Acts of a Leader

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Leadership is one of those terms that everyone has a definition for. While sitting in one of my doctoral classes years ago, I couldn't help but throw my hands up at the question, "How do you define leadership?" After everyone listed the characteristics that define a leader, the professor pointed out, "But those are the characteristic of being a leader. What IS leadership?"

The discussion went downhill from there.

I do not pretend to offer a clear, concise definition of leadership. However one defines it, the acts a leader takes impact the culture of an organization. A week or so ago, I was struck by this piece of research shared via The Connected Principals Blog. I meant to write about it sooner, but in the rush of doing this or getting ready for that, I lost track. 

Yet, the point suggested in Research: The Educational BS Repellant has stayed with me whenever I pondered leadership...which is every day as I reflect on my own leadership style and the acts that I choose to take, or not. I struggle with the idea that every act I take while in a position of leadership position sends a message, whether I intend to or not. It is for that reason that one can't engage in spur of the moment leadership acts unless they are part of a coherent, consistent plan. The acts of a leader must flow from the daily habits s/he has built over time. 

When considering the blog entry linked above, I found this part to be telling:
What the research says:  This ranked 74th out of 138 factors, and came from nearly 500 studies spanning over 1.1 million students.  A quote from the book: “Instructional leadership refers to those principals who have their major focus on creating a learning environment free from disruption, a system of clear teaching objectives, and high teacher expectations for teachers and students.  Transformational leadership refers to those principals who engage with their teaching staff new in ways that inspire them to new levels of energy, commitment, and moral purpose to collaboratively overcome challenges and reach ambitious goals…the evidence supports the former (instructional) over the latter (transformational).” (Hattie, 2009).
This research sends a powerful message to leaders who engage in "transformational" leadership. . .and reminds us that human beings prefer environments that are free from disruption, have clearly articulated goals and objectives, and believe that we can all do our best. It makes me wonder if there is an appropriate mix of transformational and instructional know, maybe 90% instructional, 20% transformational. Alter the mix, you get an explosion.

In an unrelated conversation over at Dangerously Irrelevant, I found myself jumping into the comments sharing my reflections. I'm going to include excerpts from the comment thread here just because I like to do so. As I re-read those comments I made in the wee hours of the morning or in the evening, I have to ask myself, What kind of leader are those words describing? What kind of person am I to have these thoughts and consider them worth sharing? And, how does that person's leadership style, which flows from myriad experiences that have shaped me, reflect the research and what we know defines leaders?

Scott, Vicki, thanks for the great conversation! The conversation affirms my awareness of the “just leave and go to where your light can shine” vs “bloom where you are planted.” The choice is different for every situation, hence the challenge. What may work for one may not work for others.
I am increasingly focused on learning to use new technologies to help people accomplish their vision…my vision is exactly that, a way of helping others embrace technology that meets their needs.
I’ve found that while collaboration works well, as a group of people, we sometimes crave strong leaders who empower us, who enable us, who “creation conditions that promote authorship” (Bolman and Deal). In that context, I work to be a leader for those whom I am responsible and given authority for. We must work with limited resources…not all solutions can be pursued.
What makes the Read/Write web tools so wonderful is that we can create, collaborate and share ideas in almost endless ways without consuming resources. Does the team want to facilitate online learning opportunities for K-12 and adult learners? Then, we can do that!
Thanks for letting me ramble on…just sharing a few thoughts kicked up by the blog post, which I started reflecting on when I read Vicki’s original entry.
Warm regards,
Miguel Guhlin
Around the

Joel Verduin responds with this comment to my rambling above:

Miguel – you had mentioned, “We must work with limited resources…not all solutions can be pursued.”
Does this mean that when you have to say, “No” due to this restriction, that you are not being a leader?
Is it possible that this played out in this particular instance (it is very hard to tell because there is no “other side” to the story here and very few details).
We have broadly painted this person’s school leadership as poor and I am not even sure I understand the context around the comment being condemned.

