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 I realized how much I long to be an effective leader. It wasn’t until I participated in Education 630 under the instruction of Dr. Dennis Van Berkum of Minnesota State University, 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. As a result I have chosen to compose the following essay on leadership. I will outline my point of view on organizational theory, leadership, and culture. I will also provide a personal perspective of decision making. Throughout this process I will also include my plan for growth in such an organization.
It is clear that throughout the last century many different concepts have been attempted as an organizational theory. When reflecting on traditional theories it is evident that all of them have some principles that can be useful in today’s school systems. There are three organizational theories that beg investigation: Bureaucratic, Scientific Management, and Classical theories. In the following words, I will explore each theory and its validity as a useful management tool.
The Bureaucratic Theory is truly an impersonal concept as Robert Owens and Tomas Valesky state in their instructional text, Organizational Behavior in Education (Owens, Valesky pg. 89). 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 is the idea of Scientific Management. Although somewhat as impersonal as the Bureaucratic Theory, the Scientific Management concept begins 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 this 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 area to be reflected upon is the Classical Theory of organization. This area seems to take the idea of motivation to an entirely new level. The inclusion of such things as: “ideals, values, beliefs, and the need for personal satisfactions” as motivators are crucial in the organizational process (Owens, Valesky pg. 90). However, there is one negative factor within this theory. It is the idea of the “scalar principle”. While some system of hierarchy needs to be in place, the belief in a lack of communication between the different levels of the hierarchy is truly detrimental.
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.
Conversely to the flexibility of managerial style, all leaders need to have a clear vision of leadership that is not easily swayed. If change were to happen in this area it is only because it evolves into a stronger more well-rounded vision. It is my vision to have an educational organization that fosters a love of learning. In order to achieve this, it must have an atmosphere of mutual respect and constant demonstration of desired behavior. It is also part of my vision that, as educators, it is our obligation to teach the “whole child”. We must teach children how to be positively influential members of society. This means creating an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation. It is this vision that has shaped my understanding of 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 should be. 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, have come 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 a leader 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 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 find that 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.
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 the weeks in Ed. 630 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. At South Elementary in West Fargo, Principal Loren Kersting has established teams based on such observations. As a result, communication has greatly improved among staff members. Another result is the dramatically reduced influx of faculty members occupying Mr. Kersting’s time. 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 though, 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.
As leaders, it is imperative we look at the elements that compose the organizational climate of our schools. This will guide both our communication with staff and our decision making. When looking at my own situation, I suspect it is much like any other educational organization. I believe the diagram on page 200 of the Owens accurately portrays the aspects that influence school climate. However, in the diagram the factors seem to influence the climate evenly. It is my experience that some factors influence the culture more heavily than others. Overwhelmingly, the factor that influences my schools’ culture is the organization. This is where the interaction-influence system comes into play. This principle focuses on the idea that the structure and interaction of an organization are interdependent.
After careful reflection I’ve come to understand my school’s climate is dictated by how effective the communication is. It is my opinion that communication among teachers at my school is very well maintained and student-driven. To me, that is very important. This idea establishes a climate and culture that is pupil-based. Teachers communicate questions and concerns about students, so they may provide the best opportunities possible. It is evident this process is a positive influence on the organizational climate. The area I believe needs evaluating would be the one of communication between leadership and teachers. I fear this is an issue with many schools. As in many institutions, there seems to be a brakedown of communication between the administration and the faculty. This has resulted in less motivation, uncertain decision making, and negative feelings. It simply is another example of how the scalar principle is not effective. It has a profoundly detrimental impact on the climate of our school and any school. To me, it drives home the fact of how much a leader can affect the organizational behavior of his/her staff both negatively and positively. Ultimately, there are many factors that influence a school’s climate. As leaders it is important we look at factors that influence the climate the most initially. Of course, what factors have the most influence is totally situational and should be treated as such.
It is truly amazing how many variables a leader must take into account when defining an organization’s culture and climate. When studying organizational culture it is necessary to consider the many established symbols. South Elementary is no exception to this rule. When reflecting on my school’s organizational structure, I chose three symbols that have a great impact. The three symbols are: heroes/heroines, traditions, and beliefs. Over the next couple paragraphs, I will reflect on how each symbol is manifested in the school.
