Leadership is Everywhere - Preservice Teacher Leadership

While the research and policy literature frequently highlights the importance of leadership to school success and student achievement, the 'leadership' they have in mind is primarily that of the principal. As teachers have become more involved in school administration, the importance of teacher leadership and its impact on student success and teacher professionalism have occasionally been noted in the school leadership literature.

 EdTech Heros/Leaders
What I have yet to read about is the contributions of novice or preservice teachers to the knowledge, practice or motivation of other educators. As an advocate of distributed leadership and the notion that leadership is everywhere, I am a firm believer that influencing the knowledge, practice or motivation of others in the service of organizational goals can indicate leadership influence. While some may feel that their newness to the profession precludes novice and preservice teachers from being considered leaders I would like to highlight the contributions of Brock's EdTech Cohort as a case for acknowledging preservice teacher leadership.

Contemporary leadership portrayals highlight the importance of how leaders influence those around them (Leithwood et al, 1999; Northouse, 2010; Spillane, 2006; Yukl, 2010). From a social influence perspective, leadership can be considered to be any activities that attempt to influence the knowledge, practice and motivation of other organizational members in the service of the organization’s core work (Spillane, 2006). Within the context of the schoolhouse, school leaders are seen as ‘‘those persons, occupying various roles in the school, who work with others to provide direction and who exert influence on persons and things in order to achieve the school’s goal” (Leithwood and Riehl, 2003, p. 9). Thus, by exerting influence in the service of school/educational goals preservice teachers deserved to be considered leaders.

The use of social media has made finding examples of leadership influence much easier for researchers and potential followers alike. In fact, this is the basis of tech-enabled leadership:

Tech-enabled leadership can be defined as leadership that take advantage of the affordance of technology to enable leadership actions that are open, collaborative or dynamic. With a focus on leadership influence, tech-enabled leadership transforms the scale and scope of traditional leadership structures to facilitate the distribution of leadership actions that influence the fulfillment of organizational goals.

In a very short period of time the preservice teachers in Brock's EdTech Cohort have capitalized on the benefits of using technology to exert leadership influence. While it is to be expected that these teacher candidates would influence their peers, what has been notable is how the scale of their leadership influence has left the confines of Brock's teacher education program to influence the knowledge, practice or motivation of educators outside of the program.

Following the blog and Twitter feeds of the EdTech Cohort in addition to their educational technology videos available on YouTube highlights their collective contribution to enhancing educator professional knowledge. More importantly, a careful examination of the blog comments and retweets from educators not associated with the teacher education program provides encouraging evidence that these preservice teachers have influenced the knowledge, practice or motivation of other educators.

While I began this blog post with the goal of drawing attention to the leadership influence of preservice teachers, what I find more exciting is the future leadership potential of these educators that have already demonstrated their ability to support the professional knowledge and growth of the profession even before their first day employed as a teacher. This bodes very well for the future of education.

I look forward to watching them learn and grow and you can too. To see these leaders in action visit:

Leadership is Everywhere

I recently took some time to re-visit the Ontario Leadership Framework published in 2008 by the Ontario Institute for Educational Leadership. With a goal to "support leadership excellence in Ontario",  the framework and the accompanying self assessment tools are great resources that advance the institute's goals.

The framework is research-based, yet practical, and as the title suggests, easy to put into practice. Despite this, each time I read it I am left with a nagging critique. Upon reading the framework, you are left with the impression that educational leadership resides solely in the office of school principals and district  supervisory officers.

The research demonstrates that:
  • Principals and vice-principals are critical to the development of excellent teaching, excellent schools and, ultimately, enhanced student achievement;
  • Supervisory officers play an essential role by putting in place supportive system practices and procedures for school and system leaders, and provide critical system-wide leadership. p.3.
While I don't question the validity of statements such as these, the over-emphasis on the 'leader' as opposed to 'leadership' discounts the contributions of teacher leaders, informal leaders and educational stakeholders can play in contributing to school leadership. 

The document is very helpful in highlighting the specific leadership practices and competencies that contribute to school success and student learning. The level of detail included the skills, knowledge and attitude school leaders should exhibit, not only creates a common language, but also supports the ease in applying the framework. Unfortunately, what the framework fails to acknowledge is that a variety of educators and school stakeholders may also possess these skills, knowledge and attitudes.

All educators within a school need to be actively engaged in "Setting Directions"  by "building a shared vision, fostering the acceptance of group goals" as well as "setting and communicating high performance expectations". In addition to principals and vice principal, teachers, students, parents, and community members play a key role in "Developing the Organization" by engaging in  leadership actions that "build a collaborative culture and connect the school to the wider environment". The document similarly ignores the contributions of teacher, students, parents and external community members to "Building Relationships and Developing People" and "Leading the Instructional Program". 

