Dr. James D. Laub, University of Texas of the Permian Basin


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Dr. James D. Laub, University of Texas of the Permian Basin, national refereed article published in the National FORUM of Educational Administration and Supervision Journal, 27(2) 2010.

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Dr. Kritsonis is founder of NATIONAL FORUM JOURNALS (since 1983). These publications represent a group of highly respected scholarly academic periodicals. Over 4,000 writers have been published in these refereed, peer-reviewed periodicals. In 1983, he founded the National FORUM of Educational Administration and Supervision – now acclaimed by many as the United States’ leading recognized scholarly academic refereed journal in educational administration, leadership, and supervision.

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Dr. James D. Laub, University of Texas of the Permian Basin

  1. 1. NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL VOLUME 27, NUMBER 2, 2010-2011 LEADERSHIP: IT’S NOT JUST A CHALLENGE, IT’S AN ADVENTURE James D. Laub University of Texas—Permian Basin ABSTRACT The purpose of this article was to explore effective leadership characteristics and behaviors that should be exhibited by superintendents, in an attempt to appreciably impact best practices. As the chief executive officers of school districts, superintendents are ultimately responsible and accountable to students, faculty, staff, parents and all other stakeholders. Superintendents are the key element in the stability equation, and the increased tenure of superintendents is essential to sustained educational reform. Introduction H istorically, leadership has been equated with exercising power and control over subordinates within an organization. The scientific management movement in the early 20th century was heralded as the panacea for organizational effectiveness. At that time, leadership theorists and practitioners were firmly entrenched in the doctrine of efficiency. Subordinates were simply another “tool”, basically a means to an end. Several theories of educational leadership have emerged, with each theory producing volumes of literature and legions of both proponents and opponents. Over the past decade, well over 60 various classification systems have been developed to define “leadership” (Northouse, 2004). Leadership has been defined in terms of the power relationship that exists between leaders and followers. Bennis and Nanus (1985) postulated that throughout the years, our view of what leadership is and who can exercise it has changed considerably. Leadership competencies have remained constant, but our understanding of what it is, how it works, and the ways in which people learn to apply it has shifted. Leadership practice takes form in the interaction between leaders and followers; leaders act in situations that are defined by subordinates’ actions (Spillane, 2005). 43
  2. 2. 44 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL Educational Leadership Strong and positive leadership owns a significant share of responsibility for effectiveness in schools. Sergiovanni (2005) wrote that conventional wisdom tells us that leadership is about finding solutions to problems, even in the best of circumstances, leadership is difficult. Effectiveness in schools cannot be traced and attributed to any single dimension of organizational effectiveness. Leadership challenges and problems that hinder school efficacy occur daily, effective educational leaders learn to expect the unexpected – they must rise to meet any challenge or problem that interferes with student learning and achievement. Challenges and problems come in many shapes, sizes, and formats – every day begins anew. Superintendents are much like mechanics, in that they both have a chest full of tools. Mastery comes from knowing which tool solves the challenge or problem at hand. Thus, educational leaders must be open and consider all claims and theories, they need not necessarily replace existing theories but challenge existing boundaries (English, 2003). The days of autocratic tendencies for school superintendents are gone. The pace for change confronting organizations today has resulted in a call for more adaptive, flexible leadership (Bass, Avolio, Jung, & Berson, 2003). Cooperative, participatory leadership should be the “norm.” Superintendents wear many hats, are responsible for a multitude of functions, and are not immune from this challenges and problems. Educational leadership is a multi-dimensioned position with school administrators serving within educational, political, and managerial dimensions. Bennis (1997) emphasized that adaptive leaders work with their followers to generate creative solutions to complex problems, while also developing them to handle a broader range of leadership responsibilities. School superintendents that do not include staff and subordinates in the decision-making and problem- solving processes are foolish and should keep their resumes up-to- date. However, school districts with severe problems can be “turned around” by dedicated, stable leadership (Farkas, Johnson, Duffet, & Foleno, 2001).
  3. 3. James Laub 45 According to Israel and Kasper (2004) with practice, time, skill proficiency, and developing wisdom superintendents in any school setting can be instrumental change agents for the betterment of schools. First and foremost, student success and achievement should capture the superintendent’s notice; they must be institutional visionaries. Thinking outside the box and developing a “whatever it takes” mentality, must be promoted and nurtured. The essence of educational leadership has been the ability to first understand the theories and concepts and then apply them in real life scenarios (Morrison, Rha, & Hellman, 2003). Leadership has changed rather dramatically as individuals recognize that what leaders do is determined, in large part, by the nature of those being led and the culture of the organization in which they work. As quoted by Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changing.” Effective superintendents must stay abreast of any changes or obstacles that interfere in the learning process and then have the fortitude to remove those obstacles. The status quo of educational administration must be challenged by always allowing for options, possibilities and probabilities when addressing