Literacy, leadership, and the change process in public education.
With schools nationwide recently reconvening or soon to be, I wanted to submit an earnest article for parents and educators, school to district administrators, to reflect upon. Enjoy.
Educational change or reform as a topic is contentious at best. Whether fighting government officials for the right of all children to attend a publicly funded place of learning (school), as did Horace Mann, commonly referred to as the father of education (late 18th to middle 19th century) in America or determining what instructional practices are best suited for 21st century learning; change is both inevitable and a propellant for societal development.
The purpose of this article is to present an analysis of literacy as a required 21st century global skill in relation to educational leadership and the educational change process. This information attributed herein rests with my experience as a former middle school educator and my current doctoral pursuit, K – 12 Educational Leadership.
The concept of literacy as a global skill is evidenced in my state’s (North Carolina) mission statement; “… that every public school student will graduate from high school, globally competitive for work and postsecondary education and prepared for life in the 21st century.” However, all this is meaningless if students do not possess the capacity of literacy in relation to critical thinking as related to reading, writing, numeracy comprehension (each one is a basic life functioning skill) and their proper utility and application.
Having experienced improving literacy as a district initiative in support of the state’s Department of Public Instruction mission statement was not necessarily an error in judgment, but an error in that the initiative was short lived. However, that is not to say that the school leader with vision in support of student social development and academic achievement could not have continued as some schools in which I visited, did. Fullan (2007) addressing district initiatives, infers that what school districts envision as change does not necessarily unfold in the classroom (p. 27); the strategy of change employed fails to produce positive outcomes … As a result, meaningful reform escapes the typical teacher, in favor of superficial, episodic reform that makes matters worse (p. 28).
I opine that literacy is reflected in an individual’s ability to communicate effectively interacting with others in academic, occupational, and social settings. Accepting this to be a truism aligns with the following, “Many American students lack sufficient knowledge about other world regions, languages and cultures, and as a result are likely to be unprepared to compete and lead in a global work environment (Zhao, 2007, p. 11).” Sufficient knowledge describes global literacy.
Ken Leithwood, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Toronto, Canada, articulates core practices of successful (school) leaders – redesign the organization through collaborative cultures and structures and build productive relations with parents and the community (Fullan, 2009, p. 166; Leithwood, 2004). This idea of relationship behavior is further discussed by Marzano (Laureate media, 2011) who interprets leadership behavior as behavior that builds a cooperative culture and avenues of communication. As a point of reference, all that is stated can easily be implemented in any school. Leithwood’s analogy speaks to the professional learning community (PLC) concept. A PLC constructed of both internal and external stakeholders to a respective school.
Theoretically, an effective leader is competent and judged by such which is evidenced in their ability to make decisions, plan for and implement change, and problem solving; to name a few leader abilities. Northouse, Leadership: Theory and practice, fifth edition, (2010), in a section of the book titled, Emotional intelligence, Northouse references Goleman (1995, 1998) attributing the idea of competence, either personal or social, to one’s emotional intelligence (2010, p. 23; Goleman 1995, 1998).
With respect to leadership planning and implementing change, leaders must be transformational and highly self-efficacious. Transformational leaders possess the ability to initiate, develop, and carry out significant changes in organizations (Northouse, 2010, p. 185); in essence, plan and implement change. Therefore, educational leaders, as leaders in all professions, must believe they have the capacity to employ educational strategies appropriate for their learners and external stakeholders; parents and community. “Educators must decide who they are and how they want to be perceived in their schools and in their profession. Becoming a principal or teacher leader demands a commitment to change and grow as a person and as an educator (Helterbran, 2010, p. 369; Helterbran, 2008a).” Northouse (2010) uses the term self-confidence (confidence is a leader competency) akin to self-efficacy; the ability to be certain about one’s competencies and skills (p. 20).
To summarize my article, literacy, leadership, and the change process; I will quote Northouse (2010): “Literacy is not just about reading the words on the page; it includes comprehension, and the skill and joy of being a literate person in a knowledge society (p. 46).” Therefore, school leaders confident in their ability to effect change respecting cultural and socio-economic differences, given the chance and resources, are conduits to 21st century learning helping to develop our children into literate citizenry who are globally competitive.
Fullan, Michael (2007). The new meaning of educational change, Fourth edition. Teachers
College Press, New York, NY.
Helterbran, Valerie R. (2010). Teacher leadership: overcoming ‘I am just a teacher’ syndrome. Education, 131(2), pp. 363 – 371.
Leadership in a Global Society [Robert Marzano]. Retrieved from mym.cdn.laureate-
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Mission statement. Retrieved from http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/organization/mission/
Northouse, Peter G. (2010). Leadership; Theory and practice, Fifth edition, SAGE Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA.
Zhao, Y. (2007). Education in the flat world: Implications of globalization on education.
EDge 2; 2(4), pp. 3 – 19.