Exploring teacher’s innovative leadership roles in small rural schools



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Exploring teacher’s innovative leadership roles in small rural schools

  • P. Koulouris, pkoulouris@ea.gr
  • S. Sotiriou, sotiriou@ea.gr
  • Ellinogermaniki Agogi
  • Athens, Greece

Our focus here:

  • New leadership roles teachers can play in small rural schools and beyond

Inviting the teacher to become a change agent in the community

  • We believe that an informed, adequately prepared teacher of a small rural school can:
    • Catalyse innovation and development in the school and the local community
    • Turn the school into a lively node supporting lifelong learning for everyone
    • Make the school more responsive to the growth and survival needs of its community
    • Develop responsible citizens and create opportunities for tomorrow's rural leaders to emerge

Rural schools promoting personal and community development

  • A skilful and devoted teacher may turn known and emerging opportunities into an advantage for his students, himself/herself, the school, as well as the wider local community.
  • Diverse roles that the remote rural school can play are recorded in the literature.

Diverse school roles

  • Non-educational impact of schools on rural communities (Salant & Waller, 1998)
    • multi-faceted school-community relationship
      • positive economic and social impacts
      • a resource for community development
      • offering a delivery point for social services.

Links between education and rural development

  • Educational attainment as a rural development strategy (Barkley, Henry, & Haizhen, 2005; Beaulieu & Gibbs, 2005)
    • a better educated rural population leads to greater economic growth
  • Recent studies in the USA:
    • more rapid earnings and income growth in rural counties with high educational levels
    • improving local schools can reverse the tendency of loss of young adults through outmigration (‘rural brain drain’)

Community development: not only economic

  • Economic, social & environmental well-being
  • Miller (1995) on rural schools:
    • Working in partnership with local leaders and residents
    • Giving students, working alongside adults, meaningful opportunities to engage in community-based learning that serves the needs of both the community and the students.

Social capital: a crucial concept

  • ‘Social capital’:
    • social organization and resources embedded in the social structure of the rural communities, which can facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit, and thus community development.
  • Social capital exerts a positive causal influence on economic development (Woodhouse, 2006).
  • The school is an important element in the creation of community’s social capital (Miller, 1995)
    • We should build and sustain strong linkages between the community and the school
    • Rural communities may have a head start in developing these linkages: schools have traditionally played a central role in the life of the communities
  • Yes, but how?

This remains a challenge

  • A strong school-community partnership remains a major challenge:
    • this is not generally viewed as a traditional element of schooling
  • Approaches are needed that cross the boundaries traditionally separating the community as a place of learning from the school

Three approaches (Miller, 1995)

  • The school as a community centre
    • a resource for lifelong learning, a vehicle for the delivery of a wide range of services
    • school resources (facilities, technology, well-educated staff) can provide educational and retraining opportunities for the community.
  • The community as curriculum
    • Study of the community in its various dimensions.
    • Students generate information for community development by conducting needs assessments, studying and monitoring environmental and land-use patterns, and by documenting local history through interviews and photo essays.
  • School-based enterprise
    • Developing entrepreneurial skills
    • Students not only identify potential service needs in their rural communities, but actually establish a business to address those needs.

The case of satellite broadband internet

  • Let’s imagine that satellite broadband connectivity is made available to the school
  • The teacher should be encouraged to:
    • turn it into advantage and opportunity for all
    • promote the development of a new culture among local citizens

The teacher can turn the school into a “Learning Hub”, a gateway to knowledge and lifelong learning which will be open to everyone in the community. Contact us to give you examples and ideas!

So, teacher’s multiple roles

  • Typically, the teacher is already:
    • Struggling daily in a demanding school setting
    • Maybe acting as the head of the small school
    • Considered by the local people as a prominent member of the isolated community

Additional leadership roles

  • The teacher can also become:
  • The manager of change in an informal local ‘reform’
  • An instructional leader exploring new ways to improve the quality of teaching and learning
  • A developer of links and synergies between the school, the community and other schools in the area
  • A facilitator of communities of learning in, around, and outside, the school
  • The former and implementer of innovation matching local needs

Questions arising

  • Obvious need for corresponding professional development:
    • Which form? What content precisely? Which competences?
      • solutions and opportunities of the Information Society
      • pedagogies specifically adaptable to the ‘unusual’ settings of the small rural school
      • Innovation
      • change management
      • local and rural community development, etc.

Questions arising

  • Possible conflicts with the highly centralized educational system?
    • the teacher in this context is encouraged to initiate and implement an informal local ‘educational reform’
    • What if decentralisation and autonomy of school units is not encouraged by the system?
    • Can this discrepancy be a source of tension?
    • What can we practically do to convince the others and overcome such obstacles?


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