systemic improvement (English, 2003). Educational theorists espouse numerous examples of what constitutes effective school district attributes. These attributes include: focus on achievement; shared vision and goals; high expectations; stakeholder involvement; and proactive learning environments. In a perfect world, every school district would be effective and every student in that school district would be successful. Regrettably, school districts do not dwell in a perfect world, but rather in a world of outdated educational administration theories. Kowalski (2005) reported that most states have plenty of people that have the credentials to serve as superintendents, the problem is quality. Creating a caring, self- enhancing learning environment should be a participative joint endeavor between superintendents, subordinates, and stakeholders. As public school districts move away from centralized decision-making, educational administrators must be competent to solicit input, analyze information, and build consensus among all stakeholders (Barnett, 2004).
  4. 4. 46 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL Points to Ponder • Parents do not hide the best students in the closet and send the rest to public school. Superintendents have the moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to provide every child in their school district with the tools necessary to achieve academic success, regardless of personal feelings. Students bring to school with them baggage that we may not be aware of - our job is to educate, not judge. • Bricks and mortar make a building; they do not make a school district. Humans and human interactions make a school district. As such, the primary goal for superintendents should be to establish a positive culture and climate within the school district. Superintendents serve as the conduit for the free flow and exchange of information; they must lead by example and set the tone. • Faculty and staff are there by choice, the students are not. Superintendents must have the courage and conviction to reassign and replace subordinates that are ineffective. Bottom line – schools are here to provide educational opportunities for the kids, not to provide employment opportunities for faculty and staff members. • Leadership is not a popularity contest; it is about doing what is right. Even in the face of adversity and unpopular public opinion, superintendents must remain focused. Educational leaders who are afraid of losing their job, by doing their job, does not deserve that job in the first place. Leadership equates to bravery, it is not for the timid or faint of heart. • Successful educational leaders may not necessarily the sharpest tools in the shed. However, these leaders are savvy enough to surround themselves with bright, energetic, optimistic subordinates. They place the right people in the right
  5. 5. James Laub 47 positions and situations and then get out of the way. Effective leaders encourage subordinates are not afraid to train their replacement. • Change is a gradual, continual process, but it is a process that must be promoted, nurtured, and implemented. If you keep doing things like you have been, you will keep getting the same results. Remember, if you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there. Superintendents encourage creativity and allow subordinates to fail – we learn from our mistakes. • Control what you can, learn to realize that some situations are out of your control. Learn to pick your battles, you do not have to win all the skirmishes in order to achieve victory and win the war. • Delegate, realize that you are not Atlas and that you cannot support the entire world. No decision is better than a bad one. Empower subordinates and share the responsibility - do not overextend, nor look for an immediate fix for every problem. As the adage goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” • Take care of yourself and learn to control internal and external stressors. As the superintendent your faculty/staff and stakeholders depend upon, and look to you for guidance. Be professional in all matters, educational leaders operate under a microscope, others will notice the slightest change in your behavior, demeanor, mannerism, and dress. • Read Ayn Rand’s “The Virtues of Selfishness.” Write and journal your thoughts for at least five minutes a day. Develop a network of professional peers and learn from them. Think on your feet, you will encounter situations every day that you may not have encountered.
  6. 6. 48 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL Concluding Remarks Public education needs effective educational leaders who are courageous pioneers and trendsetters. The superintendency is not for everyone; superintendents face a myriad of challenges. However, educators who are willing to meet those challenges have a strong desire to do what is best for children, welcome aboard. Remember, it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.
  7. 7. James Laub 49 REFERENCES Barnett, D. (2004). School leadership preparation programs: Are they preparing tomorrows leaders? Education (Chula Vista), 125(1), 121-129. Bass, B, Avolio, B., Jung, D., & Berson, Y. (2003). Predicting unit performance by assessing transformational and transactional leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(2), 207-218. Bennis, W., & Nanus, B. (1997). Leaders: The strategies for taking charge. New York: Harpers and Row. English, F. (2003). The postmodern challenge to the theory and practice of educational administration. Springfield, IL: Thomas Publishers. Farkas, S., Johnson, J., & Duffet, A. (2001). Trying to stay ahead of the game. New York: Public Agenda. Israel, M., & Kaspar, B. (2004). Reframing leadership to create change. The Educational Forum, 69(1), 16-26. Kowalski, T., & Bjork, L. (2005). Role expectations of the district superintendent: Implications for deregulation preparation and licensing. Journal of Thought, 40(2), 73-96. Morrison, J., Rha, J., & Helfman, A. (2003). Learning awareness, student engagement and change: A transformational leadership development. Journal of Education for Business, 79(1), 11-17. Northouse, P. (2004). Leadership theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Sergiovanni, T. (2005). The virtues of leadership. The Educational Forum, 69(2), 112-23. Spillane, J. (2005). Distributed leadership. The Educational Forum, 69(2), 143-150.