My Perspective on School Leadership

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					                                                            Leadership Toolbox 1

Leadership Toolbox: My Before and After Reflections on School Leadership

                             Heather Miller

                         University of Georgia

      In fulfillment of the requirements for EDUL6013 & EDUL6014

                           [professor‟s name]

                           November 27, 2007
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         Leadership Toolbox: My Before and After Reflections on School Leadership

       I think developing good leadership skills is a lifelong journey. I don‟t think I will

become a good leader the moment I am given an official title, nor do I think I should stop

developing as a leader at that moment. Developing my leadership skills is a lifelong endeavor

that involves emotional risk-taking, open-mindedness, personal reflection, professional

development, and collaboration. In my opinion, novice leaders such as myself should first,

develop demeanor that includes the ability to maintain balance, remain calm, cope with

stressors, and remain optimistic, second, create many working definitions of leadership, third,

search for the most effective ways to enable groups of people to work towards a common

goal, and finally endeavor to effectively help individuals reach their optimum levels of

performance. This paper deals with the last three.

                          Part I: Working Definitions of Leadership

My Reflections on Commanding versus Leading

       I am a child of a child raised by a career military officer and as such, my early

experiences were laced more with what Owens (2004) calls “command” versus “leadership”

(p18). As I remember my childhood, it is easy to see how my parents used a “command” (p18)

leadership style. I believe there might be a time in raising children, especially young ones,

when a “command” versus “leadership” style might be necessary, but I think a more healthy

relationship can be nurtured when the predominant style is one of “leadership” not

“command” (Owens, 2004). Before I started my serious study of what it meant for me to

become a quality leader by attempting to embody those traits, I tended to value the

command side of leadership more than anything else.

       Owens states, “Leadership is always an ensemble performance” (2004). This quote rings

especially true to me because in my youth I was on the receiving end of command leadership
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that was fraught with inter-personal conflict, power struggles, and excessive teenage

rebellion. For a while, my parents were command style leaders with no followers, no

ensemble. Only after many adult years did the family make concerted efforts to redefine its

leadership structure. Now the leadership style in my family is more closely aligned with

William Foster‟s (1989) definition of “reciprocal leadership… working toward a common

purpose” (p.30 as cited in Lambert, 1995). Now that we are all adults with our own areas of

expertise, we lead or follow depending on the situation. Our shared common goal is to be

healthy, save money, and be happy in our personal lives. Since all four adults in my family

deal with special needs people in one fashion or another, one area of shared expertise in

which we reciprocate is in dealing effectively with special needs populations. We reciprocate

for each other as respected individuals.

My Reflections on Becoming a Constructivist Leader

       Before reading about constructivist leadership, I had seen it in action, but did not

have a name for it. As a teenager, I thought it was a weak position for an adult to put himself

into, but afterwards, I realized that my attitudes were those of an arrogant and ignorant


       As an adult, I agree with Lambert‟s (1995) assertion that constructivist leadership is

“the reciprocal process that enable participants in an educational community to construct

meanings that lead towards a common purpose” (p.29). But, I disagree with what she says

about “the language of followership [sic] [as] a constraining concept that imposes a mind-set

of inequitable participantship [sic]” (p.31).

       As stated, I have first hand experience with constructivist leadership that involved a

“reciprocal process” between the coach, the team leaders, and the followers. The coach led the

team towards a shared goal of playing well together and learning about the game together,
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but the players led when the game was being played. The players taught the coach skills of

the game, but the coach taught the players skills about leading and team work. The coach

never imposed a “dim concept of followership [sic]” (p.31). In fact, he did the opposite. By

allowing the season to be a great incubator for a new coach to learn to lead, and an adolescent

group of girls to work as a team and lead each other to a record setting season, the concept of

leadership was constructed.

    Part II: The Most Effective Ways to Enable Groups Working Towards a Common Goal

My Reflections on a Shared Governance Experience

       “Man, why we here? We shouldn‟t ought to be here today „cause it‟s Veterinarian‟s

Day,” a student in my homeroom bemoaned. I smiled at his mispronunciation but focused on

the concept that he wanted change. I told him I agreed with him but that I did not know why

Veteran‟s Day was not a holiday for our school district. I asked him how he felt about asking

his elected student-representative who served on the “Friends of the Principal” Committee. I

encouraged him that his question had merit, as did his desire for change, and that he had a

voice in getting things changed at school. I suggested he might convince the appropriate

people of a calendar change next school year.