At South Elementary, we take pride in having the most qualified, experienced staff. Recently, we were faced with the retiring of 5 teachers that have been “symbols” at south for decades. These people had a profound impact on the organizational culture of the school. To me, they were viewed as heroes/heroines. Often, teachers would come to them for advice, teaching strategies, and friendship. As a result, the culture was both directly and indirectly defined by their leadership.
With the organizational culture at South, I found tradition played a large part in its definition. I believe this is an indirect result of having a low turn-over rate among teachers. Because of an established bond between faculty members, certain traditions have been established at South. These traditions help shape the organization and strengthen the bond amongst the members of the staff. As a result of teachers being in positions for a longer amount of time, they themselves have established traditions within the school. These traditions range from holiday programs, musicals, field trips, and classroom parties. All of these things help to shape the climate of the organization.
Lastly, South Elementary is often defined by its belief system. It is this area where I found the most use for the “Diagnosing a School’s Culture” document that was included in the Ed. 630 course. I found South is shaped by the belief in having high expectations of the staff as well as the students. I believe this attitude has a profound impact on most every aspect of the environment. It might be the sole reason South Elementary made A.Y.P. during a time where it is nearly impossible to do so. One of the reasons this idea is so central is not only do the teachers and administrators have high expectations, but the expectations are clearly defined as well. The defining of expectations is crucial to having success. This greatly reduces miscommunication as well as confusion.
Diagnosing the culture and climate of an organization is truly a complicated task. Nothing is clear cut. Nothing is definite. When breaking down the complexity and looking at the supporting evidence, two factors seem to stand out as effecting organizational climate; communication and perception. How people communicate with one another as well as how people perceive situations and environments can have a lasting impact on the success of an organization.
Through all of this analysis, to understand as leaders we need to support a climate of success and exploration and not failure and limits. According to Organizational Behavior in Education, the schools that do this have higher levels of achievement. It states, “schools that emphasize supportiveness, open communication, collaboration, and intellectuality, and that reward achievement and success, out-perform those that emphasize competition, constraint and restrictiveness, and rules and standard operating procedures, and that reward conformity” (Owens, Valesky pg 221). I believe this statement reinforces the need to establish such an environment. Within this type of environment it is only natural to look at the symbols that have a great impact on the environmental culture. As leaders we need to reflect upon these symbols and reinforce the ones that have a positive influence and address those that don’t.
During my experience in Ed. 630 at MSUM, I’ve found one thing to be overwhelmingly evident when it comes to decision making. It’s that every decision made is purely based on the situation at hand. There is no one answer to any given problem. This seems to go hand-in-hand my previously defined style of leadership. According to the Vroom and Yetton taxonomy there are three different processes that guide decision making: autocratic, consultative, and group processes. In the next few words, I will outline why leaders should and should not use a particular style based on individual situations. I will also give insight on how I would make decisions as a leader.
The first process of leadership is autocratic. Within this process there are two styles: AI and AII. An AI leader “makes decisions based on whatever information is available” (Owens, Valesky pg 304). An AII Leader “secures necessary information from the group and makes a decision” (Owens, Valesky pg 304). . Based on these definitions it is evident little to no decision is to be made by the group as a whole. Superficially, one would think there is no situation that dictates this type of action. However, when taking into account absolute district policy and procedures this style becomes useful and appropriate. If a student where to violate a clearly stated policy then a leader can and should take appropriate action without having to consult the team. On the other hand, this process should not be used when a situation is presented that is ambiguous or if it affects the group on a grand scale. This type of leadership should be used with utmost care.
The second process of leadership is consultative. There are also two styles to this process. “The CI style of leadership shares the problem or situation with relevant members of the group on a one-to-one basis and makes a decision” (Owens, Valesky pg 304). “The CII style of leadership shares the problem with members as a group at a meeting, than decides” (Owens, Valesky pg 304). This style also leaves little to no decision making to the group. However, it creates an environment where the group is kept in the loop about particular situations. To me this style is useful when wanting to use the strengths and experience of a group to make the best decision possible while still letting the leader have the final say. This style would be of great use if a situation presented itself as being somewhat clear as to what decision is to be made and if it were to affect the group as a whole. It would not be useful if the situation where to be ambiguous, individualized, or private.
