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The Changing Nature of Leadership Preparation
Bonnie C. Fusarelli
Bonnie C. Fusarelli,
Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership
and Policy Studies at
This article explores how new ways of studying and preparing
educational leaders have taken root in preparation programs and are reflected
in the scholarship and research in the field. It examines the evolution of school
leadership in theory and in practice, and describes how school leadership has
changed over time. In light of recent educational reforms, including NCLB, and
changes in ad
The greatest challenge for educational leaders in the 21st century is to achieve higher levels of learning for all students. School leadership preparation programs seek to produce leaders who have the requisite knowledge, dispositions, and skills to successfully lead contemporary schools (Institute for Educational Leadership, 2000; Kelley & Peterson, 2000). Consequently, many university-based preparation programs have redesigned their delivery formats, aligned their curricula to new professional standards, and updated their performance assessments for graduate students to more accurately reflect the new nature of leadership (Browne-Ferrigno, 2007; Jackson & Kelley, 2002; Murphy & Forsyth, 1999). Tricia Browne-Ferrigno (2007) reminds us that, “New performance expectations for principals in the United States, delineated in administrator standards established by the Council for Chief State School Officers and individual states, have modified the long-standing perception of a principal as a school manager to a perspective of learner-centered leaders who focus on high levels of learning for all students” (p. 1).
The role of the school leader has become more complex because of the evolving nature of the tasks connected to the position. There are calls to reculture the principalship to include roles of moral steward, educator, and community builder and there are near universal calls to expand the principal’s role to include advocacy for social justice to help ensure equitable and just learning outcomes for all students (Hackmann & Wanat, 2007).
The shift in how educational leaders are prepared is
reflected in how the field has framed itself. Over the last decade, many administrator
preparation departments have changed their names from Educational Administration
to Educational Leadership. In much of the contemporary literature, the school’s
administrator (principal) is now often referred to as the school leader. This
trend is also seen at the state level. In
One reason for this shift is that education has been in
reform mode for several decades. Since the publication of A Nation at Risk (1983), public schools in the
Education as an Applied Field
The challenges of studying and teaching leadership in an applied discipline (such as education) are somewhat unique. For example, in political science the professor usually teaches about leadership. However, since they are preparing practitioners, professors in educational leadership programs are expected to teach their students how to do leadership, and do it well. There is a higher level of responsibility than in other disciplines to help students become effective leaders.
This articles explores how the teaching of leadership and how teaching about the practice of leadership has changed in recent years. Some critics might argue that the change is more cosmetic than substantive, but as this article will highlight, new ways of studying and preparing leaders have taken root in preparation programs and are reflected in the scholarship and research in the field.
In this article, I examine the evolution of school leadership
in theory and in practice. I explore how school leadership has changed over
time, and how these changes affect the emergent role of principal as
educational leader. In light of recent educational reforms, including NCLB, and
changes in ad
I begin by exa
In the late 1940s, educational ad
By the 1960s, the focus of educational ad
During the Civil Rights Movement, schools were viewed as
potential vehicles for societal change. The study and practice of ad
By the 1970s, coursework in educational ad
By the late 1980s, significant disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes became apparent and the inability of school leaders to solve these problems led to a series of attacks against education schools and the preparation of school leaders (Hess, 2004; Kramer, 1991; Levine, 2005; Tucker, 2003). University-based school leader preparation programs were criticized as being too theoretical and divorced from the actual practice of leadership.
The grounding of leadership preparation in theory that was once embraced as a possible solution to school failure is now widely criticized. This has led to calls for non-traditional routes to leadership. Over the past four decades, leadership licensure and certification requirements have gone through cycles of increasing regulation followed by deregulation or a loosening of requirements. Reports such as A Nation at Risk (1983) contributed to this cycle so that by the mid 1980s, most states (41 states or 82 percent) had regulations that required school leaders to complete a prescribed program of graduate study and subsequently obtain a state-issued license (or certification) to practice (Kowalski, 2005). Yet, the persistent failure of many school systems to improve education has led to calls for radical reforms, including eliminating or reducing licensure and certification requirements for school leaders. Within the last decade, several states have either eliminated or changed (watered down) the certification requirements for superintendents and principals, by allowing district-based licensure or by no longer requiring a degree in school leadership to become a principal or superintendent.