       This teachable moment was one result of our 8th grade team‟s efforts to transform the

8th grade experience, from one of teachers dictating all decisions and requirements to

students, to a student model of “shared governance.” In 1997, Blase and Blase define, “Shared

governance is a move away from a bureaucratic or an autocratic approach to the governance

of schools” (p.8, as cited in Blase & Blase, 2000). Shared Governance at its most basic level is a

form of democracy. I like that both models give voice to those involved, and empower those

affected by decisions. Before I understood shared governance, it was frightening for me

because I had to spend so much personal energy handling the “constant state of flux” (p.100,
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Blase & Blase, 2000) resulting from the early stages of shared governance. It seemed early on

for me that things would go so much better if a strong leader took unilateral command,

much like a dictator. Paralleling my rejection of the command style being the most

appropriate in my personal life, I also began to change my view on shared governance.

       Our 8th grade student elections all served to have students participate with teachers in

the designing and planning of their educational experience. Sharing this power with students

initially scared me because the teachers were ultimately responsible for the students. Soon

after, it occurred to me that this fear of responsibility was similar to the fear administrators

implementing shared governance must feel, in that, the principal is ultimately responsible

for the teachers and the students. It dawned on me that as a teacher experiencing shared

governance for the first time, I was developing a positive set of expectations and experiences

that I could later use as a principal or other school administrator.

       For the student elections, we recognized the developmental differences between adult

professionals and student learners, so we intentionally structured the student shared

governance model as a “Type 2” (Easton, Flinspach, O‟Connor, Paul, Quall and Ryan, 1993, as

cited in Blase & Blase, 2000). In this situation, the adults still held veto power for all final

decisions. In the end, I realized that there are situations where the “Type 3” model is not

always the most appropriate, even for adults. For example, I recognize “Type 2” models in

students teaching, because the certified teacher always holds the veto. I also recognize

situations, such as a crisis, where a command style might be appropriate even with

professionals used to and experienced in a shared governance model of “Type 3.”

       Initially, I wondered if all this effort in implementing a shared governance model

would improve student achievement in any measurable way. We teachers worked hard to

involve the student-leaders in authentic - real curriculum and real instructional - decision-
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making, but in a limited form. The National School boards Association (NSBA) report (Drury,

1999 as cited in Blase and Blase, 2000) stated, “many school-based management efforts focus on

trivial issues to the exclusion of curriculum and instructional matters” (p.15). I wondered if

limiting the form of shared governance would limit the student benefits if we ensured that

their involvement was authentic. Blase and Kirby‟s (2000) study “involved teachers in limited

forms of shared decision making” (p.14, as cited in Blase and Blase, 2000) resulting in

“improved faculty morale” (p.14, as cited in Blase and Blase, 2000) and “better decisions

because teachers shared formal and informal knowledge, creative ideas, and their experience”

(p.14, as cited in Blase and Blase, 2000). It was the teachers‟ goal that authentic involvement in

shared governance, limited as it was, would facilitate increased student morale and

satisfaction, and better decision making – just as it had done for the adults in Blase and

Kirby‟s (2000) study.

       Initially, I was hoping that the above outcome would result in lowering my blood

pressure when I had nightmarish dreams of the recently empowered student body‟s mutiny

and rebellion. Much to my pleasure, like the adult version of teacher empowerment, the

students rose to the high standards necessary for shared governance.

             Part III: Helping Individuals Reach Optimum Levels of Performance

My Reflections on Enabling Teachers‟ Best

       In Joseph Blase and Peggy Kirby‟s (1992) book, Bringing out the best in teachers: What

effective principles do,” the authors describe eight specific activities that effective principals

do to inspire and bring out the best in their employees. At first, many of these activities seem

very trivial or obvious. But, after reflection, it makes sense that these eight practices are

effective in motivating teachers to do their best work given the isolation and hostility many

teachers have faced in their past.
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Reflections on Praise

       Before studying leadership formally, I thought of praise in the context of behavior

modification of animals. This was where some of my formal graduate study was focused, and I

understood praise as whatever an individual found rewarding. Praise in that context was used

as a tool for manipulation, influence, or behavior modification. I still have mixed emotions

about using praise to modify adult behaviors, since I started with animals, because some part

of me has a belief in the free will of an individual adult. However, if one of my jobs as a

principal is to get adults to work towards the same goal, I need to reframe the term

manipulation into influence. I can with praise manipulate animals and I can positively

influence humans with a free will. As long as all this behavior modification in all its forms is

for the betterment of all and attainment of common goals then it is tolerable to my


       I was actually pleased to see, after reading Blase & Kirby‟s chapter, “The Power of

Praise,” (p.48), that teachers actually crave praise and will accept it in several forms. This led

me to believe that I could marry the behavior modification aspects of praise and the teachers‟

need for praise to positive ends. Several of the seven behaviors motivating-principals

exhibited seemed most compelling to me. Specifically, I agree that praise should always be

sincere and may be verbal or nonverbal. It should be brief and targeted to the individuals


Reflections on Using Expectations to Influence

       There are seven guidelines described by Blase & Kirby (1992) that describe how a

principal can influence by expectations. The first five are essentially about stating the

expectations clearly, repeatedly, and in many settings. These made sense to me before I read

them because this strategy is very similar to teacher training. Teachers are also expected to
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provide appropriate models for students so the last guideline made sense to me as I read it

too. The sixth guideline, “Generalize expectations; personalize feedback” (p. 49) was different

for me. Initially, I thought this guideline was out of place in this section. But, after reflection,

I can see where it is first important to give the same expectations to all staff, like I would

give a lesson to a whole class. Then, after the initial expectation is given to all the staff, I can

see where it is next important to allow each teacher the opportunity to seek and receive

clarifying feedback, just as I would allow students to ask individual questions after a lesson.

