Grzegorz Mazurkiewicz


What is this about?

The concept of leadership is connected with the notion of power and it is discussed just as often and just as keenly. Unfortunately, despite all attempts, a definition of power that would be precise enough to use in systematic research has not yet been formulated. The most commonly quoted statement of ultimate is of Robert Dahl that A has power over B, if A can get B to willingly do something that B would not otherwise do5. Stephen Lukes concluded in the 1980’s that in our daily basis non-reflective judgments and comparisons of power, we have no difficulty in understanding the notion. Nonetheless, there is no attempt at defining power that would be successful once and for all and it will probably never succeed.

It would not be an exaggeration to say the same about the leadership – many attempts to determine the definition of leadership brought other versions. Nevertheless it cannot be said that the process of seeking the precise description has come to an end.

Leadership can be understood in a wide variety of ways:

  • as a process of influencing others,
  • as a method of forcing submission,
  • a mode of persuasion,
  • the effect of an interaction,
  • a mechanism for attaining goals,
  • a measure for building structures,
  • a negotiation of power,
  • a personality profile,
  • or even a type of behaviour

Questions to think about on leadership:

  • What are demands of the global and local context for our school?
  • Is the vision of our school relevant to the challenges and demands we face?
  • Is leadership aware of the social context? How (in what way) is it visible?
  • Who am I as a leader?
  • What is important for me as a leader? List priorities
  • Why do some people follow our school leader?
  • Why do they not?
  • In what way learning is supported in our school?
  • Are learning environments supportive and diverse?
  • How do I understand the concept of participation? How is it understood in school?
  • How do I distribute leadership? In what way teachers and students become leaders?
  • What kind of values influences our work?
  • Which educational theories/paradigms are popular in our school?
  • In what way are we using data? What kind of data we are using in our decision making?
  • How the school discourse/dialogue is organized?

Why is this important and how does it work?

Leaders are fascinating people. Successive generations pass on to one another various stories about their actions, attributes, achievements, failures or (very often) their heroic deaths. Leaders constitute a constant element by building the collective awareness of different groups They appear in schoolbooks and the media, they integrate people around a particular idea, they serve as a source of national pride and they even positively influence the sale of books and gadgets. Leadership is a popular topic. We have always believed that leaders are indispensable; we wait for them, we love them (and hate them), and we are ready to reward them very generously. We believe, that we need someone to take control over us, to lead us, to care for us and to advise us. This omnipresence of leadership and the belief that it is indispensable make it a difficult subject to talk about. This is because we are afraid of loneliness and we need someone’s presence, someone who will provide us with security. Moreover, because of its popularity, the notion has been discussed so often that it seems everything has been already said (nonetheless, the discussion still mainly revolves around stereotypes and simplifications).

Educational leadership is an area of human activity that is of particular importance. Studies e.g,  practical experience and political decisions have proven that there is an enormous potential hidden in educational leadership that may be used to support the process of learning and the development of educational institutions. However, for this potential to be fulfilled, two substantial changes are required: firstly, it is argued that it is necessary to increase the focus of leaders’ actions on the process of learning, and on organizing the conditions and environment in which this process takes place; and secondly, a participatory leadership must be popularized and engage many people in the decision-making process, including a reinforcement of mid-level and informal leaders.

Such leadership might be understood as an on-going process in groups of people and characterized by the following properties, explicitly showing its individual nature:

  • educational leadership is a longstanding process concerning the processes of teaching, learning and human development whose specific goals depend on the context in which the education takes place, and the main goal is still the learning and development of people, groups and societies. Through educational leadership we can perfect an ability to externalize the potential of others – aware leaders should, together with a group, create situations allowing learning and problem solving for all,
  • performing tasks is determined by an adopted system of values which are more important than externally imposed indicators,
  • the potential of educational leadership is not tied to charisma, authority or visionary of individuals but to the ability of an organization to increase participation of its members in the processes of decision-making and learning
  • through educational leadership a community of learners is formed by the engagement of mind and emotions, previous experience, sensitivity to operating conditions and to other people, with, at the same time, reference to the values acceptable to a particular society.

The key task of educational leadership is providing learners with conditions to learn through the creation of a suitable organizational culture, securing a functional design and the creation of environments and situations conducive to learning. Educational leadership ensures support in the development to all people – this is an important moral aspect: providing high quality education to all. It results from already mentioned: encouraging participation and cooperation, sharing the same vision, reflection on practice and research results and also from building relationships of trust and taking care of interactions and alliances.

Educational leadership is also critical towards unfair social reality impacted by poverty and inequality. By sharing power, educational leaders gain more influence over reality than when they try to change it individually.

People functioning as leaders should therefore take care of the ability of employees to learn and adapt to present conditions. The employees then start to consider the paramount question of the operating aims of their organization; they start to think critically about the structures of power and binding paradigms, and not only about the procedures functioning in an organization. A condition for professionalism is consciousness of various contexts: political, social, cultural, economic or ecological.

There is no single scenario or prescription for educational leadership. There are metaphors, ideas, contexts or mental models. We should abandon the idea of school as a metaphorical machine or factory, in favour of the concept of living organism. The metaphor of a living organism invites thinking about an organization as a process requiring constant adaptation and development, resulting from a desire to learn and survive. Leadership on the other hand, concentrates on building relations through a common sense of meaning, exchange, learning, focus on purpose and an awareness of the necessity of change.

Educational leadership should lead to constant reflection on the conditions of school functioning, accepted values and the needs of the society which the school serves, social trends, philosophy and attitude to the teaching process. This reflection results in actions adequate to the context. In an organization of high leadership potential there are therefore beliefs about the reasonableness of actions performed at school, a desire to seek new solutions and acceptance of possible mistakes as a result of activity, rather than negligence. Nonetheless, the idea is not to make school dependent on the context but rather to make it sensitive to the context, in an active way as well, with an intention of changing the context when necessary.

Educational leadership concentrates on the process of learning and development.
Leaders not only promote this aim but they learn as well, at the same time providing other people (learners, teachers and others present at school) with an opportunity to learn. It requires appropriate competencies enabling the organization of this process and assuring necessary resources. In an organization of a high educational potential, the operating aim is defined and accepted. There is time for reflection on the process of learning. In every aspect of an organization’s operation, it is clear that the priority is the learning process of its members. This is the principle of concentration on learning.

Educational leadership constantly demands and supports the participation not only of all employees but also learners and parents in the decision-making process and in dialogue through which a school’s course of action may be defined. We cannot change the school’s reality via orders, but we can by working together and building organizational culture in a daily struggle with reality. This is how a feeling of community and a comprehension of a system which a school is, may be built. As Vivienne Collinson and Tanya Cook underline, democracy requires the participation of citizens in “governing”. Respect for the contribution of members is a fundamental value when we underline the significance of equality and participation instead of control. In an organization of high leadership potential, employees’.

As democracy needs democratic education, democratic schools need leadership which supports building them.


Case studies

Leadership resources and reading list