Transformative and culturally responsive leadership practices challenge school leaders by presenting a moral responsibility to lead schools towards inclusive and equitable outcomes for students (Shields, 2010, pg. 580). Much of the research and discourse regrading these leadership approaches centers on the experiences of students, teachers, and leaders in North American, urban schools. To what degree and to what ends can school leaders working in international contexts apply transformative and culturally responsive school leadership (CRSL) practices when working towards school reform?
Globally, international education is experiencing a demographic switch towards being comprised of a greater proportion of local-national students studying in international contexts (Bunnell, 2015, pg. 327). While these local-national students are frequently privileged or children of elites, this is not always the case (Hayden, 2012, pg. 65-66), and depending on their socioeconomic circumstances, they may feel privileged in international schools or out of place due to their local culture (pg. 66). Hayden (2012) posits that local nationals may feel isolated and different in schools with a high-percentage of expat students, and experience challenges resulting from not having their local culture represented in their school-life (p. 64).Nationals studying in schools with curricula based upon foreign systems serving mostly expatriate student bodies run the risk of rejecting their local traditions and trying to take on the affectations and beliefs of their British or North American schoolmates (pg. 71), especially since elite local populations often view international education as a path to top universities for their children in a neo-liberal, globalized society (Cambridge, 2013, pg. 187). This echoes the experience of some minority school leaders, according to Khalifa, Gooden, & Davis (2016) who take on a “whiteness perspective” to pass politically (pg. 1286). Conversely, Third Culture Kids, globally-nomadic children of expatriates, must deal with issues of identity resulting from lack of a stable environment (Hayden, 2012, p. 67). Needless to say, differences in conventions regarding roles and communication between students, teachers, and classmates due to differences in culture can be a source of conflict in international school contexts (Pearce, 2013, p. 62).
To address the challenges of culturally diverse student bodies in international school contexts, leaders would do well to adopt practices and behaviors associated with transformative and culturally responsive practices. Shields (2010), citing Quintz et al., views schools as places in which cultural politics can result in inequities and imbalances in cultural status being elevated or reduced (pg. 569). International school leaders, thus, should adopt behaviors of CRSL in order to influence their school context to address the needs of their school community and to support an inclusive school culture for minoritized students, regardless of their origin and status as ‘national’ or ‘expat’, and to celebrate all of the children they serve (Khalifa et al., 2016, pg. 1274). They can do so by applying elements of transformational leadership to enact school visions supporting the implementation of bespoke curricula that bridge local, national, and global divides (Tate, 2015, pp. 18-19). To do so, leaders can enlist the aid of the community in creating a culturally affirming environment and focus on uniting groups within and outside of the school house to validate local and indigenous cultures, languages, and identities (Shields, 2010, pg. 579; Khalifa et al., 2016, pg. 1290-1292).
Skelton (2016) sums up the internationalist goals of international schools as “helping their students become positively able to be with an other” (p. 80), and says that schools need to provide students with opportunities to repeatedly experience positive interactions with others and reflect on their experiences (p. 81). Dunne & Edwards (2010) view international schools as potential locations of social change, but find that international schools may not be meeting their potential, rather reinforcing socioeconomic stratification and the distinction between 'haves' and 'have-nots' (pg. 36). They would likely argue that further integrating local-national international students with their local communities could help to promote positive social changes.Tate (2012, p. 208) cites Appiah’s approach to global citizenship that begins with the local, then moves outwards to embrace the national and global in turn. Tate (2012, p. 209) also cites Maalouf’s writing on the individual’s “ethical homeland” that includes national, cultural, and ethnic identities and how global citizenship might involve a universal understanding of human values overlaid on top of such a construct. It is clear that support of a culturally responsive school and curriculum can help international school leaders to realize common internationalist visions of internationalist education and serve a diverse student body increasingly comprised of students crossing local, national, and global borders and a broader socioeconomic spectrum.
Bunnell, T. (2015). International schools and international curricula: A changing relationship. In:
Hayden, M., Levy, J., & Thompson, J. J., (eds.) The Sage Handbook of Research in International Education (2nd ed.). London, U. K.: Sage. 325-336.
