Leadership to Support the Next Phase of Learning

By Brett Penny (Head of School, NIST International School) & Jared Kuruzovich (Director of Communications, NIST International School)

“Expansion of leadership is about empowerment – opportunity, space, support, capacity and growth.”
– XVII, Building Leadership Capacity for School Improvement

Businesses and organizations around the globe are reeling from advances in technology and societal changes that have led many to question traditional models of operations and leadership. In a landscape in which transparency is demanded and ethical concerns continue to rise to the forefront, the rapid pace of change impacts schools in particular. making teaching today a fascinating and ever-changing profession. How can educators prepare students for careers that do not yet exist? What knowledge, skills and dispositions are needed for an uncertain future?

Traditionally, administrators within schools operated through the lens of oversight, dictating the course for teachers and students. As a result of what is on the horizon, these leaders can no longer function as managers, but must instead maneuver within a more strategic mode by building capacity and distributing leadership to a broader base of educators. This doesn’t mean the delegation of predetermined tasks, but rather the allocation of genuine autonomy and decision making to educators, fostering a culture of collective responsibility and purpose.

Schools must approach their work with an increased level of flexibility to respond to new opportunities and challenges through a process of experimentation and investigation. Through this freedom, teachers develop into masters of their craft and also learn to leverage technology to engage students and support the broad range of skills required for the future of work. Cultivating sound judgment and decision making, curiosity, fluency of ideas, initiative, deductive reasoning, critical thinking, originality, and systems analysis within students simply cannot emerge in a system in which the vision of a single individual dictates the work of teachers.

The result of this fundamental shift from oversight to a culture of distributed leadership does not solely result in increased capacity for a school. When teachers are afforded true autonomy through greater access to decision making, their levels of engagement, commitment and enjoyment in their work rises. Schools become more positive places. Trust builds, staff retention rates increase and learning outcomes for students to improve. On an individual basis, educators acquire valuable leadership skills and deepen their understanding of how the organization functions and, more importantly, the needs of the students.

That is not to say that leaders should stand back and allow a free-for-all of ideas and initiatives. Instead, they must purposefully build this culture, joining the process as collaborators and learning with their colleagues, working towards an outcome of purposeful change. “The prime purpose of leadership is to build the capacity for individuals to flourish, for schools to continually improve and change the young people to be the best they can be” (ibid., p. 8)

Without question, schools will continue to change considerably in the years to come. However, the rate of this change will be directly influenced by the leadership capacity schools can build. In turn, the level of capacity will be determined by the willingness of the formal school leaders to release their grip. As Harris and Lambert posit “good leaders foster good leadership at other levels” (ibid., p. 11).

Building Leadership Capacity for School Improvement, Alma Harris and Linda Lambert (2003)