|Educational Leadership Reflective Essay
Joshua S. Grover
Responsibility: perhaps no better word describes what a leader faces as he or she manages an organization. As future leaders are cultivated and preened for future positions, it is necessary and vital to instill upon them the importance of such a position. It was in the midst of great self-reflection that I realized how much I long to be an effective leader. In the following words I will reflect upon my experience at MSUM as it pertains to the Minnesota Core Leadership Competencies.
It wasn’t until I participated in Education 630 under the instruction of Dr. Dennis Van Berkum of Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM), that I fully realized my potential as an educational leader. Through the required course-work, I’ve come to understand what an effective leader is.
To be a leader in schools today, one must first have an understanding of what their particular definition of leadership is. I believe that everyone has and should have their own definition for what an effective leader is. This is because that definition is directly related to their leadership style.
Upon reflecting on my definition of leadership, one word initially comes to mind. That word is “inspirational”. I, and fellow members of the Ed. 630 class, came to an understanding that effective leaders should inspire. This term really describes effective leadership more than any other I can think of. An effective leader must be someone who can identify the strengths of his team and be able to bring that out in each of its members. An effective leader must also establish an environment or feeling that is inspirational to students as well.
The next idea that comes to mind is the idea that an effective leader needs to adjust to all circumstances. Until now I viewed myself primarily as a transformational leader. After much reflection, I now know that I’m more of a situational leader. A situational leader is one who uses not just one style of leadership but uses whatever style he/she sees fit in a given situation; otherwise termed as the “Right Style”. An effective leader needs to be able to read his/her team and make split second decisions based on the dynamic of the group. Every team has different strengths. A good leader knows how to identify those strengths and use them to provide the best learning environment possible. .
As educators, leaders, and paraprofessionals, we must not limit ourselves by one governing style or definition. We need to be flexible and fluid in all that we do. It is with great satisfaction I find myself having those qualities.
In everything we do, we must constantly remind ourselves of why we are doing it. We are not teaching for ourselves. We are not teaching for our administrators. We are not teaching for the school-board. We are always teaching with the student in mind. As members of this team, we have a tremendous responsibility and we must treat it as such.
During Dr. Van Berkum’s education course, a great deal of self-realization occurred. It is my opinion this essay is simply the beginning of what I believe to encompass the concept of leadership. Ultimately, the realization one must not stop learning and growing in their vision, is most valuable. As leaders we must be willing to be responsible pioneers in education. Educational leaders have a great deal of responsibility. After all, the job of educating children is arguably the most important profession in society today.
It is clear that throughout the last century many different concepts have been attempted as an organizational theory. Although all of them have some principles that can be useful in today’s school systems, it is my belief a combination of several different types is the answer.
Upon looking first at the Bureaucratic Theory, I found it to be very mechanical. It is truly an impersonal concept as the chapter states. The aspect of excluding irrational, personal, and emotional factors has both its advantages and disadvantages within education. On one hand, having set policies and procedures allows for smoother conflict resolution in certain situations. On the other hand, the exclusion of emotion and personal feelings/factors seem to limit creativity.
The second area of consideration was the idea of Scientific Management. Although somewhat as impersonal as the Bureaucratic Theory, the Scientific Management concept began to focus on motivation within the work place. To me this factor is the most valuable. However, the only motivation taken into consideration in the use of the concept is purely compensational. Money can be a huge motivator in many industries, but what happens when there isn’t enough money to motivate?
The last idea was the Classical Theory of organization. This area seemed to take the idea of motivation to an entirely new level. I think the inclusion of such things as “ideals, values, beliefs, and the need for personal satisfactions” as motivators are crucial in the organizational process. The main issue I have is with the “scalar principle”. While some system of hierarchy needs to be in place, I don’t believe in the lack of communication between the different levels of the hierarchy.
It is my conclusion that, as leaders, we need to find a common-ground between all of these concepts. It has always been held as good practice to look at history. It is clear that at some point all of these concepts had success. We need to look at what principles were successful and build from there. We need to take the good aspects of each and come up with a flexible, liquid form of organizing. This is where the Organizational Behavior concept comes into play. It takes into account many different variables while still staying structured and methodical.
