Professional School Leadership: Dealing with Dilemmas

Professional School Leadership: Dealing with Dilemmas

Professional School Leadership: Dealing with Dilemmas

Professional School Leadership: Dealing with Dilemmas

Synopsis

Political and social expectations of schools and their leaders are very high. The ideal school leader is often portrayed heroically as someone who is able to drive forward an agenda of change and improvement, whatever the challenges. Yet the experience of school leadership is more complex. School leaders find a gap between their aspirations and the tensions of the job, leading to high levels of personal and professional stress. These tensions arise between individuals and groups within plural school communities while the competing priorities set for the education system by its political masters are exacerbated by the competing values and interests found in our complex societies. In schools, this gives rise to specific and unavoidable dilemmas which affect individuals deeply - dilemmas which can occur on a daily basis. Professional School Leadership - Dealing with Dilemmas uses this concept of 'dilemmas' to rebalance the understanding of the work of school leaders. This analysis offers helpful support to school leaders facing difficult decisions and gives insight for those in leadership training programs. The book provides a frame for 'dealing with dilemmas,' drawing on experience of school leadership, the psychology of learning, and perspectives of the politics and ethics of schooling. The book concludes with some important insights into what the dilemmas tell us about the character of all public service in complex plural democracies.

Excerpt

This introductory chapter explains why I wrote this book, and why I believe it makes a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the role of the headteacher in the contemporary school and, more widely, to our policies and practices in school-based education. It also outlines briefly the structure and rationale of the book that follows.

Why this book?

I took up my first post as a headteacher in 1992 in a state secondary school which served a rural community in Central Scotland, following a successful early career as a teacher and local authority adviser. In 1996 I moved to become headteacher of a larger secondary school with a wider and more comprehensive catchment. Although judged by Inspectors to show ‘very good leadership’ in both schools, and although there were many achievements to be pleased with as I worked hard with the school communities involved, my experience of school leadership (i.e. what if felt like to be a headteacher) was not at all straightforward. Indeed, there were many tensions and emotional pressures for which I had had little preparation so that I often felt highly challenged by areas where it seemed there could never be success. I experienced, for example, a constant tension between what was expected of me by employers and what seemed possible or even desirable in the schools in which I served. The new managerialism of the age had led to a growing sequence of requirements on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of school practice. Heightened public expectations of the educational systems expressed itself in a series of bold and ambitious aims for comprehensive schools in Scotland, typical school aims stating that the school would ‘respond to every child's needs and ensure that every child reached his or her potential’. Meanwhile the complexities and challenges of young people growing up in a more individualistic and plural society constantly bulged out of the neatly ordered boxes into which national guidance, or a school's limited curriculum, declared that they should fit — and it seemed that many expected me, as headteacher, to make them fit into these boxes.

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