So, I elaborate a bit more:

Joel – Not at all. A failure in leadership is often a failure in communication, a decision to hold information secret that one is under no obligation to withhold for official confidentiality.
As an administrator, I am in situations where funding is limited. In those situations, I encourage team members to share what we each see as the best way to invest those funds for maximum or strategic impact (depending on funding, technology plan goals, etc.) and then proceed from there.
Since funding is limited, we can usually reach consensus, but as the team member responsible for making the final decision, I do not hesitate in making the call and saying, “No.” By the time the “Yes” or “No” is offered, all team members know why and how it occurred. Who can say what projects sound good but then after research turn out to be ill-advised? A leader’s strength flows from his/her team. That’s not to say some decisions shouldn’t be made in spite of the team’s objections…some days, we must go down a road even when it’s going to be rocky.
If there are decisions that need to be made that are not appropriate for the team to decide (these are less frequent than you might imagine), then I do make them and try to be as transparent as possible as to why. Some decisions aren’t popular and I’d rather get to the heart of why before making the call…after all, no one is perfect…especially the “leader.”
Speaking specifically to THIS particular instance, I can’t judge whether the administrator acted in an appropriate leadership role or not. Obviously in the context of THIS situation, being a leader meant making a decision, not divulging the thinking that went into the decision. That is one way to lead and is appropriate in certain cultures…but none that I wish to be a part of because it is so exclusionary. Such an approach requires great trust in the leadership, don’t you agree?
Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to share my reflections on leadership. I offer them as scribed in sand, rather than chiseled on concrete…I am always learning.
Miguel Guhlin

Then, Jim Ellis jumps into the conversation:

What evidence would you as a school prepare to show a school board that your teacher’s methods are working?
Would you encourage your teachers to collect data on their performance?
Well put comments,

And my response to his question to a topic, which I can't help but notice, he's written about at his blog, Analog's Revolt, since:

As a classroom teacher, experience taught me that the best stories involving the use of technology in a classroom had to do with amplifying student voices. Who can criticize a child making a multimedia presentation about with emotional affect about academic content?
For example, in my situation, a first grade teacher worked with her students to create a digital story where every student contributed a sentence they had written, then was recorded reading it. The presentation was shared with the school board as an example of how precious funds were spent on technology.
As a principal–a role which I chose not to serve as in schools–I would find student projects compelling and worthy of sharing. I would also ask teachers to show the connection between student-created, possibly student-generated, projects and whatever ruled supreme–district curriculum standards, state/national standards, upcoming test questions. This could be as simple as a presentation or document with a table aligning the components.
I would also encourage campus principals to invite parents in to see student work and share these documents with everyone possible. Post this information on the campus blog, send it in to local publications, post video/audio interviews with students as they create a product or work on a project to make the process more transparent.
The goal is to make clear and transparent the work that is going on in the school, showing how all that happens is an important part of THE PLAN to impact student achievement.
And to directly respond to your question about teachers collecting data on their performance, yes, creating a portfolio of student projects, the thinking that went into them–using documents you created already as I described above–would be useful.
As was pointed out in Calkins and Pessah’s book (check this link for more info – ), the following is true, not just for the teacher but also the principal:
“What teachers are expected to know how to do is too complex these days for teachers to close their classroom doors and teach in isolation.
If one teacher has special knowledge in teaching…that teacher’s teaching needs to be transparent enough and public enough that other teachers working at the same grade level can borrow her expertise.”

The teaching, learning and leading while transparently sharing everything makes performance all the more measurable.

Aside: My thanks to Dr. Scott McLeod for providing the forum for the discussion and others for sharing their wisdom in the comments.
In considering my remarks, I see how there could be pushback on the ideas. But I will save my self-dialogue for another blog entry.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Unknown said…
Defining leadership is tough. My charge to leaders is, "Be leaderful."

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