by Dr. Garry McKinnon, Superintendent
I have been encouraged to write a series of blogs on what could be described as exemplary school leadership. I believe that we need to consider our current context in education and the ideas which have been generated through the Inspiring Education and Inspiring Action consultative process which led to the Hon. Dave Hancock as Minister of Education calling for a transformation in education, as well as the consultations initiated by our new Minister of Education the Hon. Thomas Lukaszuk associated with the proposed new Alberta Education Act which highlight the importance of having the right kind of leadership at this very significant time in education in Alberta.
Clearly, the importance of school leadership is recognized in the research and educational literature and is reinforced with comments like, “as goes the school so goes the principal” and ” there never has been a bad school with a good principal or a good school with a bad principal”. I am not exactly sure of the original source of these quotes, but they do reinforce what I have experienced over 43 years in various roles in education (including serving as a principal) that the principal does have a very significant impact on the quality of the school. In recent years I have seen a shift in the focus on the principal as the sole leader to a new vision of educational leadership which embraces the sharing of the leadership role and the empowerment of others through what has been described as “dispersed leadership” or ” building leadership density”.
I found that in making presentations on school leadership, it is helpful to make reference to what I describe as the Ferby model of leadership from the world of curling. Randy Ferby is a skip from Edmonton whose team has been very successful through the years provincially, nationally and internationally. There is something very unique about Randy Ferby as a leader which is reflected not only in that he was one of the first skips in competitive curling to elect to throw the third rocks rather than the skip rocks, but as well in what he has done to create a different culture for leadership. Traditionally, the skip not unlike a school principal, was the one who called all the shots. It would be unthinkable to question the authority of the skip who always knew what was best and typically was the best at doing what needed to be done. Randy Ferby recognized that there were others who were skillful at throwing the final rocks and he empowered his third to take on this role. He also created a culture of collaboration in decision-making which was very uncommon in the curling world. If the lead was uncomfortable with what the skip was proposing for a shot he would get out of the hack and have a consultation session in which the other team members participated, until they were able to collaboratively reach a decision on what would be the best course of action. Through serving as a school superintendent, university instructor and school leadership program facilitator and presenter, I have seen exemplars of this approach to leadership and I am convinced of its efficacy.
In June 2005, I became involved in what for me was a very engaging and intriguing learning experience which evolved from Alberta’s Commission on Learning, Every Child Learns, Every Child Succeeds report which was initiated by the Minister of Learning, Dr. Lyle Oberg. The 2003 report which evolved from a long consultative process, outlined 95 recommendations, many of which since that time have been implemented. I embraced the opportunity to serve as a facilitator in contract with Alberta Education, of a committee representing key stakeholders in education, which was established to address recommendation 76 in the Learning Commission report which involved, developing a Principal Quality Standard and identifying the knowledge, skills and attributes required for principals not unlike the Teaching Quality Standard which was already in place. In addition to facilitating the work of the committee, my role involved researching, writing and gathering ideas and viewpoints through facilitating focus group sessions throughout the province. It was an extremely interesting process and I was so impressed with the spirit of cooperation which prevailed among the members of the committee representing what typically would be differing views on educational matters. Through a two-year process a document which was to serve as a basis for a Principal Quality Standard was developed. The document identified seven dimensions of leadership and supporting descriptors which were deemed to be fundamental to school leadership for the 21st-century. Since that time, the work has continued in Alberta Education and although there has been a shift from using the term Principal Quality Standard to what is now referred to as School Leadership Competencies, the seven dimensions and descriptors which were developed by the original committee have remained intact.
It is not my intent to describe the political process associated with the development of the school leadership competencies nor to provide a series of scholarly papers on school leadership. I propose to use the seven dimensions of school leadership as a framework for sharing ideas, considering real-life scenarios and making meaning through the spirit of inquiry and ongoing dialogue. Although reference will be made to school leadership, my comments will not be directed solely to those in formal administrative leadership roles. I believe the seven dimensions: relationship building; embodying visionary leadership; leading a learning community; providing instructional leadership; developing and facilitating leadership in others; managing school operations and resources and understanding and responding to the larger societal context are all relevant and significant for teachers as well. In fact, I believe there is no doubt that the teacher is in the key leadership role in our schools and the efficacy of those in other roles who do not work directly with students is determined by the degree to which there is a positive, supportive impact on the work of the classroom teacher. I invite you to join me in this journey of developing a deeper understanding of exemplary school leadership through this series of blogs. I leave you with these questions:
• Do we need a new approach to leadership in our schools?
• Have you seen any examples of school leadership which could serve as a framework for exemplary school leadership?
• What more could be done to enhance the role of the classroom teacher as leader?