While the document and even the institute's website haven't been updated of late, I hope that future iterations include a more inclusive portrayal of school leadership and an acknowledgement that leadership is everywhere.

Defining Tech-Enabled Leadership

Tech-enabled leadership can be defined as leadership that takes advantage of the affordance of technology to enable leadership actions that are open, collaborative or dynamic. With a focus on leadership influence, tech-enabled leadership transforms the scale and scope of traditional leadership structures to facilitate the distribution of leadership actions that influence the fulfillment of organizational goals.

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The Impact of Technology on Leadership

Traditional leadership patterns are often opaque, unilateral and rigid in nature not because formal leaders want to maintain a stranglehold on leadership influence, but more because of the challenges and constraints of acting in a contrary manner. 

Formal leaders are often at the epicentre of organizational information, serving as gatekeepers to the essential information and resources that are needed to keep an organization running. Before the advent of digital resources, sharing information and information was often a costly and time consuming process. Access to vital information was frequently limited because it would have been prohibitively expensive and logistically complicated to freely share these resources with all stakeholders. 

While the development of the personal computer and the Internet made it easier to distribute materials, the exchange of information was still most often unilateral with knowledgeable leader disseminating information to their followers. The complexity of creating web resources limited the number of people that could participate in the creation of information or resources that could influence the knowledge, practice or motivation of others. These early web resources were also read only, leaving little or no opportunity for readers to contribute their input or alter the original document. Even email, which revolutionized organizational communication, was reliant on direct person to person communication and unwieldy when it came to interacting with large numbers of people.

With the new millennium came the development of the read-write web or Web 2.0 resources like social media. It was the use of social media with its emphasis on active participation, connectivity, and collaboration, that finally enabled leaders to easily and efficiently share their knowledge and ideas with an unlimited number of followers. Thus, technology enabled leaders could overcome many of the challenges and constraints of traditional leadership to engage in leadership actions that are more open, collaborative and dynamic.

How has technology changed your leadership?

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Understanding Student Engagement

Simply put, student engagement can best be understood as a relationship. The relationship between:
  • the student and the school community;
  • the student and school adults; 
  • the student and peers; 
  • the student and instruction; and
  • the student and curriculum (Yazzie-Mint, 2009)
 Researchers have noted that there are four key indicators or contributing factors to student engagement. These include academic, behavioural, cognitive, and affective engagement (Furlong Christenson, 2008; Yazzie-Mint, 2009).

While standardized test results are considered the primary indicator of academic achievement, they do not reveal what is required to achieve academic success. Academic engagement captures what is often required for students to be academically successful. This is reflected in the amount of time a student spends actually doing schoolwork or related projects in school or at home, the number of credits the student has accrued, and the amount of homework completed (Furlong & Christenson, 2008).

More important that just the time students spend at school, behavioural engagement captures not only student attendance, but also active participation in classes and involvement in extracurricular activities (Furlong & Christenson, 2008). Going to school, completing their homework and participating in class, are just two parts of the engagement puzzle. To be considered cognitively engaged students need to perceive the relevance of school to their future aspirations. Thus, cognitive engagement is expressed as academic relevance, an interest in learning, goal setting, and the self-regulation of performance (Furlong & Christenson, 2008).

An over emphasis on standardized test results has created an environment where many educators are often fixated on direct instruction and a narrow band of academic indicators and have forgotten about the importance of relationships. Both the academic and social aspects of school life are integral for student success. Consequently, student to student, student to teacher, and student to school community relationships are vital components of student engagement. This is especially true for those students who are vulnerable to educational failure, show signs of withdrawal from learning or experiences motivational difficulties (Furlong & Christenson, 2008). Thus, affective engagement refers to a sense of belonging and connection to and support by parents, teachers, and peers (Furlong & Christenson, 2008).

While the education community works hard to provide a positive education experience for all young people, the number of students that frequently skip class or school, and eventually drop out, highlight the reality that many students are not readily engaged at school. The three most-cited reasons — given by students who have considered dropping out — are all focused on school-related factors:
  •  “I didn’t like the school” (50%), 
  •  “I didn’t see the value in the work I was being asked to do” (42%), 
  •  “I didn’t like the teachers” (39%). 
  •  While 35% of respondents considered dropping out because of the difficulty of the work, 13% considered dropping out because “The work was too easy (Yazzie-Mint, 2009; p.7).
Understanding how academic, behavioural, cognitive, and affective engagement affect how students perceive their educational experience is key to assessing the level of student engagement within individual schools and creating a plan to address engagement shortcomings. 

Furlong, M. & Christenson, S. L. (2008).  Educating students at schools with learning: A relevant construct for all student. Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 45(5).
Yazzie-Mint, E. (2009). Charting the Path from Engagement to Achievement: A Report on the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement. Bloomington, IN: Center for Evaluation & Education Policy Indiana. Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~ceep/hssse/images/HSSSE_2010_Report.pdf

Photo by breity