Cambridge, J. (2013). Dilemmas of international education: A Bernsteinian analysis. In Pearce, R. (ed.) International education and schools: Moving beyond the first 40 years. Oxford, UK: Bloomsbury Publications Ltd. 183-204.
Dunne, S., and Edwards, J. (2010). International schools as sites of social change. Journal of Research in International Education, 9(1), 24-39.
Hayden, M. (2012). Third culture kids: The global nomads of transnational spaces of learning. In Bunnell, T., Hayden, M., & Thompson, J. (eds.), SAGE Library of Educational Thought and Practice - International Education, Vol. 3. London, UK: Sage Publications Ltd.
Khalifa, M.A., Gooden, M.A., & Davis, J.E. (2016). Culturally responsive school leadership: A synthesis of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 86(4): 1272-1311.
Pearce, R. (ed.) (2013). Student Diversity: The core challenge of international schools: Moving
beyond the first 40 years. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic. 61-84.
Shields, C. (2010). Transformative Leadership: Working for equity in diverse contexts. Education Administration Quarterly, 46(4): 558-589.
Skelton, M. (2016). What should students learn in international schools? In Hayden, M., &
Thompson, J. J. (eds.) International schools: Current issues and future prospects. Symposium Books, Oxford. 71-83.
Tate, N. (2012). Challenges and pitfalls facing international education in a post-international world. Journal of Research in International Education, 11, 205-217.
Taylor, M. (2015). International schools - creative communities with a cause. The International Schools Journal, 35(1), 16-20.
Looking more closely at the conflicting motivations within international education has been illuminating, as was learning about the major research approaches. In order to review and synthesize what I’ve learned, I’m going to review each of the research approaches described by Dolby and Rahman and try to reflect on them through the lenses of dichotomies presented by Allan (2008) and Tarc (n.d.) with the hopes of more clearly defining the ultimate goals of each. Of course, the lines will be blurred and every approach exists on a spectrum. The exercise is simply one in reflection that might spur some debate.
Tarc (n.d.) outlines two visions for international education: the ‘instrumental’, involving actual interactions that “cross political borders” (p. 1) and the ‘normative’, which seeks to foster international understanding (p. 2).
Allan (2009) describes discourses within international education. Two macro-discourses are the ‘multinational’, which concerns ‘market-driven globalization’ (p. 154), and the ‘international’, focused on “global citizenship and cultural literacy” (p. 157). Dolby and Rahman (2009) outline six broad research approaches in international education into which much of the research being done in the field can be placed. They are comparative and international education, the internationalization of higher education, international schools, international research on teaching and teacher education, the internationalization of K-12 education, and globalization in education.
Comparative and international education is divided into four trajectories. The first, tries to compare education in different national contexts to promote reform (Dolby & Rahman, 2008, p. 681). The second, traditional international education, focuses on practices in a single national context, avoiding comparisons (p. 682). Both seem to fall more within Tarc’s (n.d.) ‘normative’ vision, since they don’t really involve interactions between states or systems, but rather compare and promote an understanding of the systems involved. The data obtained from such studies would most likely be applied to Allan’s (2009) multi-national discourse as countries try to improve their national education systems based on the data. A third trajectory that Dolby and Rahman provide is based on development in the third-world. While the application of the data would almost certainly be considered ‘multinational’ within Allan’s (2009) framework, within Tarc (n.d.) would likely label it ‘instrumental’ as the actors involved would be sharing resources across national boundaries.
The internationalization of higher education has a complicated history involving both colonialism (Dolby & Rahman, 2008, p. 684) and international efforts to promote peace after war (p. 685). Dolby & Rahman outline three research trajectories sociopolitical, economic, and academic, focusing mostly on the latter two. The economic focus fits well within Tarc’s (n.d.) ‘instrumental’ vision and Allan’s ‘multinational’ discourse as it concerns bringing international students and dollars across borders. The academic research trajectory, on the other hand, focuses more on the experiences of the students and strongly contrasts in it’s alignments. I’d say that it’s focus on understanding the experience of international students would make it more ‘normative’ (Tarc, n.d.) and ‘international’ (Allan, 2009).
