Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Leading Leaders: Lessons from the Field

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Leading Leaders: Lessons from the Field

Article excerpt

Abstract

University programs preparing candidates for school leadership positions are under increasing pressure to align programs with the realities of practice. This research investigates the effects of classroom and field experiences with candidates enrolled in a graduate leadership program. Candidates were asked to rate their supervisory knowledge and skills as well as classroom instructional strategies used during preparatory sessions. Reflection and feedback cycles were integrated into the process. Results indicate that candidates felt the process was beneficial.

Introduction

The influence building principals bring to bear on student achievement is eclipsed only by the importance of the classroom teacher. School systems are seeking leaders that possess moral commitment, facilitation skills, ability to shepherd change, an understanding of constructivist learning, and a systems perspective (Lambert, 1995). However, the pool of well-prepared candidates seeking the principalship appears to be shrinking (Farkas, Johnson, Duffett, & Foleno, 2001). Superintendents complain about the lack of effective building leaders and the limited pool of skillful candidates. Even bright and well-trained rookie principals often feel overwhelmed when faced with the fast pace and the multitasking required of them. Quickly they learn that leadership is not orderly and neat but quite "messy." It requires constant problem solving and decision-making. In teaching preservice candidates to develop into well-prepared leaders, I looked at different ways of creating authentic learning in courses I was teaching. This paper reports the result of a study that examined instructional strategies and their effect on the development of supervisory competencies and beliefs in preservice principals. Specifically this study evaluates the effectiveness of field based learning experiences and auxiliary classroom strategies in a Master's in Urban Educational Leadership Program. It was an attempt to maximize learning opportunities and better prepare candidates to address the conundrum of leadership.

Preparation Programs and Candidate Motivation

Being rewarded or avoiding punishment has an immediate if not long-term effect on behavior. However, when, in addition to fulfilling requirements and gaining rewards behavior and beliefs align, behavior is perceived as the "right thing" to do thereby moving practice to a higher level of commitment. Intrinsic motivation drives learning for the purposes of making meaning and using new information while extrinsic motivation is what drives learning to fulfill requirements and gain rewards. The two, however, are not mutually exclusive. I set out to tap into candidates' intrinsic motivation and move them towards deeper learning by encouraging candidates to establish specific personal goals relative to short and long term aspirations. With personal goals identified, students were encouraged to create links between these goals and course objectives so they could more readily see their relevance and take more responsibility for their own learning.

Motivation theory stresses the importance of self-confidence; candidates who are more self-confident are more likely to accept challenges. As competence in performing certain tasks increases, candidates become more confident. The reverse is also true. Candidates' perception of the difficulty of tasks affects their self-confidence and desire to undertake it. I needed to design meaningful independent assignments clearly connected to the work of preservice supervisors and principals and the assignments had to be sufficiently challenging so candidates could appreciate their new skills as well as tap into their attitudes and values. I had to consider task difficulty and candidate competence. I also had to develop a reflective process so that our future leaders would appreciate who they are and what they stand for. Self-knowledge is critical to leadership. …

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