Are You Leading, or Just Managing to Get By?

By Wolff, Jonathan; Eanes, Michael et al. | Montessori Life, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Are You Leading, or Just Managing to Get By?


Wolff, Jonathan, Eanes, Michael, Kaminstein, Dana, Montessori Life


What is the difference between being a leader and being a manager of a Montessori school community?

YOU ARE A LEADER IF you are spending the majority of your time facilitating program quality and professional development improvement plans, researching systems for better recruitment and retention of families, acting as a resource for the strategic plan task force, systematically assessing the needs and satisfaction levels of all school constituencies, working with the board to plan the future of the school over the next 10 years, and offering encouragement and appreciation to those who need and deserve it.

YOU ARE A MANAGER IF you are spending the majority of your time responding to staff and parent problems, dealing with facility upkeep and maintenance issues, talking with upset or unruly children, trying to keep the board organized and in check, tracking down late tuition payments, and ironing out the logistical details of educational, social, or fundraising events.

The next natural question is, "How does a school administrator as busy and overwhelmed as I am move from being a manager to being a leader?"

In the leadership consultation and organizational development work we do with schools and business organizations around the world, and in creating the curriculum for the Course for Leading Schools at Houston Montessori Center, we have identified seven essential principles of "convergent" school leadership, each of which can be found in the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori.

Leaders Cultivate "Convergent" Learning Communities

What does it mean to have a "convergent" school community? A Montessori school is comprised of six constituencies: students, staff, parents, administrators, trustees, and alumni. Each of these groups comes to the school community with a distinctly different set of needs and expectations. Students want to have fun learning with their classmates. Teachers require the time, space, and resources to create a vibrant prepared environment. Parents expect their children to be safe and secure, and to reach their personal and academic potential. Administrators want satisfied students, staff, and parents, full enrollment, and a balanced budget. The board aspires to keep the school stable and growing into the foreseeable future. Alumni wish to enjoy pleasant memories of their time in the school community and like being kept abreast of good things happening at their alma mater.

Each of these groups functions within its own distinct framework. Picture these constituencies as six parallel lines. One might go so far as to say that these constituencies live in parallel realities within the school community. Many times, however, as a school grows, these groups do not remain parallel. They may begin to diverge from one another as their desires and dreams begin to surface. Or worse yet, we may find these groups in conflict with one another concerning the direction of the educational program or institution.

Sometimes Montessori administrators inherit school communities that have constituencies that have gone from functioning parallel to one other to operating on diverging or conflicting paths. Needless to say, diverging or conflicting constituencies do not produce a happy, harmonious, or sustainable school community.

It is the job of the leader to cultivate a "convergent" culture throughout the school community, one in which all populations share the school's mission, operating values, standards of program quality, and vision for the future. When the six constituencies share common goals for human development as well as for institutional advancement, the school community energizes all participants. Such school communities tend to attract and maintain the human and financial resources required to deliver and sustain an authentic Montessori program well into the future.

Seven Principles of Convergent Leadership

We have identified seven principles of leadership that empower individuals and school communities to fulfill their potential.

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