Research on international schools focused on defining the boundaries of what is considered and international school would seem to be ‘normative’ (Tarc, n.d.) as the debate is largely philosophical and centered around curricula and school visions, but also contains ‘instrumental’ concerns like the demographic of the student body. Similarly, the presence of both philosophical and socioeconomic concerns would include both ‘international’ and ‘multinational’ discourses (Allan, 2009). Research on ‘Third Culture Kids’ would tend to be more ‘normative’ and ‘international’ as it seeks to foster understanding and focuses less on economic concerns. Finally, research into the effect of changing national and global contexts might involve and analysis of both of Tarc’s (n.d.) and Allan’s (2009) visions and discourses.
International research on teaching and teacher education came out of a very ‘instrumental’ and ‘multinational’ desire to rebuild Europe and improving the quality of education globally (Dolby & Rahman, 2009, p. 695). Research into teacher education leans towards the ‘instrumental’ and ‘multinational’, when it focuses on preparing teachers for a global market, and the ‘normative’ and ‘international’ when it prepares teachers for an international population. Another research trajectory focuses on international policy development. It links to work done in the comparative and international field (Dolby & Rahman, 2009). It would seem ‘instrumental’ and ‘multinational’ as it seeks to improve economic performance in countries through education reform. The final trajectory studies the effects on teacher’s lives of changes in the global context (Dolby & Rahman, 2009, p. 696). The research seems to focus a lot on ‘multinational’ (Allan, 2009) and ‘instrumental’ (Tarc, n.d.) concerns and how they have affected the social status and practice of teachers globally.
Internationalization of K-12 education comprises the four separate trajectories of peace education, multicultural education, human rights education, and environmental education (Dolby & Rahman, 2009, p. 701). All four fields have a focus that seems ‘normative’ and ‘international’, though environmental education and human rights education would likely engage in ‘multinational’ discourse as the issues discusses would often involve interactions between states and global economic concerns.
Finally, globalization in education follows four different trajectories as well. Black education from the Revolutionary Nationalist perspective is class-focused (Dolby & Rahman, 2009, p. 705) and seems more ‘multinational’ and ‘instrumental’ while the Cultural Nationalist approach seems more ‘normative’ and ‘international’. Anthropology and education, the second trajectory, involves the movement of people globally, and ‘instrumental’ (Tarc, n.d.) concerns, and both ‘multinational’ economic and ‘international’ cultural issues. World models, the third trajectory, analyzes national elementary curricula. Two paradigms, the equilibrium and conflict paradigms, seem to approach the study from the ‘international’ and ‘multinational’ perspectives respectively, with the equilibrium focusing on cultural concerns and the conflict focusing on economic ones. Lastly, a trajectory focusing on critical inquiry into the effect of globalization on education takes a ‘multinational’ economic and ‘instrumental’ approach to its studies.
Ultimately, every one of the research approaches in Dolby & Rahman’s paper includes discourses and views of international education that overlap and blur between the definitions provided by Tarc and Allen. That said, their delineation of discourses and visions are a very useful tool for examining the goals of varies fields and placing the research and concerns on a spectrum. They provide not so much a map that clearly defines and outlines the approaches to international education, but more of a compass to provide a sense of direction as questions arise.
Allan, M. (2013). Understanding international education through Discourse Theory: Multinational, international, multicultural or intercultural? In Pearce, R. (ed.) International education and schools: Moving beyond the first 40 years. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic. 149-166.
Dolby, N., and Rahman, A. (2008). Research in international education. Review of Educational Research, 78(3), 676-726.
Tarc, P. (n.d). Framing international education in global times. (Draft). Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/30350428/Framing_International_Education_in_Global_Times_DRAFT
Effective school boards and superintendents engage in strategic planning for the future of their district and the schools they serve (Hayes, 2002, pg. 23). These strategic plans create measurable expectations for assessing the performance of the district in meeting public needs and remaining accountable for resource use (Hayes, 2002, pg. 23). Strategic planning recognizes that school districts should be concerned with their role in the community, and the role that various stakeholders within the community play in student learning (Stewart & Bailey, 1992, pg. 6). District level strategic planning promotes strategic thinking and enhances the responsiveness of the district by supporting programming for strategies and formally operationalizing their consequences (Bryson, 1995; Sheppard, Brown, & Dibbon, 2009, pg. 34).