The movement toward alternative certification for school
administrators reflects a response to a perceived leadership crisis in
More problematic is the push in some states to make leadership preparation more accessible and cheaper for students through the utilization of on-line distance education. Despite the fact that course evaluations for on-line instruction typically are lower than those for courses taught face-to-face, and the clear need to have human interaction when dealing with changing people’s dispositions (something leadership programs claim to do), more and more educational leadership programs have “on-line” components and some have gone entirely on-line.
distinct, yet interrelated policy and ideational currents have come together to
shape contemporary school leader preparation. The three currents include: (1)
powerful societal changes and failed efforts at school improvement; (2) recent
systemic reform initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB); and
(3) changes in administrator preparation, focusing on issues of equity and
social justice (Fusarelli & Fusarelli, 2005). Although distinct, each
ideational current draws from and is affected by the other two currents. I
Failed Reform Efforts
Over the past three decades, wave after wave of educational reform initiatives have failed to produce significant and sustained results. Performance data show wide and persistent gaps in student achievement (Fusarelli, 2000). On nearly every index of student achievement, student performance continues to lag terribly, despite school reform efforts (Henig, Hula, Orr, & Pedescleaux, 1999; Viteritti, 2002).
Poor student performance has been blamed on inadequate teacher training, teachers’ unions, high teacher and administrator turnover, apathetic students, bureaucratization and red tape, and a lack of competition (Hess, 1999). However, Fusarelli and Fusarelli (2005) argue that past reforms failed because they only produced superficial changes in schools but did not affect the nature (the deep structure) of schooling or of society itself. They note that “reforms such as schedule changes (block scheduling, year-round schools), evaluation (authentic assessment, portfolios, standardized testing), professional development (teacher teams, collaborative planning), and school-based management neither affected instruction in the classroom nor addressed the fundamental problems that schools, and the children within them, face. To a great extent, such superficial changes in schooling amount to little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic—the action is earnest but does not address the underlying problem” (p. 193). Substantive changes in the structure and design of schooling are needed and educational leaders committed to equity and excellence must lead this effort.
More than ever before, school leaders are required to use
data to drive decision making and be proactive in identifying obstacles to
achieving equity in schools (Scheurich & Skrla, 2003). Scientific research
“can yield reliable and replicable findings that build confidence in the
effectiveness (or failure) of the many alternatives advocated or practiced in
education. These findings should increase the willingness of policymakers and
educators to make required changes or stick with proven—albeit often
difficult—reforms” (Fleischman, Kohlmoos, &
A host of academic and professional associations are placing
renewed emphasis on narrowing the achievement gap and enhancing equity for all
students. Visions of school leadership are changing because, “the social fabric
of society is changing…we are beco
Fusarelli and Fusarelli (2005) argue that changing
demographics, especially when coupled with the push for high-stakes
standardized tests and the resulting racial and socioeconomic status (SES)
achievement gap, necessitate a rethinking of the way universities prepare
school leaders. Educational leaders need to be skilled in relating to people
who have different needs and different values. In the past two decades, the
field of educational leadership has shifted its focus toward “what leadership
is for” as opposed to what leadership
is or does (Fuhrman, 2003, p. 1). Noting the dramatic differences between the
1988 Handbook of Research on Educational
The move to frame leadership as an endeavor of social
justice is similarly reflected in the focus of professional meetings. For
example, the last four annual conferences of the University Council for
Within the past decade, particularly with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), principals have been called to lead systemic reform efforts and educate all children to proficiency, regardless of ethnicity, income, or family background. This shift in federal educational priorities, from equal opportunity to (near) equal outcomes, is dramatic and unprecedented (Fusarelli & Fusarelli, 2005).
In their chapter on Leadership for Social Justice, Larson and Murtadha (2002) observe that certain practices of leadership may lead to “greater freedom, opportunity, and justice for all citizens, citizens who, through public education, are better able to participate in and sustain a free, civil, multicultural, and democratic society” (p. 4). Unfortunately, until recently, there was a relative void in leadership regarding the issue of social justice and equality in education. Larson and Murtadha (2002) note that some researchers in educational administration are embracing the language of social justice research by invoking terms such as: equity, equality, opportunity, and justice. Critical, feminist, and post-structural theorists who challenge the belief that schools are good and just (or at least neutral) for all students are becoming more prevalent in the literature (Larson & Murtadha, 2002; Scheurich & Young, 1997).
Social justice implies not only a duty to act on behalf of individuals, but also imposes on leaders the responsibility to be involved in the active transformation of environments which currently foster often-invisible power structures of class, race, and gender (Fine, 2001). In schools, these power structures impose barriers to the education of children, particularly those already marginalized by poverty or discrimination. These children are desperately in need of the equalizing benefits of education.