In analyzing educational organizations one must consider as many variables as possible and still keep a very structured atmosphere. In searching for a strategy for doing so I found that I lean more and more towards that of the Human Resources Development view. There are so many things I think would be valuable in this view. I like the idea of emphasizing the use of “conscious thinking of individual persons about what they are doing as a means of involving their commitment, abilities and energies in achieving the goals of the organization.” This idea of “team” involvement in the decision making process is what I plan to do. It will be vital in my “game plan” for establishing and maintaining an organization. I do think there is an inherent danger in this strategy however. One must find the common ground between “coaching” a team of competent players and letting the players make all the decisions. Every institution needs leaders who will take everyone’s input into consideration and make a decision from there. In my opinion, a Human Resources Development view cannot be run if staff members are not self-motivated and self-sufficient. A leader needs to surround him/her-self with people that are competent and self-driven. They not only need to be willing to work, but they need to accept work as much a part of life as play as our text states. However, not everyone can motivate themselves one-hundred percent of the time. As leaders there is a clear need to hold teachers accountable for what they do in the classroom.
As I’m slowly finding out, there is not a clear-cut, all-inclusive theory that can be used. It’s more of an amalgamation of many different ideas that will set an organization up for success. Considering all of these issues, it is now time to revisit my “game plan” for entering and organization. I’ve come to realize the need to delicately balance the energy put towards each of the four subsystems. Initially, concentration needs to be on the Human subsystem. People need to feel involved and the must feel that their ideas and values are valid. Once trust is established, all of the other needs must be addressed in as uniform fashion as possible, knowing it can only be as uniform as the paradigms that govern those needs. Above all, the constant reminding and revisiting of a common goal must be in the forethought of everyone involved.
Throughout my educational career, I’ve prided myself with regard to my ability to adjust my teaching according to a variety of learners. During my time at MSUM, perhaps no other text caused more personal growth regarding diversity leadership than that of Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell.
The most important factor impacting understanding of diversity is taking cultural legacy seriously. As a child of a preacher, growing up in rural Kansas was like being a target for cultural back-lash. Very early in my childhood I came to understanding of what being bullied was all about. It wasn’t until years later that I reflected upon the role of the bully. I have come to the understanding of what factors attributed to the actions of one particular child who bullied me. Jimmy B. was a child of the traditional “poor white trash” couple. I only say that because that’s what they called themselves. They had a roof over their heads, but only just. They didn’t have a car. They rarely had one square meal, let alone three. Jimmy and his brother were often caught stealing food. Every day, Jimmy would seemingly be fine at school. Yet, every day, he’d follow me home with his brother and his brother’s friends and beat me to a pulp. Parents were notified, authorities were called, yet every person’s response was, “kids will be kids”. Adults excused his behavior out of ignorance and pity. Last I knew of Jimmy, he was headed down a path of alcohol and drug abuse. I can’t help but think if authority figures had not tolerated so much, could the cycle of cultural acceptance have been stopped? Cultural legacy is the idea of accepting norms as an unchangeable force. Gladwell believes that we can learn a great deal about success if we take “cultural legacies seriously” (Gladwell, 2008). As leaders and educators, we must look at all factors contributing to the success of the student. Who and where we teach should effect how we teach. I find myself thinking primarily with regard to safety when addressing cultural legacy. In order for students to learn, they must feel safe in their environment. As leaders, we are responsible for working with community members, law enforcement, and local government to provide the safest possible situation for every child. This eliminates another obstacle hindering success.
Policy and Law
One of the most beneficial tasks with regard to Policy and Law I completed was the creation of a behavior management plan. This was an assigned task as a member of Ed. 639. The behavior management plan was a combination of proactive and reactive strategies. I chose to investigate several resources. The West Fargo High School student handbook proved to be a vital resource. It had many of the ideas required for this assignment. I chose to include some of the reactive procedures as part of my plan. I am a strong believer in not “reinventing the wheel”. I seek out input and ideas from many resources in order to form something that reinforces my vision for a student-centered environment. The plan is to be further developed in collaboration with school leaders, students, and teachers. It incorporated a plan for implementation, building-level policy, civic and state mandates, as well as general expectations and values. The purpose of such a plan was stated thusly: “the school organization, including administration, teachers, support staff, students, parents, must work together to support an environment that is safe and promotes teaching and learning.”