Effective strategic planning applies principles of systems thinking and addresses school, community, district, and government concerns (Shaked & Schechter, 2016, pg. 183). Complex systems involve ambiguity and change and benefit from an iterative, helical planning approach including cycles of assessment, planning, and implementation that consider the multiple influences on, and reasons for, issues, and view the whole of school life as a system and not isolated, smaller parts (Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 71; Shaked & Schechter, 2013, pp. 780-781, 786).
This post outlines how a district superintendent might generate an educational strategic plan with measurable and timely goals that takes into account multiple stakeholder needs, state legislation, and collective agreements, while supporting organizational learning and distributed leadership at the school and district level (Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 34).
Stage 1: Planning to Plan
Before generating the strategic plan, the superintendent should educate stakeholders (board members, faculty, staff, community, parents, and business people) regarding the state of public education globally and locally, inform them of the importance and value of the strategic planning process, and gather feedback to assess what change, if any, is needed (Hambright & Diamantes, 2004, pg. 98; Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 51).
Select Planning Team
Assuming that the board has determined that the superintendent should act as facilitator, the most important step is the selection of the planning team (Hambright & Diamantes, 2004, pg. 98). It should be a broad-based panel reflecting the makeup of the district and enlisting leaders from multiple sources to represent the values and perspectives needing consideration (Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 129). To promote student achievement through increased stakeholder engagement, the superintendent should act as a “boundary spanner” between parents, community partners, schools, collective bargaining groups, and governments to foster collaborative and distributed leadership and a culture of trust (Gordon & Louis, 2012, pp. 351, 357; Starratt, 2008, pp. 88-89; Sheppard et al., 2009, pp. 51, 102). Diverse planning teams facilitate fluid and connective opportunities that produce workable plans for action, cognitive shifts, and reframing of challenges, and apply democratic, communitarian, and economic theories of stakeholder shared leadership (Grogan & Shakeshaft, 2011, pp. 120, 125; Gordon & Louis, 2012, pg. 349; Starratt, 2008, pg. 89). Parents, teachers, and other stakeholders selected for involvement may lack the language and expertise to be participative, so superintendents should determine training needs and provide instruction on shared governance and other topics (Gordon & Louis, 2012, pp. 350, 366; Hambright & Diamantes, 2004, pg. 98). Planning team members should be asked to begin collection of internal and external data to inform later decision-making.
Stage 2: Strategic Planning
After training and data collection concludes, the strategic planning process should begin. To promote critical thinking, problem solving, iterative planning, and to overcome the limitations of hierarchical bureaucracy and promote innovation and collaborative construction of new knowledge, a “studio” model of collaborative planning, involving open physical spaces, fluid group composition, and honest sharing is suggested throughout the strategic planning process (Chance, 2012, pg. 50).
Determine Norms and Guidelines
First, the planning team should author guidelines and norms for desirable and unacceptable practices to foster honest communication and allow for feedback on issues (Hambright & Diamantes, 2004, pg. 102; Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 50). Open dialogue between planning team members can aid in understanding and modifying mental models, and bring to light ‘hidden transcripts’ and issues that may be taken for granted (Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 50; Duffy, 2003, pg. 36; Bates, 2013, pg. 46). Also, a model of consensus and decision-making that takes into account the superintendent’s legal, fiduciary, and administrative obligations should be chosen (Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 59).
Determine Core Beliefs and Principles
Next, the superintendent should lead the planning team to determine the district’s guiding beliefs, ethical code, and moral commitments, to create an atmosphere for collaborative leadership and demonstrate teamwork on the basis of shared beliefs (Hambright & Diamantes, 2004, pg. 99; Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 49; Hayes, 2002, pg. 25). Outlining core community values develops reference points to ensure the district is accountable to local values and provides the foundation for a vision and mission anchored in guiding principles (Gordon & Louis, 2012, pg. 350; Chance, 2010, pg. 45; Hayes, 2002, pg. 23).
Develop Vision and Mission Statements
Mission and vision statements based on shared values should be collaboratively developed (Harbright & Diamantes, 2004, pg. 98; Hayes, 2004, pg. 23; Starratt, 2008, pg. 88; Gordon & Louis, 2012, pg. 365). These statements act as a moral compass for decision-making, address student success, and ensure that high standards are pursued, and their public communication increases stakeholder and community involvement (Sheppard et al., 2009, pp. 71-72; Starratt, 2008, pg. 80; Kaufman & Grise, 1995, pg. 12; Gordon & Louis, 2012, pg. 365).
