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
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 15 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.