There has been a shift in recent years as to how universities prepare educational leaders for social justice. In their study of leaders known for their commitment to social justice, Merchant and Shoho (2006) report that “in order to move from an intellectual appreciation of social justice to the development of a genuine commitment to social justice and equity, university faculty will have to aggressively integrate these concepts and practices into all aspects of their preparation programs. We must move beyond classroom discussions that treat these issues in a theoretical and abstract manner, to providing experiences that will enable students to recognize and combat the inequities that permeate the very systems and institutions in which they work. An important component in this process is the development of good communication skills and the ability to interact effectively with a broad range of people” (p.106).
One way to do this is through more effective school-university partnerships. Universities and school districts could collaborate to design experimental learning and engagement activities to prepare leaders to be change agents in K-12 schools. One way some universities have done this is by having their students engage in action research. Ideally, by engaging in action research and data-based decision making, as opposed to relying on stereo-typed practice, students become more reflective practitioners and help build professional cultures of continual improvement in schools.
Teaching Leadership for Social Justice
Programs that prepare educational leaders could adopt a constructivist approach to the teaching of leadership. Constructivism, an epistemology that values developmentally appropriate facilitator-supported learning, posits that humans learn or construct meaning from current knowledge structures. Constructivists value the uniqueness of individual students and require students to be activey involved in the learning process (Von Glasersfeld, 1989; Wertsch 1997). Adopting a constructivist approach and utilizing a “liberatory pedagogy” can improve the teaching of leadership (Apffel-Marglin, 1998; Freire, 1970, 1998; Giroux, 1997, 1996, 1988; Illich, 1971, 1974; Shor & Freire, 1987).
Liberatory pedagogy differs from traditional methodologies in that in liberatory education, the teacher gradually withdraws as the sole director of learning and passes authority on to the students. Students then emerge as co-directors of the curriculum, contributing their own experiences, knowledge, and expertise. This is particularly critical in working with adult students who are experienced educators – they each add a valuable and unique perspective that is essential to quality graduate level learning.
Instructors could strive to create a learning atmosphere that is nurturing, challenging, and motivational, while having high expectations for student achievement. Quality graduate level education requires that students be pushed beyond their comfort zone. Many of the issues in leadership are controversial or do not have a “correct” answer. Therefore, students need to engage in discussion and dialogue. This approach allows students to examine their own perspectives and subject their beliefs and positions to public scrutiny. Further, it helps to meet the needs of students with various styles of learning and types of intelligences. A liberatory approach helps diminish the amount of passive transference of knowledge and empowers students to be actively involved in their own development as leaders and lifelong learners.
One way to transform educational organizations is to reform educational leadership programs so that the courses are designed to prepare school leaders who are ethically and morally responsive (Kant, 1959, as cited in Sergiovanni, 1992) to the challenges of an increasingly diverse school-age population. Educational leadership programs have a duty to actively promote awareness of social justice; and one method by which this can be accomplished is to motivate and inspire school leaders using a critical approach to the study of educational leadership.
Anchoring school administration in concepts of social justice and democratic community would do much to advance the “moral steward” role of school leaders (Beck & Murphy, 1994). School leaders who wish to impact society must utilize a powerful set of beliefs or convictions that are anchored in issues of justice, community, and schools that maximize the potential of all students (Larson & Murtadha, 2002). As Sergiovanni (1992) notes, they must maintain a belief in possibilities, they must have a passion that affects others. They must view their task more as a mission than a job. The moral leader uses ethics and justice to guide the thousands of decisions they make daily (Beck & Murphy, 1994).
Leadership is not simply about the skills but also about the “heart of leadership” (Sergiovanni, 1992) If the values and beliefs of educational leaders are recognized as legitimate, leadership for social justice may have greater success in battling inequities and injustices in schools and communities and may produce better, more effective leaders.
As evident from standardized test scores, American
schools are struggling to educate all
children. The well-documented racial achievement gap further reflects social
injustices. One apparent consequence of the contemporary emphasis on
standardized testing in
The “No Child Left Behind” Act makes the argument for socially just schools all the more compelling. The requirement for all students to be “proficient” and to make “adequate yearly progress” may be the impetus for educational leaders to examine the inherent inequity in today’s schools. They may find that focusing solely on academic instruction is not enough to close the well-documented racial and socio-economic achievement gap. True reform may require fundamental changes in schools.
It is clear that the nature of school leadership is changing. To meet the needs of today’s youth, school leaders must be willing to change their traditional views of schooling and strive to do whatever it takes to help children learn. This change should begin pre-service, in university preparation programs that advance new conceptions of leadership. University preparation programs must re-think conventional approaches to school leadership and develop future school leaders who provide quality public education for all children.
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