A New View of Leadership

By Murphy, Joseph | Journal of Staff Development, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview
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A New View of Leadership

Murphy, Joseph, Journal of Staff Development

Model focuses on educational and moral aspects of schooling

For most of the 20th century, we tended to think about school leadership in well-defined ways. We highlighted leaders' roles: the assistant principal, the associate superintendent. We featured academic and student-based domains of responsibility: department chair of mathematics, assistant superintendent for special education. We also defined leadership in terms of functions, such as personnel and guidance. And across all of these categories, the spotlight was directed to administrative tasks such as supervising teachers or communieating with parents. Over the last few decades, as our knowledge of leadership in general and our understanding of school administration in particular have deepened, we have learned that it is more helpful to scaffold school administration on broader concepts of leadership.

While tasks, roles, responsibilities, and functions continue to help us paint the landscape of school leadership, they become secondary to broad orientations or perspectives that significantly reset the work of the women and men in various school administration positions. In our broader understanding of leadership for the 21st century, it makes more sense to talk about providing others with a seat at the power table than to talk about school public relations. In a similar vein, it makes more sense to home in on learning-focused leadership than it does to talk about supervising and evaluating teachers. Equally important, we find that these core broad orientations (see diagram above) or perspectives wrap around, stretch across, or define all administrative positions.

Over the last 15 years, my colleagues and I have worked to forge a framework that features these more fundamental and more essential orientations. The ideas of leadership focused on empowerment, entrepreneurship, environmental sensitivity, and educational and ethical grounding have not always been central in school improvement efforts, just as teacher leadership has not been at the forefront of the larger issue of professionalization.

Over time, colleagues from all domains of the school administration family have turned their lenses on one or more of these orientations. Meanwhile, more comprehensive foundational views of school leadership that provide alternative ways of thinking about who we are and the work we undertake remain rare in our profession.

One foundational view of school leadership is what we refer to as the 5E model of leadership. At the heart of the model are five orientations that define work across tasks, functions, and roles - orientations that potentially give meaning to and bring coherence to the complex and multifaceted nature of school administration. The model, we believe, helps recenter the work of those who lead our schools.

As can be seen in the illustration on p. 51, the model defines leadership in terms of five core orientations, perspectives that an abundance of recent evidence helps us understand are at the center of effective management and high-performing organizations. At the heart of the framework are two key pillars that provide the central support structure of school leadership in a post-industrial world, and in the process give meaning to the other three orientations.

To switch metaphors, the 5E model tells us that school leaders need glasses with orientations (not tasks), and that the lenses in these spectacles should direct attention to the educational and moral aspects of schooling. Using the educational lens, the model tells us that the basis for administration must be learning, teaching, and school improvement (education) not organization, or politics, or administration, or governance. These latter issues are important, often critically so, but only to strengthen the educational program at the school or district, not as center stage players in the educational drama.

The framework tells us that a key to great leadership is the ability to focus on the hundreds of decisions school leaders make every day using the educational lens, not to allow decisions to be made primarily on organizational, financial, and political grounds.

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