Trends in School Leadership. ERIC Digest.
by Lashway, Larry
Within the last five years, policy-makers and practitioners have confronted
the challenge of replacing many retiring educational leaders. Districts
have fewer qualified applicants to fill positions requiring an increasingly
sophisticated set of skills to deal with everything from school safety
to standards-driven accountability.
The recent passage of the No Child Left Behind Act has turned up the
heat even more by putting the full weight of federal policy behind the
accountability movement, mandating that schools bring all children-including
racial minorities, English-language learners, and students with disabilities-to
an adequate level of progress.
In response, policymakers, researchers, and school leaders themselves
have scrutinized the job, asking what skills are most essential and formulating
recommendations for reshaping the profession. While consensus remains elusive,
several persistent themes have emerged.
WHAT STANDARDS GUIDE THE WORK OF SCHOOL LEADERS?
With the nationwide emphasis on standards-based accountability, it was
inevitable that reformers would propose standards for educators themselves.
In recent years, consensus has been building around the standards of the
Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium (ISLLC), which have guided
certification reform in many states (1996). In addition, the National Council
for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) recently aligned its accreditation
standards for leadership-training programs with ISLLC (National Policy
Board for Educational Administration 2002).
The ISLLC standards are premised on the centrality of student learning
as the measure of educational success. Each standard begins with the phrase,
"An administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of
all students by..." The expectations themselves focus on nurturing a vision,
sustaining a growth-oriented school culture, managing the organization
effectively, collaborating with families and community, acting with integrity,
and participating in the larger social and cultural context.
Attention is also turning to advanced certification to recognize expert
leadership. Using the model provided by the National Board of Professional
Teaching Standards (NBPTS), a number of organizations have launched an
effort to develop national certification for school leaders (Jeff Archer
Under the proposal, administrators would earn advanced certification
through an exhaustive regimen of tests, simulations, portfolios, and self-analysis.
As in the NBPTS model, this certification would not be directly tied to
state licensure, but would offer a nationally recognized distinction and
would send a strong signal that initial preparation is only the beginning
of the learning process (David Mandel 2000).
Although current standards are having a significant impact on leadership
preparation, they have critics. C. M. Achilles and William Price (2001)
argue that the ISLLC standards fail to identify a distinctive, research-based
body of knowledge that would help leaders decide what to do, not just how
to do it. Fenwick English (2002) has leveled similar criticism concerning
the NCATE standards, viewing them as an attempt to force-fit healthily
diverse programs into a standardized model. Nonetheless, most policymakers
and practitioners seem confident that judicious use of the standards can
reshape school leadership.
HOW IS INSTRUCTIONAL LEADERSHIP BEING DEFINED?
When the school-reform movement began in the 1980s, the first consequence
for school leaders was pressure to put student learning at the center of
their jobs. Today, instructional leadership remains a dominant theme, but
it is taking a much more sophisticated form.
Initially, administrators qualified as instructional leaders simply
by paying attention to instruction: setting curricular goals, monitoring
lesson plans, and evaluating teachers. Today, instructional leaders immerse
themselves in the "core technology" of teaching and learning, use data
to make decisions, and align staff development with student learning needs.
The Education Commission of the States, in analyzing how the No Child Left
Behind Act will affect leaders, noted that they not only need a sophisticated
understanding of assessment, they should be master teachers (or at least
recruit master teachers) so assessment data can be used intelligently (Katy
Unlike the 1980s, which dealt in images of lonely principals riding
herd on the staff, today's best-practice districts are weaving learning
into the very fabric of the organization. Elaine Fink and Lauren Resnick
(1999) have described the comprehensive approach used by New York City's
District Two. Central-office supervisors are expected to model instructional
leadership by engaging principals in intensive, focused examination of
learning and teaching. They do so with monthly conferences, support groups,
peer observation, and periodic "walk-through's" of each school that lead
to evaluation, dialogue, and reflective analysis.
Principals themselves must engage their teachers in much the same way.
Instructional improvement presents leaders with a complex challenge, requiring
them to understand good teaching in the classroom and to be good teachers
in working with their staff.
HOW IS LEADERSHIP DISTRIBUTED?
Next to "crisis," the word most commonly attached to school leadership
in recent years has been "impossible." Often portrayed as the single most
important person in the school, the principal gets the call whenever a
new reform is advocated. Increasingly, leaders are hitting the wall.
