Saturday, 29 December 2012

Increasing Leadership Density

Increasing Leadership Density

 I received a lovely quote on Children’s Day in an SMS which said, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” This is thought-provoking indeed.  The future literally in the hands of how we raise and educate our children. How we cultivate the youth today, will harvest our future. What is of concern, is that when we look at other professions, the requirement for licensing or earning qualifications is a very rigorous and long process compared to that of teachers in India.  While we give much lip service to how noble the profession is, steps need to be taken for increasing the seriousness of the teaching profession. I would like to share discussions in the international circuit of increasing teacher leadership from the Cambridge Conference of 2012.

A paradigm shift is required in education; we need to strengthen teachers’ professionalism by enabling them to feel that leadership is part of their work. It is about teachers taking responsibility for leading change and making a difference to professional practice and to the development of professional knowledge. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Australia suggests the idea of a “teacher-researchers ” who support their practices with research of not just content but how it is delivered.  “If teachers want to be treated as real professionals, shouldn't they act more like doctors and base their practice on hard evidence rather than personal preference or unexamined belief?” quoted Andy Heargreaves (2009). 

Anyone can be a leader because teacher leadership is not about hierarchical position. It requires teachers to understand their own potential, be aspirational and open to change.They need encouragement, inspiration and practical support to help them realize this potential by being allowed to take initiative and being provided with support from headteachers and from the system.We see teacher leadership as being a fundamental part of a democratic way of life - social democracy – in which people express their human agency and feel a sense of empowerment to innovate! (Cambridge, 2012)

Leadership is defined as intentional influence over other people to guide, structure and facilitate activities and relationships in a group or organization (Yuki, 2010).
The challenge of transforming our educational institutions to face the increasing global and local demands of educational change are many. Where do we start? In trying for a “quick-fix,” the folly of policy borrowing in an era of global competition may sometimes result in a “lack of cultural fit.”  How we proceed, needs to be tailor-made to suit our requirements while, “thinking globally and acting locally.”  There are perhaps many myths in the market. However, fact is that the narrow conceptions of leadership seem to constrict growth in our schools. Heroic Leadership dominates the education scene where there is single person authority runs the institution unilaterally. Perhaps our ingrained respect culture, for those at the top, allow the heroic leadership paradigm to live on.  However, the changing trend in leadership is moving away from the heroic leadership model to increase leadership density throughout institutions if we want to see education transformed .

With the exception of a few, most schools throughout the country have a long way to meet global standards .The main problem of heroic leadership model is that it remains a herculean task to achieve joined-up thinking for teacher development, school improvement and innovation. There have been many charismatic leaders no doubt but you may be wondering what is wrong with the heroic leadership paradigm? According to OECD(Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development -2007) the entire work of leadership, cannot be done by one person – it is not practical. Moreover, heroic leadership does not build leadership capacity in the system (Hargreaves and Fink, 2004). The benefit of increasing leadership density is to build a strong a professional learning community. In a thriving institution, leadership practices serve to build its strength and success of individuals to benefit the institution.

Changing Definition of Leadership
We need to think of leadership as a practice and not leadership as role, position, status or power. Leadership practice involve activities such as: influencing and inspiring others, taking the initiative and setting direction, offering support/service, holding others to account, modeling learning behavior, valuing/encouraging helpful behavior. On the contrary, a bureaucratic approach within a heroic leadership paradigm consists of: delegation rather than empowerment, hierarchy and special roles, and no special focus on collaboration or shared moral purpose.

Leadership density – An alternative concept
The result of increased leadership density is that more individuals have a stake in the success of the institution while carrying the school’s institutional memory of shared values with a sense of belonging. This alternative concept of high leadership density is many people: influencing work of others, knowing what is going on, being involved with decision making, being exposed to new ideas, and generating new ideas. A school should be thought of as a learning community. “Individuals feel a deep sense of empowerment and autonomy and a deep personal commitment to the work of the school. This implies that people in the school form not just a community of learners but also a community of leaders.” (‘Profound School Improvement,’ Mitchell and Sackney, 2000)

Supportive structures & strategies to build leadership density:
1. Well designed programs of support for reflection, planning and sharing.
3. Professional cultures which encourage innovation and positive change for progress.
4. Working in an atmosphere where leadership is distributed.
5. Capitalize on opportunities for networking beyond immediate contexts.

Using effective strategies to:

  •         illustrate and exemplify best teaching practices
  •         identify areas of concern and prioritize in improving teaching/learning
  •          provideteachers a scaffold for reflection
  •           provide a structure for discussion & consultation
  •           analyze what difference can be made by effort
  •           provide guidance for planning & implementation
  •           provideresource guidance and information
  •           arm practices with researched evidence

Writer is theDirector-Education Glendale Academy and Lead Consultant for Edvantage Teacher Leadership Institute. For more information or articles on education, please visit

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