Conduct Internal & External Environmental Scans
Planning team representatives should carry out objective internal and external environmental scans of influencers and actors (government, unions, professional associations, legal bodies, business groups) for data pertinent to the educational environment, to be used to plan tactics to address issues and identify goals (Harbright & Diamantes, 2004, pg. 100; Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 103; Starratt, 2008, pp. 88-89). Internal assessments of vision implementation in schools and the district allow for emphasis on individual professional learning so schools can decide how to meet their professional development needs (Sheppard et al., 2009, pp. 37, 79). External scans promote a multidimensional view allowing for increased understanding and influence in social, legal, political, and cultural contexts, and promoting success through connection to wider environments and understanding of the community’s cultural, social, and intellectual resources (Shaked & Schechter, 2016, pg. 183; Starratt, 2008; pp. 80, 89; Fullan, 1993, pg. 21).
Identify and Prioritize Strategic Issues
Planning teams should produce a statements that assesses district needs in terms of discrepancies between the current state of education in the district and what is required (Harbright & Diamantes, 2004, pg. 100). Key to this process is viewing problems as growth opportunities, and defining issues as gaps between current and desired results, and not as insufficient resources, means, or methods (Fullan, 1993, pg. 21-22; Kaufman & Grise, 1995, pp. 8-10). Strategic issues should be prioritized based on the magnitude of their systemic significance, urgency, or financial cost-benefit analysis (Hayes, 2002, pg. 23; Hambright & Diamantes, 2004, pg. 100; Shaked & Schechter, 2013, pg. 781).
Stage 3: Action Planning
Action teams of school and community members should be formed to create plans that address strategic issues, achieve actionable goals, and review policies, programs, and strategies currently in place for effectiveness (Harbright & Dianamtes, 2004, pg. 101). The superintendent should facilitate communication and formal and informal networking between action groups to facilitate collaboration, problem solving, and minimize artificial distinctions between strategy formulation and implementation (Chase, 2010, pg. 50; Grogan & Shakeshaft, 2011, pg. 112)
Action teams should review issues and the shared vision to create goal statements with time frames, measurable qualitative or quantitative success indicators, and multiple levels of results at the individual, district, and community level, to provide for accountability (Hayes, 2002, pg. 45; Kaufman & Grse, 1995, pp. 7-10; Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, pg. 206; Gordon & Louis, 2012, pg. 350). Numbers, specific assessments, and arbitrary quotas should be avoided to prevent future corruption of shared visions resulting from system gaming (Hargreaves & Shirley, Chapter 2, Paragraph 52; Sidorkin, 2016, pg. 322; Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, pg. 215).
Determine Action Steps
Action teams should apply backward design principals to create plans outlining strategies, short- and long-term actions, and individual responsibilities, in an implementation schedule with a year-by-year cost projection that balances system benefits and tradeoffs (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007; pg. 206; Chase, 2010, pg. 47). The action plan and schedule should allow for flexibility in implementation structure to support and empower teachers, principals, and middle leaders to modify plans in nonlinear ways to best meet their local needs and contexts when setting goals and determining professional development (Adams, 2000, pg. 36; Sheppard et al., 2009, pg. 87; Hallinger, 2003, pg. 32; Sergiovanni, 1992, pg. 380). The final action plans should be submitted to the board for approval, compiled, and presented to the public.
Step 4: Implementation, Monitoring, & Evaluation
Continued monitoring and evaluation will help ensure that efforts outline in the strategic plan are succeeding and implementation is being carried out (Sheppard, 2009, pg. 102; Adams, 2000; pg. 36). The superintendent should promote mutually supportive relationships between the district and schools by providing services, facilitating communication across the district to connect teams, and supporting networking and improvisation to creatively integrate social, political, and consensual dimensions into continued iterative planning processes (Feldman et al., 2003; Grogan & Shakeshaft, 2011, pg. 112; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012; Chance, 2010, pp. 49-51). The implementation of the strategic plan should be validated and evaluated through frequent planning team meetings in which objectives and strategies can be modified and added. Such annual or semi-annual updates serve as documents of accountability and assessments of progress and success (Webster & Luehe, 1994, pg. 24).