Reflections on Influencing by Involving (p50)

       Initially, I thought Influencing by Involving would be a summary of Blase and Blase's,

“Shared Governance” (1997, 2000) model. But, I was pleased that the section listed six key

techniques that facilitated teacher involvement. As I reflect, these six techniques can work

for any system that allows for communication and participation by engaged leaders and

followers. Two of the most difficult issues presented are the first technique, “Manage

agreement” (Blase & Kirby, 1992) because there is inherent risk involved. I see the sixth

technique, “Know when not to involve” (p50) as the critical counter-weight to the first

technique because there are two types of decision when it might be best not to involve

everyone in the decision: When group agreement is unlikely or there are too many options

to garner a critical mass of agreement, or when the decisions are inconsequential to

accomplishing the larger mission at hand.
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Reflections on Granting Professional Autonomy (p51)

       “Professional Autonomy” (Blase & Kirby, 1992) brought forth ideas of independence,

and rebellion I studied in American History Classes in school. I thought to myself that it was

unlikely the authors were advocating professional rebellion, but more likely they were

advocating the teacher have some freedom to act on decisions made in the situation. As I

understand the first technique, the emphasis is critical “Emphasize freedom to, not freedom

from” (p51). “Freedom to” make decisions, be creative in one‟s teaching, etc. seemed logical to

me as well as necessary for a healthy organization. If teachers feel they can think and act

without prior approval, as long as they are acting in accordance with the shared goals of the

organization, it seems a good thing to encourage. The counterweight to this is the teacher

who sees autonomy as the “freedom from” (p51) extra duties, paperwork, working towards the

shared mission, etc. I appreciated the authors‟ emphasis and distinction on this point. I think

it would be logical for teachers who are granted professional autonomy to later surmise that

with autonomy comes accountability. After all, it is the same logic I use as a teacher with my

teenage charges, “If you want the freedom, you have to demonstrate that you are responsible

and accountable for your actions.” I also appreciated how the author logically pointed out

that granting autonomy should be appropriate to the individual teacher and combined with

other proactive strategies to be most effective.

Reflections on Leading by Standing Behind vs. “Leading from the Rear” (p52)

       Initially, I thought this section titled strangely. My military training emphasized that

a good leader always leads from the front, not the rear. I understood the military leader

because at the time, I was a military follower. I wanted to see my commander in front of me

as I had bullets flung at my own head. I did not want someone in a safe zone telling me I had

to do something they were not willing to do themselves.
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       After reflecting on the title of the section, I realized that “Leading by Standing

Behind” had a different meaning than the concept of “leading from behind.” My

misinterpretation was curious and maddening at the same time but I began reading the

section with that misconception forefront in my mind. Was what I was told in my military

years so out of fashion? I was trying but failing to conjure up an image of a good leader who

led from the rear. Finally, I concluded that the author‟s intent with this section was not as I

had originally surmised. I think I simply interpreted the title too literally.

       I am a proponent of a principal backing me up if I make an autonomous decision,

especially if a student, parent, or fellow teacher later questions my decision. “Backing me up”

and leading by standing behind might just be semantics, but I approached the reading more

skeptical than I should have because of how I interpreted the title of the section.

Reflections on Gentle Nudges: “Suggesting versus Directing” (p53)

       Initially my thoughts on “Suggesting versus Directing” (p53) stemmed from my

experience in dealing with individuals who are driven to succeed and individuals who are not

driven by the same need to succeed. I have had great success suggesting to the driven

individuals and had to resort to more directing the less driven a person is to succeed. My

experience was validated when the first recommendation was to, “Know when to push and

when to nudge” (p53). I appreciate the fact that the authors present that, “The language of

suggestion often takes the form of a question” (p53). It matches my experiences in teacher

training, collaborative learning and teaching, psychology training, and my experiences in

facilitating change in individuals who are often resistant to change and directives.

       Perhaps the most relevant recommendation in this section is the sixth. As a teacher,

there is little time to keep abreast of current trends in curriculum and instruction. I think it

is one of the critical duties of a principal to suggest new trends to the teacher, who may or
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may not already know about the trend, but will likely see the principal as knowledgeable and

caring about individual teacher‟s development.

