Developing Educational Leaders for the 21st Century

by Dianne Yee, The University of Calgary, August 1997

Educational Leadership Development

Examples of Leadership Development Initiatives

Traditional biases and external constraints must be minimised or ignored in order to encourage innovation in design of leadership development programs. The following initiatives are examples which I believe are able to provide assistance in guiding current program design.

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

As part of ongoing research into the nature of administrator problem-solving expertise, Leithwood and Steinbach (1992) from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) designed a program to investigate improving the problem-solving expertise of administrators through the instruction of expert problem-solving processes. "The primary focus of instruction was on general problem-solving strategies, with domain-specific knowledge provided by colleagues in the context of solving real-life administrative problems" (p. 322). The problem-solving strategies used in the program were selected because they were used by experts in solving problems; they played an important role in problem solving; they were transferable across many problems; and they were commonly absent among nonexpert administrators.

All principals and vice principals from a large school board north of Toronto were invited to participate in this program. From the 38 volunteers, 22 constituted the experimental group, and 16 agreed to act as the control group. Both groups took the pre- and post-tests which involved giving written solutions to two hypothetical case problems, but only the experimental group took part in the instructional program. The four day instructional program was evenly spaced over a period of four months. Participants worked on all or part of nine relatively unstructured educational leadership problems. The problems used for instruction were selected for their authentic nature to ensure an understanding of what was learned, to allow for connections with existing knowledge, and to provide motivation for learning.

The instructional strategies used in the program were typical of problem-based instruction. Participants were required to identity the problem-solving strategy used by others to analyse and evaluate the processes used by the problem solver, to practice the strategies themselves using a new problem, and to reflect on their strategy use. In addition to the amount of structure, other variables which were manipulated were the number of components in the problem-solving model, the function participants were asked to perform in relation to the components, the social context for problem solving (individually, in pairs, in groups) and the form in which thinking was communicated (orally, in writing, audiotape.)

Effectiveness of the program was assessed by using subjective appraisals from the participants and by using the written solutions to pre- and post-tests. These written protocols were analysed holistically by two expert practitioners based on the quality of the problem-solving process and the solution arrived at. "With respect to the components of the problem-solving model, the experimental group showed significantly greater expertise in their thinking related to the interpretation of the problem, the goals set for solving the problems, and their understanding of the importance of anticipating and planning for handling of possible constraints" (Leithwood & Steinbach, 1992, p. 338). The most striking example of growth occurred in the goal setting component.

Based on their findings, Leithwood and Steinbach (1992) suggested that this approach to teaching problem solving seemed promising. "There is tentative support for the special value of using authentic problems; small-group, collaborative work on such problems; modelling of effective processes; feedback to students; and a framework of components and subskills to cue the use of processes and to serve as a scaffold for problem-solving" (p. 341). They also indicated that on-the-job experience is a slow and unreliable way to improve the problem-solving expertise of educational leaders when compared with a well-designed program.

Indiana Principal Leadership Academy (IPLA)

The Indiana Principal Leadership Academy (IPLA), a state-sponsored training centre, was established to provide principals with the knowledge and skills required to implement state education reforms and to transform principals from building managers into instructional leaders (Hallinger & Anast, 1992). It involved 18 days of training which took place over two years and focussed on the topics of leadership, school programs, school culture and communication.

An initial evaluation using case studies which was conducted after four years of operation described the program's perceived impact on the participating principals (Hallinger & Anast, 1992). Data were gathered from both the IPLA's staff and the participants using document collection, direct observation of programs, and participant interviews. Recurrent themes among the perceptions of the principals were identified.

Participants in the IPLA indicated that the program helped them "to become risk-takers, to share and delegate responsibilities, to define and communicate a vision of the school to the entire community, to work more collaboratively with teachers in curriculum areas, and to provide more incentive for staff and students" (Hallinger & Anast, 1992, p. 418). Principals also claimed that their skills were strengthened in the areas of leadership, climate development, supervision and evaluation, and decision-making.