Adams, D. (2000). Extending educational planning discourse: A new strategic planning model. Asia Pacific Education Review, 1(1), 31-45.
Bates, A. (2013). Transcending systems thinking in education reform: implications for policy-makers and school leaders. Journal of Education Policy, 28(1), 38-54.
Bryson, J. (1995). Strategic planning for public and non-profit organizations. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Chance, S. (2010). Strategic by design: iterative approaches to educational planning. Planning for Higher Education, 38(2), 40-54.
Duffy, F. (2003). I think therefore I am resistant to change. National Staff Development Council, 24(1), 30-36.
Feldman, J., Lucey, G., Goodrich, S., & Frozee, D. (2003). Developing an inquiry-minded district. Educational Leadership, 60(5). Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/feb03/vol60/num05/Developing_an_Inquiry-Minded_District.asp
Gordon, M.F., & Louis, K.S. (2012). How to harness family and community energy: The district’s role. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (3rd ed.) (pp. 348-371). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Grogan, M., & Shakeshaft, C. (2011). A new way: Diverse collective leadership. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (3rd ed.) (pp. 111-130). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hallinger, P. (2003). Reshaping the landscape of school leadership development: A global perspective. London: Taylor & Francis.
Hambright, G., & Diamantes, T. (2004). An analysis of prevailing K-12 educational strategic planning models. Education, 125(1), 97-103.
Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D.L. (2012). The global fourth way: The quest for educational excellence [Kindle for PC version]. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Hayes, F.R. (2002). Creating an effective board of directors: Not-for-profit corporations [PDF]. Woodstock, NB: The Exeter Institute.
Kaufman, R., & Grise, P. (1995). Auditing your educational strategic plan. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Sergiovanni, T.J. (1992). Leadership as stewardship. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (3rd. ed.) (pp. 372-389). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Shaked, H., & Schechter, C. (2013). Seeing wholes: The concept of systems thinking and its implementation in school leadership. International Review of Education, 59(6), 771-791.
Shaked, H., & Schechter, C. (2016). Holistic school leadership: Systems thinking as an instructional leadership enabler. NASSP Bulletin, 100(4), 177-202.
Sheppard, B., Brown, J., & Dibbon, D. (2009). School district leadership matters. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
Sidorkin, A.M. (2016). Campbell’s law and the ethics of immensurability. Studies in Philosophy and Education; Dordrecht, 35(4), 321-334.
Starratt, R.J. (2008). Educational leadership policy standards: ISLLC 2008. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (3rd ed.) (pp. 77-92). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Stewart, G., & Bailey, G. (1991). Strategic planning--definition, process, and outcomes. CEFPI’s Educational Facility Planner, 29(6), 4-7.
Webster, W.E., & Luehe, B. (1992). The principal and strategic planning: Elementary principal series no. 9. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa.
Wiggins, G.P., & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Given the fast-changing needs of 21st century learners, teachers and school leaders find themselves under pressure to provide students with learning to support them in a future that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Despite the unclear future that students face, a number of leadership best practices are suggested and broadly agreed upon that school leaders should be prepared to use to create effective schools for 21st century learners.
One such practice, supported by both Hargreaves and Leithwood in interviews with International School Leadership (ISL) (2014a, 2014b) and the Ontario Principals’ Council (2013, pg. 9) is setting forth a compelling vision and goals to direct the school community.. School leaders should know the individuals that comprise their teams well enough to maintain a sense of urgency about pursuing the vision, provide supportive supervision, and ensure coherence by celebrating and connecting short-term gains to the broader goals (ISL, 2014a; ISL, 2014b; OPC, 2015, pg. 9; Schleicher, 2015, pg. 10).
Another task that faces successful leaders of 21st century learning is developing people and building capacity both in their faculties and for themselves (ISL, 2014b; ISL, 2014a; OPC, 2015, pg. 15). School leaders should provide differentiated professional develoment, mentoring, and coaching to empower both new and expert teachers and collect and use data in purposeful and balanced ways to improve instruction and student achieivement (OPC, 2015, pp. 9-15; ISL, 2014a), and take part in continuing professional development themselves (Schleicher, 2015, pg. 9).
