Going through the Emotions: Leadership That Gets to the Heart of School Renewal

Article excerpt

Holistic school renewal will require a qualitatively different discourse than the current uneasy conversations about school improvement and school effectiveness. Leadership for whole school renewal requires emotionally safe spaces for learning and growing together. Visions of school leadership as distributed, distributive and shared are grounded in notions of collaborative inquiry within dynamic learning communities. For shared leadership to breathe new life into whole school renewal, all leaders, including and especially the principal need to maintain a focus on the moment-to-moment emotional attunements that define experiences in spite of cognitive constructions and beliefs that may coexist along side of these.

School improvement and school effectiveness: an uneasy partnership

Key vehicles for school success are taking shape in the form of conversations born out of the uneasy partnership between school improvement and school effectiveness drivers. Holistic school renewal demands a qualitatively different discourse, one within which turf wars can be transcended, feelings of discomfort confronted and acknowledged and real issues integrated as the focus on improving practice for its own sake as an adventure in professional partnership becomes the main event. In order to be up to the task, leaders need to reconceptualise leadership itself as the invitation to share and embrace uncertainty so that their leadership serves to create openings for these different kinds of conversation. Leadership for whole school renewal requires emotionally safer spaces for learning and growing together. While the legal responsibility continues to rest squarely on the principal's shoulders, 'new' visions of school leadership as distributed, distributive and shared are grounded in notions of collaborative inquiry within dynamic learning communities. The shift from political structures of traditional hegemonic bureaucratic hierarchy to something far more egalitarian, democratic and openly discursive can be challenging and discomforting to all concerned. Former bystanders are invited out of the stands and onto the court, to help make critical decisions, share in the creation of new knowledge, the collective ownership of the ideas of the day and the responsibility for outcomes as leaders try to loosen their grip on control. A major challenge for all staff involved in whole school renewal is how to handle the complex emotional meaning-making processes associated with attachment to the status quo that can impede or impel the successful reinvention of a school. Indeed holistic approaches that build inclusive trusting relationships that are sufficiently resilient to tough it out during the inevitable turbulence are the most likely to succeed. Even so, the work of whole school renewal can be so daunting that despite or even because of passion of purpose and absolute dedication, burnout and casualties are highly likely as curriculum, professional relationships, and roles for staff and students alike are reconstituted. Tall orders to be sure, but not insurmountable if all learn to go through the emotions to accomplish the inner and interpersonal work involved.

Educational reform took two very different forms following the release in 1983 of A Nation at Risk, the disturbing report on education in the United States that identified widespread academic underachievement (Goldberger & Harvey, 1983). Reform took the paths of either intensification or restructuring, both aiming to effect systemic and far-reaching change (Fullan, 1991). Standardised tests, continuous evaluation and monitoring served to intensify the 'what and how' of teaching, associated broadly with the methodology and focus of school effectiveness research. Restructuring involved school-based management, teacher participation in decision making, and reorganising schedules to support collaborative work cultures (Fullan, 1991). The latter approach can be broadly associated with the capacity building principles of school improvement research. …