Academic journal article Comparative and International Education

Learning from School Leadership in Chile/Apprendre Du Leadership éDucationnel Au Chili

Academic journal article Comparative and International Education

Learning from School Leadership in Chile/Apprendre Du Leadership éDucationnel Au Chili

Article excerpt

In the current educational policy environment, school leadership is perceived as the remedy to a wide range of educational problems; correspondingly, scrutiny of school leaders' work is increasing. Because among in-school factors "leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning" (Leithwood, Harris, & Hopkins, 2008, p. 7), and because "school leadership sits in the first position," (Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, & Easton 2010, p. 197), normative and empirical writing on school reform and improvement have both highlighted the role of the principal. Typically a small set of recommendations dominates. Namely, instructional leadership and distributed leadership are promoted as organizational ideals (see for example Brookhart & Moss, 2013; MacBeath, 2009). Yet principals' work-by design-remains hierarchical and it also encompasses managerial and micropolitical responsibilities (Flessa, 2009), including the effective use of scarce public funds and the skillful management of multiple demands placed on the school by increasingly pluralist communities. In short, the principalship sits at the centre of a complex, competing set of imperatives (Cuban, 1988) that individuals struggle to balance. In a job with a growing list of many day-to-day demands principals routinely report that although instructional leadership might be the most important part of their job, it is rarely the most urgent (Maxwell, 2014).

Given the growing expectations placed on principals' work for school improvement, policymakers have focused on recruitment, selection, and preparation for new leaders as well as the use of leadership standards and frameworks to influence the evaluation and support of current leaders. A decade ago, a task force on renewing the North American principalship made recommendations for reimagining the structure of school leadership and empowering leadership teams utilizing shared decision-making models (Institute for Educational Leadership, 2000). However, few examples exist of attempts to change the structure of the job itself, and those pilot approaches that attempt to do so are often short lived (Grubb & Flessa, 2006). To find an alternative school leadership structure in wide scale use, policymakers, researchers, and educators would have to look beyond the boundaries of North America. Because of its unique school site leadership structure, Chile is a useful place for comparative studies.

Chilean schools, like North American ones, work in a context of test-driven accountability. Unlike North American schools, Chilean institutions rely upon a unique administrative structure where leadership is shared between directores (principals) and jefes pedagogicos (pedagogical heads). Built into the traditional Chilean structure for school administration is the potential for both distributed and instructional leadership. With each role comes a distinct set of responsibilities. Directores, for example, are the acknowledged managerial heads of schools and as such must respond to Ministry of Education requirements for implementation of and reporting about a range of policy requirements. In a context where public and publicly-funded private (voucher) schools compete for enrolment (and thus funding) directores must also constantly look outside the school and position the school with an entrepreneurial eye for future enrolment. Jefes pedagogicos have administrative responsibilities in schools such as supervision of teachers' lessons plans, but they primarily work with teachers within the school on instructional issues. These different sets of responsibilities, with directores externally accountable to the Ministry and jefes pedagogicos internally accountable to their colleagues, have an impact on the degree to which Chilean school leaders work together on instructional concerns. The unique structure raises a question relevant for North American audiences: Do the individuals in these roles understand their jobs in ways similar to or different from how principals and vice principals or principals and curricular coaches do in Canadian or US schools? …

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