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Sunday / September 24

Principal Voice: Expect Conformity Or Inspire Freedom?

In the foreword to Paula Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Richard Shaull writes,

“There is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom,’ the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

And that is why leadership is so vitally important in each and every one of our schools. Leadership is more important than just a rite of passage for someone who taught a few years, then became an assistant principal, and then because of time spent in a district becomes the building leader, and yet maintains the status quo of expecting staff and students to fall in line.

Leadership is what inspires teachers and staff to take risks in their instructional practices, and leadership is about making sure that all students, regardless of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation feel included and engaged in their own educational pursuits so they can exceed their own expectations of their learning.

Schools need more than just instructional leaders in order to meet this goal. Instructional leadership is important, because we must all be able to contribute to the dialogue around learning in our buildings. However, more than just focusing on instruction, we need collaborative leaders who can bring together all stakeholders in the school community.

Collaborative leadership is about engaging in dialogue with all stakeholders, and listening to what they individually want out of their educational growth; whether it is their own because they are a student or teacher, or the education for their children because they are the parent.

Too often education has been about covering curriculum and getting it done, instead of inspiring students and teachers to curate their own learning. Shaull’s words from above are important, because we need to foster the integration of our students less, and practice the freedom of getting them to deal critically and creatively more so that they will participate in the transformation of the world around them.

Lead, Support, and Create

There are many ways to inspire the freedom that Shaull refers to, but I believe there are three methods that may be of most importance. Those are the following:

Lead – Sounds simple but it’s not. Leaders, especially collaborative leaders, engage in dialogue with the school community to maximize involvement by everyone, and not find ways to merely push their own agendas forward. Leading is tough, because it takes dialogue and true listening before acting.

Support – John Hattie talks often of the Goldilocks Principle, which focuses on not pushing too hard, not being too soft, but finding the pressure that is just right in order to move forward. Finding this perfect balance offers leaders the opportunity to support those who are willing to take risks, as well as offer a helping hand to those who are struggling with moving forward because they are caught in the pre-contemplative stage of change.

Create – Collaborative leaders create opportunities for staff to engage in that all-important dialogue, and provide them the resources during that process (i.e. Flipped Faculty Meetings).

By leading, supporting, and creating, leaders have a real opportunity to find a balance between offering students what they need to know to work in society, and providing the freedom in order for students to find their voice so they don’t get lost in society.

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Written by

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D is a former school principal and now consultant/author. He is the author of Dignity for All, Flipping Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel, and the forthcoming, <a rel=”nofollow” href=”Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most. Schedule an on-site or virtual consultation, seminar, or workshop with Peter today!

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