by the state of Minnesota’s Department of Education where “students must be at-risk as defined by statute,” or “Students served are off-track for graduation and are working towards completing their graduation requirements” (MN Department of Education, 2018). Instead, this would be a true career pathway program for students, allowing success in a real-life and hands-on educational approach, within a less traditional setting. Students will accomplish personal and meaningful goals while still addressing the requirement of our public school system. A nontraditional leadership approach will be needed to ensure success with such a unique program.
Becoming a leader in an alternative program, there will need to be a strong connection and buy-in with the communities local trade schools, businesses, parents, etc. There must be support from the educational system to allow students to take an alternative pathway rather than the more common instructional setting. John Dewey argued that the curriculum should be relevant to students’ lives. He saw that students “learned by doing.” I am hopeful that the impact created for students in an alternative program will create a stronger, more diverse community.
Future Leadership Goals
As an educational leadership student, I continue to learn from others as well as practicing the acts of leadership every day by contributing to my school community. I seel the roles of leaders when they create an environment where all professionals work on a team helping students, creating a rigorous curriculum, and develop as professionals. As I see successful leaders work, I am sculpting my future leadership goals by empowering staff members to understand the value in their own personal growth through professional development. This is accomplished by leading team discussions and providing professional development opportunities. Jack Berckemeyer (2013) stated that “Team leaders are really leaders, they are not evaluators.”
Leadership traits are dynamic and ever-changing. I will continue to develop personal traits of empathy and patience not only with others but with myself as I work towards more democratic leadership behaviors. Mentors are everywhere to provide feedback, and I will take opportunities to ask questions when needed in an effort to work towards developing an environment where everyone is able to take responsibility, listen to each other, acknowledge failures, and be truthful. I know if the system can create this environment, we will be able to establish a baseline of excellence in which all stakeholders will perform at high levels.