Finally, 21st century school leaders should be prepared to collaborate within and outside of their organization to support innovation (ISL, 2014a; Schleicher, 2015, pg. 9). Following the example of leaders in education like Singapore and Finland, leaders shoudl be prepared to seek out latent strengths and nurture pockets of excellence to evolve their communities (ISL, 2014a; OPC, 2013, pg. 26). Collaboration and authentic partnerships with other leaders and outreach to community stakeholders should be sought out in order to learn from others and work together for whole-system reforms (ISL, 2014b; ISL, 2014a; OPC, 2015, pp. 9, 13, & 28). Despite the potential for learning from others, care should be taken not to mirror practices directly and to take into account contextual differences in local needs (ISL, 2014a; ISL, 2014b).
New views of leadership are required to address changing social, political, and economic dynamics of the 21st century and the needs of the students they serve (Murphy & Shipman, 2003, pg 70). Focusing clearly on a compelling vision, building capacity within the organization, and supporting collaboration between teachers, schools, and the community are skills that can support school leadership success ifor today’s school leaders.
International School Leadership (2014a, December 5). Uplifting Leadership. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=9V0GaLRmq20
International School Leadership (Producer). (2014b, December 19). Enacting School-Level Leadership Practices. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=13&v=PmeKIdw1-8I
Murphy, J., & Shipman, N.J. (2003). Developing standards for school leadership development: A process and rationale. In P. Halinger (Ed.) Reshaping the landscape of school leadership development (pp. 69-81).. London: Taylor & Francis.
Ontario Principals Council (2013). Preparing principals and developing school leadership associations for the 21st century. Available at https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Finternationalschoolleadership.com%2 Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2014%2F12%2FInternational-Symposium-White-Paper-OPC2014.pdf&embedded=true
Schleicher, A. (2015). Schools for 21st-century learners: Strong leaders, confident teachers, innovative approaches. Paris: OECD Publishing. Available at http://www.oecd.org/publications/schools-for-21st-century-learners-9789264231191en.htm
One of the true success stories of the 20th century, Singapore has grown from being an obscure “little red dot” on the map of South East Asia into a modern, wealthy hub of global commerce (UNDP, 2016). Singapore’s status as a global leader is reflected in its highly successful national education system. Though much of Singapore’s success in education can be attributed to the national character of the country’s citizens and the benefits of its small size relative to other nations (Hargreaves & Shirley, Chapter 4, Paragraph 54; OECD, 2012, pg. 115), there is much to learn from their approach to education that successfully supports innovation in a highly-competitive educational culture of high-stakes testing (Hallinger, 2003, pg.167; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 11).
Singapore’s success in education begins at the national level: the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) stated vision for education is “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” and its goal is to create a network of learning organizations and lifelong learners (Hallinger, 2003, pg. 164). In order to ensure that the country can “compete and stay ahead”, Singapore’s education system seeks to create citizens who are able to think creatively and critically, and act as responsible global and digital citizens (Hallinger, 2003, pp. 165; MOE, 2009; MOE, 2015a). The MOE is well-regarded for its strong and stable leadership, and well-funded, with support for education resources making up 20% of the country’s national budget (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 2; OECD, 2012, pg.117, 123). Members are competent, carefully-selected, generously-compensated, and well-trained in the use of data and evidence in decision-making (OECD, 2012, pg. 120). Strategic planning for national educational policy is highly-integrated with the Manpower Ministry to ensure that the nation’s education system remains dynamic and able to meet the country’s current and future workforce needs, promoting sustainability and long-term success (OECD, 2012, pp. 118-119, 124; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 101). Strategic leadership for adaptive learning that accounts for future needs and trends and involves leaders from diverse sources, such as is done in Singapore, is a hallmark of positive national and district leadership in education (Hallinger, 2003, pg. 26; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 29).
