Transforming School Leadership

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The continued emphasis on educational accountability has placed tremendous demands on school personnel, especially those in leadership positions. Public expectations for their local school now mirror those of the business community. Though parents and community are critical parts of the business of education, ultimately the student has now become the client or customer.

Recent writings from two leadership experts, Paul McGowan and John Miller, address this notion of the student as customer or client. Schools can no longer present “a one size fits all culture” or expect that it is up to students to adjust to the educational programming provided. Instead, schools must become responsive to the very people it is charged with educating.

Transforming School Leadership

Performance-Based Organizations

In order to promote this responsive climate, schools must shift from what these writers call their current “entitlement culture” and become what is known as “performance-based organizations”.

Entitled organizations, according to McGowan and Miller, focus on intention, effort and a work environment that strives to maintain existing systems. If a person works hard and makes a sincere effort, he or she can expect the organization to be responsible for his or her well-being. Individuals in such an environment do not often feel the need to initiate a change in their behavior or approach to learning.

Performance-based organizations, note McGowan and Miller, focus on accomplishments and improving results. These organizations encourage a work environment that adapts and changes the system to be more responsive to its customers. Workers in a performance-based organization believe they must “demonstrate and add value to their organization”. Therefore, individuals in a performance culture embrace ongoing learning and change.

Dangers of Entitlement Culture

Without a doubt, the entitlement culture permeates the work environment in every public school to some extent. However, according to these experts, most public schools are literally paralyzed by this entitlement culture. McGowan and Miller insist that public schools must begin to “earn the right to provide education”. These researchers place the responsibility for this organizational shift squarely upon the shoulders of school leaders.

One of the major characteristics of an entitlement culture is the maintenance of the status quo. To move forward, such a culture demands a leadership shift from traditional management and administrative techniques. Maintaining existing relationships and order are no longer key aspects of school leadership and the traditional concept of management, the art of doing things right, is no longer the focus of leaders in a performance-based organization.

Instead, performance-based organizations rely on leadership. Such organizations are known for risk-taking and a willingness to set a new course. The culture of such an organization is one with a single focus on its vision but with the understanding that a need exists for flexibility if the creativity of its workforce is to be nurtured.

Such a change will demand that all school leaders have a deep understanding of today’s classroom needs. Principals and superintendents must fully comprehend what it means to be a teacher today, where professionals must balance the increased learning expectations set forth by society against the needs of a group of students struggling with the breakup of the traditional family.

Education and the Society

No one currently working within the educational field went into the profession for the high salaries teaching pays or for the lavish working conditions teaching provides. Ask a group of teachers involved in the profession what they would like more of and the majority will answer quite simply: they seek only greater respect for the work they do.

Our society is publicly demanding more from the educational profession than ever before. At the same time, the clients entering today’s schools are among the neediest in American history. Clearly for such schools to excel they must adapt to these demands, transforming themselves from the entitlement culture of the past to the performance-based organizations’ society expects.

However, such a transformation will occur only if school leaders nurture their professional people through these very challenging times. Layers of management and administration that promote an “us versus them” climate between administration and staff must yield to a collaborative environment where teachers and leaders work collectively to reach the school’s vision.

Today’s educational leaders must be empathetic to those in the “trenches”. These leaders must also constantly champion the level of respect the teaching profession deserves.¬†Most notably, the responsibility falls upon school leaders to create this collective sense of “we” among all personnel if public schools are to truly become performance-based organizations.