One of the most important concepts vital to a behavior plan is the communication of principles and expectations. Essentially, this is the ground-work for establishing behavior policy within the school. I chose to use McIntyre’s illustration of “Valued Principles and Expectations” for the foundation of my assignment. They state:
All individuals in the school will treat all others with respect, concern, caring, and fairness.
All individuals in the school will display good citizenship and acknowledge responsibility for their behavior.
Students are expected to attend all classes, arrive on time, and actively engage in tasks.
Faculty has the right and duty to model and teach the principles of respect for others and responsibility for one’s actions.
The faculty will establish and use behavioral consequences in an educational manner, helping students to appreciate the purpose of rules, the importance of making amends, and the taking of responsibility for improving their behavior.
Students have the right to be treated with respect, to expect fair and consistent treatment of faculty, and to be able to voice and have their opinions tested in a respectful forum.
Students have the responsibility to be aware of and abide by the school rules, regulations, and procedures.
As a leader, it is my vision to incorporate an adaptation of these principles within the policies of my organization.
Political Influence and Governance
Upon entering the educational leadership program at MSUM, I initially feared the Political Influence and Governance competency. I had very little experience and knowledge pertaining to such ideas. As I look back at the last two years of my education, I find myself understanding the leader’s role with regard to political influence and governance. No-one task prepared me more than another for mastery. It was the very idea of becoming a “big picture” thinker that I believe will serve me the greatest as I continue my career. During my career and practicum, I have had many opportunities to lead and coordinate leadership teams. A dramatic shift in my thought processes has allowed me to be successful within this environment. I’m now infinitely more eloquent with regard to communicating the need to see every aspect of a situation before acting. I know that I have had a positive effect on the people around me. This has had the most dramatic effect with regard to political influence and governance. Because, I now see the “big picture”, I am able to anticipate and identify potential factors effecting politics.
Perhaps the greatest lesson learned during my practicum experience was the impact of poor communication. During my practicum time, my supervising principal gave me the task of researching and initiating a grant offered by the North Dakota Technology Council. This particular grant offered up to $75,000 in funds for the purpose of replacing curriculum with tablet technology. I was instructed to research whether or not using them for the purpose of replacing sheet music could improve student achievement and motivation. Based on my findings, I was given the go-ahead by my principal to initiate the grant-writing process. Upon completion, I submitted the document to the district office. Sadly, although the grant satisfied all criteria to an exemplary level, it never got passed the desk of the assistant superintendent. As a result of miscommunication between upper-level communication and my principal, chain of command was not followed. Therefore, the grant could not be submitted to the state. This was one of the most powerful blows to my professional career as I spent countless hours researching, developing, and writing for the purpose of the grant. Having experienced the impact of poor communication first hand, I have a more well-rounded vision for effective communication in the educational organization.
The most important resources leaders have with regard to maintaining vision is the community with which the educational organization practices. Schools can truly move mountains if the community and parents are behind them. As a result of my education at MSUM, I realize how important communication and involvement impact the degree of ownership the community and parents have within the educational institution. As a music teacher, I have seen the impact of these factors first hand. Having performed countless concert and public events, I have witnessed the excitement and ownership gained though aspiring to involve parents and the community in a program. The most important factor affected by their involvement is that of student achievement and motivation. By having a well-rounded structure incorporating community members and parents, it paves the way for student success and achievement.
Curriculum Planning and Development
“Curriculum leadership in schools is pretty much what the individual leader makes it” (Wiles, 2008). In Leading Curriculum Development, the author attempts to define effective curriculum leadership. Defining curriculum has been one of the most interesting growth steps during my education at MSUM.
Jon Wiles is of the mind that leaders should do more than simply manage existing policy and programs. Within my experience, most of the leaders I have worked with have done just that. They have a “hands-off” approach with regard to curriculum development and implementation. I’m not entirely sure whether it is lack of confidence or the fact they have too much on their plate that keeps them from getting more involved.