Despite the government and MOE’s significant investment and support, much power is decentralized and given over to individual schools, empowering them to determine how to align their practice with government strategy (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 37; Grogan, 2013, pp. 380-383; Sheppard, 2009, pp. 87-88). Schools are organized into ‘clusters’, led by former principals, that support innovation and collaboration between members of different schools, take advantage of the potential for district leadership to support collaboration, and serve as a mediating layer for implementing policy (OECD, 2012, pg. 116; Hallinger, 2003, pp. 165-166; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 34; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 66). Near-constant communication between clusters, schools, and the MOE provides accountability and support, helps schools function as effective PLCs, aids implementation and policy development integration through close collaboration between leaders at the ministry, cluster, and school levels, and is exemplary of a strategic “whole-of-enterprise” approach to educational leadership (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 61; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 104; OECD, 2012, pg. 124; Hallinger, 2003, pg. 26).
This close integration between stakeholders is evident in Singapore’s approach to school leadership training as well. The National Institute of Education (NIE) at Nanyan Technological University is Singapore’s sole provider of educational leadership training, and works in close collaboration with the MOE to develop and implement policy (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 59; OECD, 2012, pg. 119). In addition to principalship training, programs for departmental management, level management, subject management, and teacher mentorship are provided, leveraging the potential of teachers as instructional leaders, coaches, and mentors within PLCs, and acknowledging the value of shared-leadership and supportive middle-management in schools (Hallinger, 2003, pp. 166, 172; Grogan, 2013, pp. 322, 337; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 67). The MOE and NIE work closely with schools to assess and track teachers for potential leadership roles and provide a clear plan and process for career development, including support for up to a year of paid, full-time training for selected candidates and funding for international study, meeting the need for foresight in recruitment of school leaders and support of capacity building within the system (Hallinger, 2003, pg. 167; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 2; OECD, 2012, pg. 122; Grogan, 2013, pg. 336).
Principals trained by the NIE’s Leaders in Education Programme (LEP) undergo an intensive program focusing on project-based learning in school environments, and are supported by a steward principal, cluster superintendent, and NIE tutor in a field-based approach that supports retention and understanding (Hallinger, 2003, pp. 62-65, 92-93, 169). The curriculum offers modules focused on a number of best practices in school leadership (Hallinger, 2003, pg. 170). Vision building is supported by Hallinger (2003, pg. 64) and Robinson (Grogan, 2013, pg. 306) as being a practice implemented by expert principals. School and community interaction is addressed in the same module and supports parent involvement to increase student achievement (Grogan, 2013, pg. 352). Principal candidates are trained in using data and evidence for decision-making, addressing the ethical need for leaders to base decisions on valid information as an interpersonal value guiding the formation of Open Learning Conversations put forward by Robinson (Grogan, 2013, pg. 110). Modules on team building, team learning, and building human intellectual capital within schools support practices put forward by Fink and Markbolt (Grogan, 2013, pp. 317, 323) and Sergiovanni (Grogan, 2013, pg. 376) as being favorable for improving instruction and student achievement and developing group expertise.
Singapore’s education system and strategy has a long history of success. In 1995, the country ranked 1st on the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) Trends in Maths and Science Studies (TIMSS) for 13-year-olds and has continued to be among the top in subsequent TIMSS studies in 1999, 2003, and 2007 (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 1; OECD, 2012, pg. 114). Singapore placed 4th world-wide in the 2006 Progress in Literacy Study (PIRLS) and was the top performing nation in the 2015 PISA report, ranking highest among all nations in the Science, Reading, Math, and Collaborative Problem-solving categories, with 39% of students global top performers in at least one subject. (OECD, 2018). The IMD World Competitiveness yearbook ranked Singapore in first place for having an education system that meets the needs of a competitive economy (OECD, 2012, pg. 114). Singapore’s success on international standardized tests relative to other nations is undeniable, and an outcome of the country’s commitment to recruiting high-quality teachers and supporting them throughout their careers as ethical, collaborative learners, leaders, and community builders, and rewarding them on the basis of their service to their peers, students, and profession rather than student test scores (MOE, 2015b, pg. 6; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 67). Given the nation’s competitive school culture and commitment to genuine international benchmarking and policy learning, Singapore shows no signs of losing its status as a global top-performer in education in the near future and is likely to remain an exemplar of positive practices in educational leadership (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012, Chapter 4, Paragraph 70; OECD, 2012, pg. 123; Sheppard, 2009, pg. 59).
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Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.