What I Believe about Leadership Development: Leadership Development Must Enable Real-Time Professional Learning and Teamwork among Leaders and the Creation of System and School Cultures That Allow New Ideas and Practices to Flourish
Sparks, Dennis, Phi Delta Kappan
Sustained and well-designed leadership development is essential in school systems that desire high-quality teaching and learning for all students in all classrooms. Such leadership development prepares leaders to be instructional leaders and to create school cultures that promote continuous improvements in teaching and learning and surround both young people and adults with supportive relationships. The pressures created by high standards and testing requirements and the guidance provided by long-range planning are insufficient in themselves to continuously improve teaching and learning across a school system. Instead, such improvements will occur by developing teamwork, real-time professional learning, and system and school cultures that allow new ideas and practices to grow and flourish. Without teamwork and sustained professional learning, systemwide continuous improvements are fated to remain a fervent wish, rather than become a reality.
It is critically important that teamwork and high-quality professional learning begin at the highest leadership levels in a school system and that district leaders be fully committed to and engaged in their own development. Significant change throughout the system requires that leaders be willing and able to change their own beliefs, understanding, and actions.
The kind of team-based real-time professional learning I advocate for leaders is very different from the "sit-and-get" sessions still commonly experienced by most school and district administrators. Such activities--which sometimes are little more than a series of speakers who offer their views on a variety of subjects--are often markedly separate from leaders' core day-to-day responsibilities, seldom build on one another to develop complex understandings and skills, do little to promote teamwork within the school system, and reinforce the mistaken notion that good staff development is a series of "presenters" who "convey" ideas and research to relatively passive recipients.
Based on more than 40 years of experience as an educator (with more than 30 of those years dedicated to the field of professional learning), my careful reading of the professional literature in education and related fields, and conversations with tens of thousands of administrators and teachers from a variety of settings, I have acquired a number of beliefs about leadership and leadership development that I offer as propositions in the spirit of dialogue.
* I believe that significant improvements in teaching and learning for all students begin with significant change in leaders.
Therefore, leadership development focuses on affecting what leaders believe, understand, say, and do each day. Leadership development is sufficiently robust that it literally changes the brains of leaders as they acquire new beliefs, deepen their understanding of important subjects, and develop new habits.
* I believe that the quality of relationships in schools profoundly affects the quality of teaching and learning.
Therefore, leadership development creates relationships among leaders that inspire hope rather than resignation, provides support in implementing new practices, and inspires the courage necessary to consistently act in ways that promote the welfare of all young people.
* I believe that individuals working inter-dependently in teams pursuing goals that stretch their capacities can accomplish far more than individuals working alone.
Therefore, leadership development engages leaders in genuine teamwork based on ambitious goals for student learning as a primary means of continuous improvement that overcomes the centrifugal forces of professional isolation.
* I believe that if all students are to experience high-quality teaching and learning and be surrounded by supportive relationships, their teachers must also be surrounded by such relationships and experience continuous real-time professional learning. …