Mr. Wiles is in favor of Wiles and Bondi’s definition of curriculum. They define it as thus: “The curriculum represents a set of desired goals or values that activate through a development process and culminate in successful learning experiences for students” (Wiles, 2008). This dynamic view of curriculum is truly adaptable to any give situation. It gives the leader and the stake holders the freedom to adjust to the needs of the students as well as the faculty. Already, I am seeing great benefits of adjusting my vision to include a similar definition of curriculum.
Included in this dynamic view of curriculum is the idea that it is the “essential function” of the organization (Wiles, 2008). In my previous idea of curriculum, I loosely defined it as any material being taught to the students either explicitly or implicitly. This view seems to align with Wiles’ “essential function” ideal well. The curriculum truly drives the gears of the entire organization. Subsequently, it must be able to adapt to any situation, demographic, or need. As a future leader, I fully agree with curriculum as being the driving force behind education.
The leader’s role with regard to curriculum must be an active one. They must first facilitate a vision as to the importance of selecting quality and appropriate curriculum. Whether he/she works as an individual, facilitates a team, or relies on teachers to develop curriculum, a unified vision is of utmost importance. Within that vision must be the inclusion of a willingness to be dynamic. As a leader it is now my goal to create such culture within the organization.
Instructional Management for the Success of All Learners
As I reflect upon my personal leadership definition, I find myself revisiting my managerial style quite often. I realize that I favor more and more of a team leadership style. According to the Blake Mouton model, a Team Leader stresses production needs as well as the needs of people equally high (Owens, Valesky). By nature, this style tends to be a great motivator, but more importantly, the team has a greater sense of ownership and satisfaction. The team style of leadership goes hand in hand with situational leadership especially if one tends to be leaning toward the participating side of the situational model. As I reflect on the situational model even more, I have more of a selling style for my decisions. This helps me realize how much of a human relationship driven leader I am and in establishing a nurturing environment for the students of whom I’m responsible for.
During the my time at MSUM, so much self-realization was done in regards to leadership style and philosophy. It is apparent that educational organizations are slowly moving in a different direction. Leadership is no longer being viewed as a boss or managerial role. It is now being viewed more as a coach. This coach is more than a dictator that barks orders. His/her job is to be an inspirational figure to a team. The concept of teaming is very valuable. In the next section, I will outline three positive outcomes as a result of teaming within an organization. First, I will address how teaming divides work load more evenly. Second, I will highlight how teaming can improve communication among staff members. Lastly, I will discuss the idea of teaming creating an environment that is a reflection of what we desire in the class room.
Anyone who has been in the teaching profession knows how daunting of a task it truly can be. As the need for more data driven assessment rises, so does the need to delegate work load among staff. Creating teams is one of the most efficient ways of dividing responsibility. Doing so, has several positive outcomes. People have a sense of ownership when they work together to achieve a goal. They have a greater sense of involvement in the establishment. All of these things have a common thread linked to motivation. Instead of being overwhelmed with the task ahead, professionals tend to get excited for the process of attaining a goal.
Another positive outcome of creating teams is the increased communication between staff. This is where a Team Dimensional Profile would be of great use. As a leader it is important to see what kind of patterns individuals follow. An effective leader will take those patterns into consideration when establishing teams to improve communication. Teaming can also improve communication by creating opportunities for staff to have a voice. When teaming is not involved, the organization has a tendency to be more scalar, that is to say; the communication between the administration and staff tends to be lost somewhere in the middle. When teams are established, the playing field of communication becomes more leveled.
An important effect of teaming is how it creates an environment that emulates what we as teachers desire in the classroom. Often times it is so easy to adopt a “do as a say, not what I do” mentality in the classroom. How can we expect our children to work as a team when we as teachers are unable to do so? Creating teams among the organization demonstrates to all parties that the organization really does practice what they preach. Having that kind of consistency is crucial to an effective institution.
It is very clear that teaming can be a vital tool when leading an organization. Establishing teams divides work load more evenly, improves communication within an organization, and creates an environment that we desire for our students. These are just a few benefits of teaming. I look forward to discovering new benefits of teaming as I establish my role as coach.
Human Resource Management
With regard to Human Resource Management, no other course shaped my current view then Ed. 635, Personnel, Supervision, and Staff Development, at MSUM. At the time, the course was instructed by Dr. Dennis Van Berkum. During my experience in this course, I gained insight and skills need to recruit, assign, and compensate staff. Most importantly, I was given the opportunity to practice evaluation of staff. As a result of this practice, I feel more confident as a supervisor.