Research has found that participants must leave training with a high level of skill mastery to allow for transfer of learning to the workplace (Hallinger & Anast, 1992). There were few opportunities in the IPLA for participants to engage in independent practice of their skills with feedback from an expert. Data also indicated the absence of on-site coaching during the program. Principals often reentered their school from the training program with the best intentions. "In the absence of accountability and support, new ideas, programs and skills obtained during training can fade quickly in the face of workplace norms of the school" (p. 418).

The isolation inherent in the principal's administrative role implies the need for even greater attention to support reentry into the school from the training site. The principals appeared to have low expectations concerning district support for their professional growth (Hallinger & Anast, 1992). Most principals reported that their district administrators tended to allow them considerable freedom to implement building changes. To a limited extent, graduation from the program conferred enhanced status on the principal, but district administrators did not expect principals to formulate their own goals, present a formal report on the outcomes of their training experience, or develop a plan regarding how they would use the training to improve their performance or their school.

"Significant widespread changes in workplace practices will only occur when the professional skills of principals have been strengthened, and there is concerted support for implementation at the local level. These dual conditions are not yet in place in the IPLA" (Hallinger & Anast, 1992, p. 427). However, a more explicit focus on skill development and implementation would likely require additional resources allocated to the program by the government. It might introduce a higher level of anxiety around the program for the principals and necessitate substantive change within a stable administrative culture for local superintendents. It would also require greater creativity and an increased emphasis on outcomes by program facilitators.

School Leader Education Program (SLEP)

When Swedish principals or vice principals are appointed, they are required to participate in a leadership development program. This program has been in operation for more than 20 years, instituted as a result of an extensive reform effort in the mid-1970's to create a more collaborative style of work in schools. The School Leader Education Program (SLEP) was viewed as a vehicle for equipping principals and vice principals with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to fulfil the new role expectations of collaborative leadership (Ekholm, 1992). In Sweden, educational leadership has not traditionally been treated as a separate field of study by the universities. In the past decade some universities have begun to offer preservice programs in educational administration, but the primary vehicle for administrator preparation since the mid-1970's has been the federally-sponsored SLEP.

In this 2-year program, principals and vice principals were joined in their training by the superintendent and one school politician from their district. This concurrent participation by the full array of local school leaders allowed real problems to be used as the basis for learning. Local norms could be discussed, and participants could initiate improvements in their home schools on the basis of shared decisions arising from the SLEP. A cohort of 8 to 12 persons with diverse backgrounds and school responsibilities worked together over the 2-year period.

The program consisted of course meetings, school assessment and evaluation projects, and noneducational job internships. Substitutes were hired to replace the school leaders during their training. Twenty days of course meetings were held in blocks of four or five days with the purpose of discussing issues related to school reform. Sometimes these sessions were presented by external experts, but often participants reflected on the work done in their own schools. Topics included the school as a part of society, political aims of the school, group dynamics, management theories, evaluation in practice, organisational theories and their practice, teacher assessment, staff development and in-service training of teachers, time management analysis, and school improvement. All participants were visited several times in their schools by trainers to discuss their practices as they related to the course readings and activities.

The school assessment and evaluation projects consisted of a variety of activities designed to motivate participants to assess their schools and apply new ideas and concepts in their school with the support of the training program. These projects consumed 30 to 40 days over the course of the two years. The experiences of the participants were then incorporated into the course meetings.

In order to gain a better understanding of the social context of schooling, the participants were also required to spend time in two short-term, noneducational internships. To foster a better understanding of the varying problems of children and their families, as well as the range of community services available, participants were required to work in another part of the child and youth care system. Participants also spent an internship in a job typical of the area in which their school was located to provide an understanding of their local working environment.

In 1980 the Swedish government commissioned a longitudinal evaluation of the SLEP to determine how participation in the program had influenced the leadership styles and practices of the school leaders and to assess the degree to which schools and classrooms had changed as a result of the program. Thirty-eight school management areas agreed to participate in the study. Data were collected from many stakeholders by pairs of evaluators using individual and group interviews, surveys and observations at three points over the 5-year period. The focus of the data collection was perceptions of change in both the actions of school leaders and in the organisation, decision-making and educational practises of the school during this time. Content analysis of the interviews was conducted immediately after completion of the site visits, and these reports remained confidential until the last round of evaluation at the completion of the study. Information was then discussed with staff from each of the schools, and a cross-site analysis was conducted with the assistance of supplemental survey data.

