As the 21st century continues to unfold, the task of finding competent leaders to occupy positions of leadership in the educational arena continues to be a challenge not because of a lack of academically qualified leaders, but because of a lack of adaptive -competently qualified candidates. As such, many schools are under the leadership of leaders who lack the qualifications necessary to operate educational institutions in an era marked by rapid and constant change. If the educational scenery is to realize any meaningful change educational leadership should be reinvented. This paper identifies some of the challenges currently faced by the Education system. It looks at how these challenges may be addressed by reinventing educational leadership. The paper culminates with brief recommendations of how institutions of higher learning as well as stakeholders in the educational sector may reinvent the manner in which they prepare educational leaders -the end result not only academically-qualified, but also adaptive-competently qualified leaders who are able to perform in environments characterized by constant and rapid changes.
The educational environment in contemporary society is one in which change represents one of the very few constants. Cultural, social, political, technological and economical changes have resulted in a more diverse school populace since the genesis of education. With the advent of these changes, the educational sector is now faced with increased challenges. Challenges such as: low family literacy, increased poverty margins, a rise in dysfunctional families, and increased access to counter-productive information via internet. These challenges have seemingly created an uneven playing ground where students from all walks of life enter the education system being different, but by the time they exit, the barriers of differences should fade significantly, at least academically. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. An article by The National Association of Secondary School Principals “How do you reinvent a principal” highlights a number of effects these challenges have birthed: higher drop out rates, lower academic achievement and teacher attrition. The impact of the effects of these challenges on society is detrimental, as more students exit the educational system without the necessary qualifications to become positively contributing citizens to society.
As these changes and their impact are manifested in the educational environment, stakeholders are forced to raise their expectations from those in leadership positions within schools. Copeland in his article “The myth of a Super Principal” substantiates this point when he states that the expectations of leaders have increased significantly since the 1980’s (2001). The mandate of the No Child Left behind Act (NCLB) in 2001 solidified the prior statements as under the act leaders working in schools which were repeatedly classified as not meeting annual yearly progress (AYP) goals were relinquished of their positions. Incidentally, most of the leaders who were “relocated” were academically qualified for leadership positions, but lacked adaptive-competent qualification. Academically qualified leaders have successfully completed their years of training, by mastering the necessary dogma that was required. Adaptive-competent leaders are able to execute the theoretical skills practically and are able to assess new situations and appropriately modify their leadership style to suit the situation. As the educational scenery changes leadership should be reinvented if any measure of success is to be expected in erasing the effects of the challenges facing education.
The expectations of society have shaped and will continue to shape the roles of those in leadership positions. Educational leaders are now expected to be more than managers, creating rules and policies and maintaining the necessary paper work. They have to be more than disciplinarians, enforcing rules and policies and giving consequences in the event that rules and policies are broken. Leaders are expected to, amidst all the challenges they face, contribute to the increase in student achievement, cut drop out rates, and be a motivating force to their teachers. As the period of high stake testing takes root, no educational leader is exempt from these new demands. Institutions of higher learning as well as stakeholders within the educational arena must now ponder and quickly, how to prepare leaders to take on an educational system that must survive in these turbulent times, or face a future with yearly increase in the number of counter-productive students.
Educational leadership for this era demands a style of leadership that is fluid sufficiently to deal effectively with the challenges which will continue to bombard the academic world. This style of leadership should be entrenched in values, only then can an educational culture that is conducive to the invention of productive future citizens be realized. These values should encourage integrity in decision-making which will impact not only education, but stakeholders as well. A value-driven culture should produce leaders and followers who are willing to listen, and evaluate data before taking the steps to implement or act on the data. 21st century educational leadership should encourage collaborative team work within their organizations. This will permit staff members to feel a sense of self worth and subsequently self confidence as they work with their leaders to realize the necessary changes needed to counteract the challenges they face. Educational leaders should encourage staff-creativity, as they seek new ways to address new situations facing education. Far too often educators rely on the advice of those outside of the educational arena to provide techniques with which they may master the challenges they face. In order for staff members to maximize their creative potential leaders should create environments that facilitate and encourage employee creativity and innovative efforts. Encourage workshops sessions were brainstorm techniques as well as the random word technique or mind mapping is used to identify on going methods of providing a climate in which students are motivated to learn. The environment in question should prompt employees to enthusiastically participate decisions critical to the education process. This can be achieved if leaders create a culture that is conducive to open communication, where followers are able to participate by expressing their ideas without fear of ridicule.
Contemporary educational leaders should move away from a particular style, but should utilize different leadership styles as the situation warrants in order to effectively deal with the challenges they face. Any leadership style that lacks the flexibility to bend as the time changes will become an impediment to academic progress. Institutions of higher learning as well as stakeholders should prepare educational leaders to embrace new strategies of dealing with a new “generation” which will continue to metamorphosise as the time changes. As society grapple with the shortage of qualified educational leaders, institutions of higher learning need to provide adequate and on going professional development opportunities to qualify those seeking leadership positions in order to produce academically and adaptively-competently qualified leaders.
21st century educational leadership should be equipped to deal with the myriad changes bombarding society. As technology, culture, politics, economy, and social factors continue to modify the educational environment, academic-qualification, should no longer be the measuring stick by which leaders are prepared. The need to develop adaptive-competence becomes necessary. Only then can leadership be revolutionized to meet the demand of a changing school populace.