Leadership as a Practice

Everybody loves a rebel with heart. And reading Sergiovanni‘s book Strengthening the Heartbeat: Leading and Learning Together in Schools, reinforces for me something I’ve always believed and is so succinctly summed up by the author — “[there is] doing things right and doing right things (Sergiovanni, 2005, p. 19). Sergiovanni talks of how systems can sometimes lose the point of leading and leaders — focussing too much on the managerial, authority role of leaders. He suggests that in order for schools to thrive, leadership must be re-examined, redefined and re-distributed so communities can be formed that lead and learn together. His definition of leadership has further clarified for me how TLs (and other teachers) can truly be leaders, ‘leading from the middle’  —

… thinking about leadership as a practice makes more sense than thinking about leadership as an expression of individual agency. Practices may be singular or group. Regarding leadership as a practice helps us to see teachers and principals as members of communities of practice within which knowledge is used  and exchanged to achieve goals with little regard for roles and positions. Within communities of practice, for example, leadership activity takes place at the level of the community rather than at the level of individuals. (Sergiovanni, 2005, p. 49)

As a faculty member of an alternative, democratically aligned school, this definition interests me greatly. It fits very well with what happens in the classes and amongst the students. However this is not practised amongst the staff and wider community. (At times it becomes obvious where we have not applied the philosophy of the school beyond the students and it always hits me hard. Q. How can this be? A. No time to consciously examine this issue, complete focus by teachers on student/class day-to-day issues.)

Sergiovanni’s definition of leadership I find strengthening. It is not about someone giving you permission to lead. It’s not about getting out in front and saying, “I’m going to lead you.” Its not about roles and positions or positioning at all, it’s about action. I can relate to this, I have quietly taken action this year and begun to lead by walking the talk, and by saying, “I’d like to [do] … ”

What would our school be like if we all adopted a leadership of practice? Well it would improve, it has already. This year I’ve won a literacy grant, I’ve got parents now raising money for the library, I’ve got library sessions for the classes on a weekly basis, … things are changing and for the better. How to encourage the others? Well it always seems to come back to building relationships. Sergiovanni quotes Lambert as suggesting that leadership is a ‘pattern of relationships’.

Leadership is a reciprocal process that enables participants in an educational community to construct meaning that leads toward a shared purpose of schooling’ (Lambert as cited in Sergiovanni, 2005, p. 51)

Building trusting relationships and sharing, acting with moral purpose always …all very hopeful business. =)


Photo from: http://www.morguefile.com

Sergiovanni, T. (2005). Leadership as entitlement. In Strengthening the heartbeat: Leading and learning together in schools (pp. 41-54). San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Unintentional Communication and Moral Purpose

What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

That old truth that actions speak louder than words. It is an idea I am considering again within the leadership unit of my TL course. In the case of leadership within a school, stakeholders will react more to the leader’s behaviours than they will to what that leader has to say. This is very important to understand in the communication within a school. Parents often complain about the lack of communication or the quality of communication from schools. Yet you can publish pages of reports and updates in the school newsletter and they don’t read them. This has always perplexed me. Perhaps without being able to express it, what parents are looking for is the behavioural communication not the written words.

We’ve been asked to read an article by W. Savage entitled “Communication: Process and problems” from Human Resource Management in Education. There was a paragraph that caught my eye in particular.

A school administrator’s demonstrated concern for the welfare of his staff and the pupils enrolled in a school will communicate his beliefs far more eloquently than any written or oral statement that he may provide concerning his belief in the dignity and worth of the individual. As a matter of fact, many persons express the conviction that effective human relationships improve communication far more than communication improves relationships. (Savage, 1989, p. 109)

I’m thinking this means then that a leader’s moral purpose is communicated through his actions far better than through speeches, articles or documents. It is of ultimate importance to ‘walk the talk’ and to constantly monitor one’s behaviour for consistency in communication.

The second important message within that quote is that of effective relationships building communication not the other way around. This may go a long way to answering why so many communication strategies (including a very detailed one developed at our school) never get off the ground. Without the relationships, it just can’t happen. So the question then is how to develop the relationships with school stakeholders — obviously it will involve some self-reflection on current behaviours on the part of the leaders (principal, TL, teachers).

I want to stop and think about my moral purpose and my relationship-building behaviours right now. I blogged about my moral purpose here — and looking back, strangely enough, I said I didn’t communicate this directly but hoped it would show through my actions. I was on the right track without knowing it, but conscious effort will, obviously, be more effective.