During my practicum experience, I was given the opportunity to facilitate several different staff development meetings and initiatives. The task I had the most control over was a book study on Alan November’s Empowering Students with Technology. As a result of completing this book study, I feel even more prepared to design and implement staff development opportunities.
Values of Ethics of Leadership
As a student in Education 634 at MSUM, I was given the task to reflect and respond to questions relating to our assigned text as well as the codes of ethics for administrators and teachers. The required text of Ed. 634 was Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. In the assignment, I answered questions provided by the professor of Ed. 634 with regard to the text and the codes of ethics.
Upon review of both the code of ethics for administrators and the code of ethics for teachers, I found a great amount of similarities, especially with regard to equal opportunity, safety, and being part of a team. However, it is clear that the code of ethics for teachers deal primarily with expectations of specific tasks the teacher must carry out or avoid. With regard to the administrative code of ethics, the big picture is the focus. In addition to the afore-mentioned similarities, they speak more of aspects effecting climate and culture of the institution. A large amount of focus is upon creating and maintaining a desirable and professional organization. I do agree with these codes of ethics examples. However, I find myself wondering if more items could be added, especially with regard to teaching. If more items were added concerning climate and culture within the organization, then the idea of creating a team would be reinforced. Ultimately, I believe that a code of ethics is vital for those in the public trust. Teachers and administrators are given an enormous responsibility and gift of taking care of a human life physically, emotionally, and academically. In order to create and maintain accountability, codes of ethics must be established. It is possibly the greatest legal recourse the public has when addressing misconduct.
Judgment and Problem Analysis
Being able make informed decisions in an efficient and productive manner is the most important skill directly effecting student and organizational achievement. As I reflect on my experience at MSUM, I’ve come to the realization that every course I participated offered experience and knowledge with regard to judgment and problem analysis.
The first course that immediately comes to mind was Ed. 635, Personnel, Supervision, and Staff Development. In this course, Dr. Van Berkum assigned many scenario tasks. Based on each scenario, I made decisions based on the provided information. Throughout my education at MSUM, this technique was used to give students opportunity to grow and succeed.
Many of the courses also involved the concept of data-based decision making. As leaders, it is incredibly important to use data to guide decisions throughout the organization. This provides for validity and research driven instruction. Most importantly, it breeds success.
Safety and Security
MSUM prepared me quite well with regard to safety and security of an educational organization. However, it was what I did outside of my master’s that prepared me the most. As a certified firefighter for the state of Minnesota, I gained a great amount of knowledge and expertise with regard to safety, security, and crisis response.
I began my coursework for firefighter certification in the year 2008 and completed FF1 training during my master’s degree at MSUM. A large amount of my education in firefighting dealt with terrorism, organizational safety, and crisis prevention. As a leader, it is my vision to incorporate what I’ve learned in the organizational policy and climate of my organization.
Ultimately, as I finish my program at MSUM, I reflect on my personal and professional growth. In fact, as I was creating this final document, I was struck with a great amount of pride in the amount of quality work I accomplished over the last two years. Exactly two years ago, I started a program for Educational Leadership. Now I am graduating with a K-12 administrative master’s. However, in the meantime, I’ve supplemented enough credits to finish my specialist degree in August, attained Fire Fighter Certification for the state of Minnesota, changed career paths, and managed a family. I’ve been told I’ve done more in the past two years than most people can do in ten years. As an incredibly humble person, it’s difficult to admit such a success, but as I look upon what I’ve accomplished, I’m forced to step back and be proud. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity to succeed that MSUM’s program, teachers, and advisors have given me. I am truly a better professional and person as a result of my experience. This document sums up my master’s work at MSUM. However, I don’t think words can ever express my experience.
Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers, the story of success. New York : Back Bay Books.
McIntyre, T. (n.d.). Developing a School Wide Behavior Management System.
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Wiles, J. (2008). Leading curriculum development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Pr.
Owens, Robert, & Valesky, Thomas. (2007). Organizational behavior in education. Allyn &