This leadership development program contributed to the creation of new norms and skills among many of the participants, and "transformation of the schools, both in terms of school leadership and teachers' planning and work, seemed to be rooted, at least in part, in the SLEP" (Ekholm, 1992, p. 383). The research was able to "detect changes in leadership styles of about half of the principals" (p 376). In assessing the impact on the work patterns of teachers, the study showed that expectations for collaborative work were met sooner by the school leaders than by the teachers. "The likelihood that teachers would shift to more collegial working norms seemed to depend to a significant degree on whether or not the leaders of the school had themselves begun to operate in a more collaborative fashion" (p. 377).

In terms of the influence on teacher-student interactions, at the end of the 5-year period, 28 of the 35 schools continued to rely predominantly on teacher-directed strategies of classroom instruction rather than student-directed learning. Regarding school-based planning and evaluation, they found that of the 34 schools which had developed a local working plan, 22 schools did not use the plan at all. This suggested that the SLEP had little impact on implementation activities related to formal planning processes.

The California School Leadership Academy (CSLA)

The California School Leadership Academy (CSLA) was a statewide program involving approximately 1500 participants per year at 14 regional training sites (Marsh, 1992). It served aspiring and practising administrators by providing a 3-year program composed of core module workshops, follow-through support and networking activities, and comprehensive school improvement projects. The 3-year commitment to the program by participants was designed to minimise the limitations associated with isolated, short-term professional development experiences. An evaluation using Murphy's (1988) holistic framework reviewed both long term instructional leadership functions and specific instructional leadership skills of participating principals by using direct observation, interviews, questionnaires and artifacts.

Three stages of instructional leadership were derived from the interviews with principals. In the second stage, described as a process-oriented view, the principal regarded instructional leadership only as a means of involving teachers in decision making or school improvement. The third stage, described as a comprehensive view, was one in which the principals also had an integrated view of instruction which included students, staff, attitudes, curriculum, instruction, materials, policies and practices. These reflective principals were able to connect the separate pieces of their roles to create a richer, global view of instructional leadership (Marsh, 1992).

This study recommended that, "because a major part of the principal's job involves working through others, effective administrative training must emphasise both the context of the school organisation and culture in order to influence the entire school" (Marsh, 1992, p. 399). Effective training programs should, therefore, focus on the following areas of school organisation and culture: the principal's ideas and attitudes, the principal's actualised behaviour and practices, school leadership structures, school level policies, teacher beliefs, and teacher classroom practice.

The core workshops and the networking component of the program had a high degree of influence on the principal's ideas and attitudes as well as on the principal's actual practice (Marsh, 1992). The culminating project produced the strongest influence on school leadership structures, culture, and teacher beliefs and practices. Transfer was also enhanced "when the training fit with district reform priorities, when district leaders supported the use of leadership skills by the principals, and when these principals were used as models for other principals in the district" (p. 403).

This evaluation of the CSLA program reported that after a high-quality, 3-year program, most principals were at the second stage of development; they were efficient managers who were good at doing the pieces of instructional leadership. Approximately 15% of the principals were both efficient managers and strong instructional leaders. "They held integrated views of instructional leadership, reflected about instructional issues, and had brought substantial change in their schools" (Marsh, 1992, p. 404). CSLA program designers believed that educational leaders must understand how the many pieces of their organisation fit with curriculum and instruction. Their dilemma was how to develop this integrated conceptual understanding in more of their participants.

This program also emphasised the need for reflective practice by administrators who must solve technically and politically complex problems while working through other people. Most graduates had discontinued reflective practices which had been established during the CSLA training. Another dilemma was how to maintain this reflective focus regarding instruction.

A further program issue was structuring the administrative training so as to support the transformational nature of reform. "Graduates valued the parts of the training that were immediately useful in an instrumental sense and often 'down-sized' big ideas to allow them to fit with preexisting perceptions of their work" (Marsh, 1992, p. 406) rather than transform their views and practices. Another transfer issue which emerged was helping administrators adapt the generic training to the needs of their specific site. Despite the many ways that CSLA designed the program to enhance the use of site-based training, little coaching was carried out. The program had difficulty generating an extensive level of coaching and structuring the coaching to support the transformational shifts needed in administrator practice (Marsh, 1992).