At this point my relationship-building behaviours are:

  • I consciously stop and speak to parents I pass at school. I try to make a positive comment about their child’s use of the library or their reading habits. I want the parents to know that their child’s reading and use of information is important and important to me.
  • I sometimes go out to the car-park and speak to parents about upcoming events or pass on information I think they might appreciate
  • I quickly follow through on any requests for information/books from parents and also follow through on anything I say I will do in the school newsletter. I want to be seen as highly reliable.
  • author events that invite and include parents

Are there other opportunities for the TL to build effective relationships with the parents?

  • some computer tutoring sessions showing  parents how to use and access ICT’s the children are using
  • sessions involving the children showing the parents how to use the ICTs!
  • Reading challenges that involve adults as well as children
  • attending some of the home group class meetings especially the lower primary groups

Parents do not habitually seek out school leaders (teachers, principals, TLs) to communicate with them unless they are dissatisfied. It is up to us to go beyond half-way, to get in amongst the parents, demonstrate our concerns and moral purpose and build some better relationships.



Savage, W. (1989). Communication: Process and problems. In C. Riches & C. Morgan (Eds.), Human resource management in education (pp. 103-119). Milton Keynes: Open University Press.


TLs, Leadership and Moral Purpose

One of our prescribed reading texts for ETL504 (Teacher librarians as leaders) is Michael Fullan’s Leading in a Culture of Change — and what a pleasure it is to read this ‘personal action guide and workbook’. He is insightful in every direction. This book is a powerful tool.

The second chapter is about moral purpose, firstly of the individual (in our case, the TL) and secondly of the organization (in our case, the library and the school).

One of the points that stuck with me in this chapter is what Sober and Wilson (as cited in Fullan, 2004, p.13) called ‘motivational pluralism’. This is the notion that ‘all effective people are driven by self-centered as well as unselfish motives’ (p.13). And as Fullan says, “It’s OK.”

Could this be one of the reasons TLs do not speak out for themselves and their profession more often? Are we not OK with the combination of motives? Are we afraid people will judge us as speaking from the self-centred motive instead of the altruistic one? I think there may be something there. I’ve certainly seen that as truth for teachers. It is difficult to ask for release time when people/media and even sometimes administration are so quick to misconstrue it as wanting to be paid for time without the kids.

I was also struck with the idea of leaders helping to support others’ sense of moral purpose.

For me leadership is about creating a sense of purpose and direction. … [There is a] need to enthuse staff and encourage a belief in the difference their organisation is making … We can do a lot by making heroes of the people who deliver. It’s important to make people feel part of a success story. That what they want to be (Sir Michael Bichard as cited in Fullan, 2004, p. 17).

While that quote might come across as a little patronising, it is recognising others efforts to help better things that’s important. We often are so busy trying to change, improve and move forward that we forget we are not alone. Recognition is so simple and yet so powerful.

So now on to some of the reflective questions at the end of the chapter.

Q. What is your moral purpose in your work?

A. Wondering and learning make us better people. Information is a step towards knowledge which is a stepping stone to wisdom. Information is power. It is the power to choose, the power to make better decisions, the power for personal growth. I am passionate about other peoples’ rights to wonder and learn.

Q. How would you explain this to your friends, customers or clients, and community?

A. Funny. It never occurred to me to explain this, was I hoping it would just show by my actions? Well, I guess I would explain it just as I have above and continue to convey it by my actions. Perhaps it needs to be part of my personal mission statement too.

Q. How do you think other perceive you in terms of moral purpose? Does this differ in your private life and your work life? If so, how?

A. Being perceived as having high moral purpose is more important to me than I would have guessed upon examination of this topic. I have very high expectations of myself and see this profession as one of the most important jobs. Dare I say it is almost a calling — but I don’t want people to think I’m a zealot .

I don’t think it differs in my private life. My kids think I’m an annoying librarian when I get home too. =)

Q. How well do you think you measure up as a leader in terms of moral purpose?

A. Getting stronger everyday. Getting better at communicating this.

I am always so glad of books that include these pauses for reflection. And I’m becoming more dependent on my blog as a repository for these. With this course of study, I feel like I read til my head is full and I can then come here, download my thoughts and am ready to fill ‘er up again. =)

flickr photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkpooch/894503710/

Fullan, M., & Ballew, A. (2004). Moral Purpose. In Leading in a culture of change: Personal action guide and workbook (pp. 11-33). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.