       One downside to this is the assumption of the hypersensitive or insecure teacher. This

teacher must be assured that receiving a flyer from the principal about a current trend is not

a criticism of her current teaching style or method, but an effort to share “big picture”

information with her. This reassurance would likely be most effective in a one on one


Reflections on “Positive Use of Formal Authority”

       Initially, I thought this section was going to be very similar to the section on

“Suggesting versus Directing” (p53). I assumed that using formal authority should be used as

a last resort, the same way major consequences are used in a classroom setting with students.

Inherent in my assumption is that I defined formal authority as disciplinary and dictatorial

authority. I appreciate Blase and Kirby‟s statement, “When policies are violated, monitor only

the violator,” (1992). This logic seems fair to me.

       I have some disagreement with the notion that it is always effective to eliminate sign-

in sheets and never require teachers to submit detailed lesson plans. I would advocate

working towards eliminating those requirements as the teaching staff proves they are

autonomous and all working toward the shared goals. My belief is confirmed by the authors‟

fourth suggestion and is further defined. “Situational theorists suggest that the use of

authority should be determined by the maturity of teachers” (p54).

       The third suggestion is one I whole-heartedly believe is necessary for independent

thinking followers. I think that initially rules might need to be imposed or dictated, but as

the staff matures, it is critical to allow teachers to have a vested interest in the rules that

govern themselves. This idea is discussed further, elsewhere in this paper.
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Reflections on “Mirrors to the Possible”

       Initially, I thought very little about how leadership could be seen as a reflection of

what the followers thought of the leader. After reflecting on leadership as a “Mirror to what

is possible and what is right for the individuals they serve,” (p55), I understand the logic in

the three principles described in the section.

       Early on, as I have taken on smaller leadership roles, I have recognized a tendency in

myself to focus on the effective, and just like the first suggestion warns against, I had

occasionally lost the affective side of leadership. In the constant honing of my leadership

skills, when I discover I am not acting in accordance with my own beliefs, I reflect on the

situation, my actions, their consequences, and apologize when necessary. I endeavor to be a

moral leader at all times. I have made mistakes in the past, and I have learned from them.

       The second practice of being more optimistic seems so logical as to be nonsensical at

first. However, when I look back to how I used to deal with the world in my high school

years, sarcasm and negativism were rampant. Extremely judgmental actions and words were

also the norm. I like to think of those communication patterns as developmental - age and

situation appropriate. After reflection now, my patterns were gleaned form a school system

that had lost the affective in hopes of effectively getting everyone to the most prestigious

universities. Reflecting now, looking at the situation from the other side, I wonder what I

would have accomplished as a student and beyond, if I had been nurtured in an affective,

optimistic environment. I can see how those patterns were not developmental at all, but were

gleaned from the faculty and administration allowed effective graduation rates trump their

commitment to moral leadership.
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       Occasionally, I discover a saying that may or may not have been intended as a truism,

but ends up on my door of quotes because its message is applicable and easily generalized.

One such quote is, “What is reflected to the observer is what the observer has become” (p55).

       Initially I was overwhelmed by the number of diverse definitions of leadership

because I knew I could not embody all of them all of the time. But, after reflection, I decided

that I needed to have many different definitions of leadership to fit the myriad situations I

might face as a leader. I began to view each definition as an additional tool, and all of the

definitions together made up my leadership toolbox. Just as a basic carpenter needs the same

basic tools, I constructed some basic working definitions for my leadership toolbox. As I gain

experience, I add definitions to my toolbox and learn to use the definitions I had in more

innovative ways. I also add different methods of effectively moving groups towards a

common goal to my leadership toolbox. I hope to develop active and passive methods, as well

as remain open to situations where the faculty is comprised of varying degrees of maturity

and independence. Finally, I hope that by studying and reflectively on leadership, I will

develop tools in my toolbox, specifically created to help individuals at all levels of

performance and maturity levels to grow and become more involved in the process of

making schools better environments for learning. As with a real life toolbox, as I discard

broken or inefficient tools, I will do the same for my leadership toolbox. I also must always

endeavor to remain open-minded, realizing that tools other than my favorites may be more

appropriate for a specific situation.
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Blase, J. (1999). How to Think Like a Leader. EDUL 6014 Course Notes.

Blase, J. & Blase, J.R. (2000). Empowering teachers: What successful principals do (2nd ed.).

       Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Blase, J. & Kirby, P.C. (1992). Bringing out the best in teachers: What effective principles do

       (pp.48-55). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Lambert, L. (1995) Toward a theory of Constructivist Leadership. In Lambert, L., Walker, D,

       Zimmermann, D., Cooper, J., Lambert, M, Gardner, M, & Stack, P.J. The Constructivist

       Leader (pp. 28-51). NY: Teachers College Press.

Owens, R.G. (2004). Organizational Behavior in Education. Boston: Pearson.