ERIC Identifier: ED381893
Publication Date: 1995-05-00
Author: Lashway, Larry
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Can Instructional Leaders Be Facilitative Leaders? ERIC Digest,
When the concept of instructional leadership emerged in the early 1980s, the
rules changed for school administrators. Long judged by their ability to manage
school operations with businesslike efficiency, principals were now charged with
a specifically academic mission. Study after study seemed to show that
high-achieving schools had principals who boldly led the academic program, set
goals, examined curriculum, evaluated teachers, and assessed results.
Many administrators welcomed the new emphasis because it supported their
direct involvement in the heart of the school's mission--academics. But it also
crystallized a particular image of leadership, one emphasizing top-down
decision-making by a strong, technically adept leader.
Today, prevailing views of leadership suggest that the principal's role
should not be to direct others but to create a school culture in which decisions
are made collaboratively. Such "facilitative" leadership exercises power through
others, not over them (David Conley and Paul Goldman 1994).
Facilitative leadership seems to challenge the assumptions of technical
mastery and forceful decision-making associated with instructional leadership.
How real is this apparent split? Can instructional leaders be facilitative
CAN INSTRUCTIONAL LEADERSHIP AND COLLABORATION
James Weber (1989) identified five main functions of instructional
leadership: defining school mission, promoting a positive learning climate,
observing and giving feedback to teachers, managing curriculum and instruction,
and assessing the instructional program.
Whereas earlier discussions of instructional leadership had placed these
responsibilities squarely in the lap of the principal, Weber suggested that
leading a group of professionals might call for a more collaborative
approach--an idea that has continued to gain support.
This new direction, which emphasizes organizational culture rather than
technical tasks, creates a dilemma for school leaders. On the one hand,
collaborative approaches hold the promise of ultimately transforming teaching
and learning. On the other hand, principals face daily demands for quick action
on a host of issues: goals must be established, textbooks must be chosen,
programs must be evaluated. Seemingly, they must choose between long- and
Karen Prager (1993) argues that this is a false dichotomy, and that "the
optimal solution would support collegial, empowering processes aimed toward
specific instructional goals." She notes that while instructional excellence is
most likely to be achieved through faculty ownership, collegiality does not
automatically lead to improved student learning. School leaders must be able to
translate the ambiguities of collaboration into the clarity of tangible goals.
As yet, the literature has not provided comprehensive models that smoothly
integrate facilitative processes with instructional tasks. But recent work
indicates that the tasks of instructional leadership are being approached in
more collaborative ways.
HOW DO FACILITATIVE LEADERS DEFINE A SCHOOL'S
Early descriptions of instructional leadership emphasized the
importance of "setting high expectations," which normally meant establishing
academic goals and raising test scores. This idea has since evolved into a more
comprehensive concept, "establishing the school's mission," or "creating a
School mission has sometimes been viewed as the personal creation of the
principal, who is expected to articulate it, publicize it, and promote it, but
recent discussions have emphasized the collaborative dimensions of the process.
At a minimum, major stakeholders (teachers, parents, community, students)
should be invited to participate in formulating the mission (Joseph Rogus 1990).
Thomas Sergiovanni (1994) argues that schools should be "purposeful
communities," in which firmly held core values "permeate every aspect of the
school organization." Teachers in such schools don't need a committee to tell
them what the mission is.
Achieving such strong consensus requires a deft touch. Conley and Goldman
note that school leaders often have to let go of their personal visions to
achieve a larger consensus. At the same time, Nancy Buell (1992) argues that
principals must actively intervene with those whose values are "out of
alignment" with the common vision. This implies that formulating a vision is
more of a continuing dialogue than a one-time event.
HOW DO FACILITATIVE LEADERS PROMOTE A POSITIVE LEARNING CLIMATE?
Learning climate is a concept that is easy to recognize but
difficult to define. Some definitions emphasize "setting high expectations"
while others highlight "friendliness" or "organizational personality." All seem
to agree, however, that the principal is the key.
Discussions of climate have often focused on individual administrator
initiatives: minimizing outside intrusions into classroom time, roaming the
hallways to greet students personally, dispensing rewards for achievement. The
move toward collaboration reveals a much more complex process.
Sergiovanni, whose concept of "community" encompasses most of the dimensions
of climate, identifies relationships as the linchpin. In a true school
community, relationships are based on shared values rather than bureaucratic
roles, resulting in "individuals who care, listen, understand, respect others
and are honest, open and sensitive." He concedes that principals may need to
begin by using bureaucratic authority but must ultimately build relationships
based on professional and moral authority.
HOW DO FACILITATIVE LEADERS PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO
One of the most visible ways principals demonstrate instructional
leadership is by observing and providing feedback to teachers, but the path is
strewn with land mines. Teachers may be skeptical of unsolicited advice from
administrators, especially when it's a once-a-year event that reduces the
complex world of the classroom to a one-page checklist.
"Teachers' involvement is an irreducible requirement," concludes Milbrey
McLaughlin (1990); meaningful evaluation requires "a culture for evaluation"
that goes beyond appointing teachers to steering committees. Considerable
interaction is needed to create shared goals and understandings about evaluation
and its relation to school improvement.
This dialogue has generated a variety of successful approaches in which
teachers take the lead: mentoring, peer coaching, teaching clinics, portfolios.
Although their involvement is less apparent, principals play a crucial role by
supporting the new approaches, providing logistical support, and offering
encouragement to teachers who may have reservations about assuming unfamiliar
roles. Even after establishing the evaluation system, review and revision will
HOW DO FACILITATIVE LEADERS MANAGE AND ASSESS THE INSTRUCTIONAL PROGRAM?
Traditionally, curriculum leadership has been
viewed as a series of technical tasks establishing objectives, monitoring scope
and sequence, choosing textbooks, and selecting appropriate tests with the
principal exercising final responsibility for all decisions.
Recent work has documented the ability of teachers to make major decisions
about content and methods, not only individually in their own classrooms, but
collectively on a schoolwide basis. However, this kind of curriculum-making,
which requires extensive dialogue, must be grounded in teacher autonomy that is
endorsed and supported by school leaders (Michele Monson and Robert Monson
The same applies to assessment. Many schools have been exploring alternative
forms of evaluation (such as authentic assessment and learning exhibits) that
require professional judgment. Teachers who actively participate in formulating
assessments are more likely to understand them and to take a more thoughtful
approach to their own instructional methods. But this happens only when teachers
are provided the time and support to work through the issues together (Kate
Clearly, the evolution of facilitative approaches has not eliminated the
underlying functions of instructional leadership, nor the need for expert,
dynamic practitioners. But today's principals are being challenged to carry out
those functions in ways that are less direct and more collaborative. The goal is
not to do it, but to see that it happens.
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