Cognizant of the high stress, and squeezed by the apparent leadership
shortage, policymakers and practitioners are beginning to argue that leadership
should be distributed throughout the school rather than vested in one position.
In some cases, this may simply be a matter of "unbundling" the job description
and giving other staff members some of the principal's current responsibilities
(Diana Pounder and Randall Merrill 2001). A principal might hand off managerial
tasks to the assistant principal; a large school could assign several "sub-principals"
to different grade levels; or administrators could simply rotate extracurricular
assignments so each preserves a semblance of home life. But whatever strategies
are used, Pounder and Merrill argue that "no one person should be expected
to provide direct oversight for all school dimensions and activities."
Distributed leadership is more, however, than just a reshuffling of
assignments; it is a change in culture. Richard Elmore (2000) points out
that the real work of reform ultimately occurs in the classroom, where
teachers interact with students. Principals cannot directly control those
interactions, but they can guide it in certain directions by "enhancing
the skills and knowledge of people in the organization, creating a common
culture of expectations around the use of those skills and knowledge, holding
the various pieces of the organization together in a productive relationship
with each other, and holding individuals accountable for their contributions
to the collective result."
Thus, distributing leadership means enlisting the capabilities of others
in a common cause. When this is done effectively, advocates say, acts of
leadership at all levels will bubble to the surface, enhancing the school's
effectiveness and relieving some of the principal's burdens.
HOW ARE LEADERS BEING DEVELOPED?
Traditionally, professional development for school leaders has been
front-loaded: a period of intense classroom study, followed by decades
of sporadic "updating" on an eclectic series of topics with no systematic
plan. In recent years, however, policymakers and practitioners have begun
to realize the value of coherent professional development tailored to the
needs of leaders and the students they serve.
Since districts can no longer assume that highly qualified leaders will
appear on their doorstep when needed, many are filling the gap through
home-grown professional development. When leaders are learners themselves,
they are better able to empathize and serve as models when they ask teachers
to rethink their practice.
One consequence has been a dramatic growth in formalized mentoring programs
that are extended throughout the career cycle. Gary Crow and Joseph Mathews
(1998) note that mentoring not only provides administrators with specific
ideas and strategies, it encourages them to be more reflective and analytical
about their practice. And the benefits run both ways, as the mentors themselves
gain insights into their craft and enthusiasm about their profession.
Practitioners have also begun to formulate a "curriculum" for professional
development (NAESP 2001). As such best-practice models are integrated with
advanced certification programs, systematic professional development will
become the norm rather than the exception.
HOW ARE STATES PROMOTING AND SUPPORTING LEADERSHIP?
While school-leadership issues are most visible on the local level,
state policies establish an essential framework that can either inhibit
or enhance local efforts. The State Action for Educational Leadership Project
(SAELP) has identified half a dozen areas where state action can make a
1. Pointing a direction and setting priorities. Through its policymaking
and fiscal powers, the state can shape a comprehensive system that encourages
coordination across state and local levels and creates greater coherence
among the diverse reforms being implemented at any one time.
2. Expanding the candidate pool. States can make it easier for prospective
administrators to enter the field. For example, Mississippi offers fully
paid sabbaticals for candidates in full-time programs.
3. Enhancing administrator training and professional development. State
rule-making power encompasses requirements for training. For example, Kentucky
requires new superintendents to attend a regional training and assessment
center and then take a comprehensive exam.
4. Setting licensure, certification, and accreditation requirements.
States can upgrade preparation by revising licensure requirements. For
example, Maryland requires entry-level administrators to pass the School
Leaders Licensure Assessment based on the ISLLC standards and bases renewal
on documentation of an individualized professional development plan.
5. Enhancing the conditions of practice. States can help attract and
retain good leaders by improving the conditions they work under. For example,
Rhode Island has designed a plan for providing pension portability.
6. Allocating legal authority. States can maintain coherence in leadership
systems by making sure that participants have the authority needed to meet
expectations. For example, Kentucky has implemented a site-based decision
model across the state, clearly defining the responsibilities of administrators,
teachers, and community members while providing them with training.
Like most educational reforms, efforts to improve leadership are complex,
diverse, and multilayered, but the efforts described in this Digest have
one overarching theme: effective leadership is defined by student learning.
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Debate About Education Administration (EDAD) Standards!" AASA Professor
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