The last process is that of the group. It consists of only one style. The GI style of leadership “shares the problem with the group and facilitates efforts of the group to reach consensus on a group decision” (Owens, Valesky pg 305). This type of leadership is much more team oriented. It would be safe to assume that most decisions would not be made in this manner. It is the time consuming aspect that guides me to this conclusion. A leader can’t make split-second decisions using this process. However, in situations concerning the group as a whole, and have a very direct impact on the student learning, this style of leadership can be very useful. It is my opinion that this style should be used whenever it can.
According to Vroom and Yetton, all styles of leadership need to be viewed from an organizational behavior aspect. For this reason, no situation can and should be treated the same. The leadership styles they present are merely suggestions. I’ve come to the conclusion situational leadership is an answer that should guide many decisions. Leaders are appointed to a position in order to accurately gauge situations and make the best decision possible. It is my hope as a future leader I can make decisions that create an environment that is student centered and motivated.
As leaders, we are faced with a multitude of situations. It is fair to assume that while situations may be similar, no two are exactly alike. Decisions need to be based on the particular situation at hand. Vroom and Yetton established a guideline that can be useful in determining what style of leadership can be used in a given situation.
However large or small, it is reality to assume change as being a necessary part of decision making as well. It is my personal view that change is very powerful. It has the power to make or break relationships and even organizations themselves. In next few words, I will outline my view of change within an organization, the impact of change on the organization, and power’s effect on change.
It’s hard to imagine a world without change. A world without change would be lifeless, boring, and stagnate. It would be safe to assume education without change would yield the same result. When considering any type of change within an organization it is most important to consider all ramifications. Today, it is all too easy to change for the sake of change instead of changing for a purpose. It is necessary to involve anyone who has stake in any particular change. It is my opinion that a normative-reeducative approach is one of the best strategies for change. This strategy positively affects productivity through the use of collaboration within the organization.
The impact of change can be very profound. Even when looking at past personal experiences, I see the smallest variations had a lasting impact on my life. In education, the same can be said. Sometimes the smallest, well-thought-out change can have the largest impact on an organization. Conversely, there are times where the biggest and grandest restructuring resulted in no impact or a very negative one. In addressing change, if and when change must be made, there needs to be a systematic approach. As with any decision, an effective leader must consider all aspects of an organization in initiating change. Every organization is unique and dynamic. It is important to gain understanding of how one’s own institution lives and breathes before making change.
Through experience and observation, I’ve come to understand the effect of power on change. I believe power is often abused especially when it comes to state and federal guidelines. This, do it or else mentality, is slowly turning out to be ineffective. As a result, adopters are forced to work in an environment that is set up to fail rather than to succeed. This Power-Coercive strategy of change is seemingly useless for educational purposes but somewhat useful for political gain. Today, the need for power with responsibility is great. As leaders we must find ways to spread power as equally as we can in order to create an atmosphere of checks and balances.
It is evident in order for any educational organization to be deemed successful there must be positive change. As leaders we must carefully consider all aspects of change. We must have a clear vision. We must also have a clear understanding of how to institute change.
During my experience at West Fargo, I’ve observed a great deal of change. West Fargo Public Schools is known for its outstanding growth. The district is slowly running out of room for students. It is my feeling the administration is doing the best they can with the situation at hand. Perhaps the biggest factor limiting their ability to manage such a change is the people of West Fargo. In the West Fargo Public School system, decisions such as building new schools and facilities need to be taken to the people via referendum. After two failed attempts, administrators seem to be running out of options. As leaders we need to have a vision that includes such potential situations. It is my vision to be prepared with both educational precedence and philosophy in order to act as someone who can guide a board in making accurate decisions.
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.
In this essay, it was my attempt to illustrate what I believe an effective leader to be. In doing so, I outlined my point of view on organizational theory, leadership, and culture. I provided a personal perspective on decision making. Throughout this process I included my plan for growth in such an organization.