University of Durban-Westville (UDW) and University of South Carolina (USC) Partnership

In 1993 the University of Durban-Westville (UDW) in South Africa and the University of South Carolina (USC) collaborated in establishing an administrator training program. There were no specified qualifications for South African administrators; in the absence of many typical American constraints, USC faculty, with a background in preparing school administrators, drew upon emerging literature (Bjork & Ginsberg, 1995). A team of four American professors, several South African principals and professors, and two TOPS (a nongovernmental agency) officials visited schools, teachers, principals and communities across South Africa for over four weeks prior to designing the training program. The program was later refined in conjunction with UDW and USC faculty, TOPS officials and program participants.

Their program contained a 1-year field-based component which involved periodic meetings with a facilitator who lead the participants through training materials and readings while they remained full time in their schools. Then qualified students who had been selected into the master's program came to USC as a cohort for five months. Following the five months at USC, students returned to South Africa and participated in facilitator training for the field-based program. They then returned to their school for a period of approximately one year for active involvement in the field-based training of new students. This provided an authentic setting to either practice or observe training concepts in their schools. Finally the students went to UDW, an institution patterned after the British model of graduate training, during the late spring of the following year to satisfy other program requirements. These were completed under the direction of UDW faculty. To graduate, students were required to have successfully completed all course topics, a thesis related to the principalship in South Africa, and a series of written examinations administered by UDW.

Even though the program planning team was from diverse backgrounds, they found that their beliefs, values and perspectives were close enough to allow for collaboration. They agreed on:

the need for extended field-based experiences, both at one's own school and elsewhere; the need to better integrate field experiences with classroom-based activities; the need for cohorting of students to create ongoing dialogue among professionals; the need for periods of full-time participation by students; the need for peer coaching in the field; the need for more reality-centred teaching approaches using South African case studies; and the need for cooperation with school districts to allow their employees to be permitted to leave their positions for periods of time to enter training. (Bjork & Ginsberg, 1995, p. 29)

The extensive field-based component, the purposeful selection of topics or modules based on identified needs of participants, and the dynamic nature of the program as it continued to evolve were different from what has been traditional in the United States. "In essence this project resembled the learning organisation identified by Senge" (Bjork & Ginsberg, 1995, p. 29).

Leadership Profile Development

Begley (1995) described three role-profiling leadership development projects which took place between 1990 and 1992 in Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Western Australia. The purpose for carrying our these projects was to update the conceptual frameworks used to structure formal leadership development courses in these regions.

Developing a working draft of a leadership profile typically required an initial 30 to 40 hours of intensive, collaborative group work by a writing team of 12 to 15 diverse practitioners and one or two academics. Many additional days of work by a subset of the team were required in editing and validating the various drafts. The creation of the 2-dimensional matrices began with development of a goal statement followed by a series of decisions about which categories of professional action were most relevant to achieving the desired goal. These categories, called dimensions, were broken down into a set of subdimensions. Next the teams created descriptions of the range of professional behaviour which would be observed in the work setting ranging from acceptable, competent practice to ideal, expert practice. Draft versions of the profiles were then subject to extensive field validation before the documents were released for use by educators, academic institutions, and professional organisations in the respective regions.

Considering semantic differences, all three profiles incorporated descriptors related to school culture management, instructional leadership, and organisational management. This provided an indication of important similarities between the Australian and Canadian contexts. The profiles also disclosed differences in school leadership practices across the three regions.

The profiling process acknowledged the dynamic nature of school leadership, as well as the many images of situationally and subjectively defined practice. "The process of 15 people working together for many days in a sustained effort to identify the key dimensions of school leadership and articulate the actions of expert leadership in differentiated circumstances contributes significantly to the attainment of reflective practice for members of the profile writing teams" (Begley, 1995, p. 187).

It was noted that these profiles required frequent review on a cyclical basis like a school curriculum, probably at least every five years. Changing leadership role requirements and new research findings create this necessity for renewal.

The Illinois Administrator's Academy (IAA)

The Illinois Administrators' Academy (IAA) offered a statewide leadership training program (Behar-Horenstein, 1995). The key program components included an emphasis on theory, individualisation and aspects of cognitive apprenticeship. The cognitive apprenticeship concentrated on teaching the processes that experts leaders use to handle complex tasks.

Administrators who enrolled in this program were paired with a leadership analyst who shared their administrative experiences. The role of the analyst, while similar to that of a mentor, was primarily analytic. One of the analyst's first tasks was to determine the administrator's unique situational needs. To accomplish this, administrators completed an informal self-assessment. Next, they were observed in their actual work settings by the leadership analyst. The analyst observed the administrator leading group meetings and in post-observation conferences with teachers. The analyst also conducted structured interviews with students and staff and collected representative documents that highlighted the nature of the administrator's written communication. This assessment component provided administrators with an opportunity to evaluate and reflect about their leadership skills within their own school context (Behar-Horenstein, 1995).

Benefits Derived from Leadership Development Programs

Current studies have begun to identify general areas of promise in educational leadership development programs. There appears to be consistency with regard to the feelings of renewal and enthusiasm among the principals involved in such programs (Baron & Uhl, 1995; Hallinger, 1992).

As a result of the leadership development programs, participants reported changes in collaborative leadership behaviours (including others in decision making, leading by building teams, emphasising collegiality, sharing information with others) and problem solving behaviours (analysing problems before acting, gathering relevant data before deciding) (Baron & Uhl, 1995; Ekholm, 1992; Hallinger & Anast, 1992; Krovetz, 1995; Wallace, 1992).

These programs have also assisted professional norms to evolve. The programs frequently contributed to community building among administrators. "In a role characterised by isolation and lacking in support, principals found new courses of sustenance and learning among their colleagues" (Hallinger, 1992, p. 310). The programs have also reinforced the principal's role in instructional leadership. Participants also indicated that their experiences provided a better understanding of the change process (Krovetz, 1995). In addition, they appear to be moderately successful at developing a new belief that lifelong learning is a career responsibility for educational leaders (Hallinger, 1992).

A coordinated approach to leadership development which involves referencing stakeholders such as universities, government departments, professional organisations, and school districts appears promising. These partnerships allow for increased program design expertise, more funding sources, and a larger participant base (Baron & Uhl, 1995; Lumsden, 1992).

Leadership Development Program Limitations

Although studies suggest that educational leaders left the programs with different perceptions of their role and some additional skills, there is little evident of a transformation in the principals' practice of school leadership (Hallinger, 1992). "The culture of the local school, prior experience, and the role expectations of others in the local school community were identified as key factors that moderated the transfer of training" (p. 312).

Both pressure and support are need to facilitate change in educational organisations. Leadership development programs must provide more frequent and significant opportunities for authentic skill practice with expert feedback when skills are a focus of training. Participants observed that the training exercises which brought them into contact with their schools were among the most valuable learning activities. "This type of high-risk, high-return activity require support and assistance in order to obtain the full impact on the individual and the organisation" (Hallinger, 1992, p. 312). It has been acknowledged that coaching support is needed to ensure successful implementation of newly learned skills, yet few of the leadership development programs incorporated coaching or on-site assistance.

School districts must accept responsibility for supporting the integration of training into school and district practice. Superintendents should support the learning of their school leaders by adapting district personnel policies and by setting reasonable normative expectations. Leadership development programs must also negotiate and clarify the support role of the local district as if it were an explicit component of the training program. New ways of thinking and new skills do not survive without demonstrated support through district norms, policies and practices (Hallinger, 1992; Hallinger & Anast, 1992).

Careful selection of instructors and wise program design are essential. Some studies also indicated concerns regarding trainers with limited group process skills, lack of participant consultation into the program design, and issues of program management (Wallace, 1992).

Also worthy of note, initial funding for leadership development programs which often previously came from government bodies must be created through participant fees and by adopting innovative funding options in current economic climates.

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Last modified on February 22, 2004.

Please send your comments or suggestions to dlyee@ucalgary.ca.