This is the first in a series of six articles on how education leaders can move the goalposts of leadership challenges.
Leadership teams need to act quickly because the goalposts are moving again!
To borrow a phrase from English football, have our leaders lost the dressing room? This means the manager has lost control of the players and their respect. The football analogy is a great metaphor for our school leaders. Much has been written about the effects of the pandemic on students and teachers. But we need to stop and consider the effects of the pandemic on our leadership teams who have constantly had their goalposts moved.
To say last year was a challenging year for leadership in schools is a polite way to say it was dreadful. Don’t fear, 2022 promises to be better is what we told ourselves in 2021. Maybe we were a little too fast to think that the pandemic would be over. The world continues to be in its grip; it is one of many that have occurred throughout human history. Luckily in 2022, we have the technology and collaborative teams of scientists that develop vaccines and protocols. For leaders today, the pandemic is an old problem in a new setting.
Perhaps looking backward may help us move forward into our unknown future. To paraphrase an expression: it was once said you ignore history at your own peril. To read the educational scholars whose contributions created the foundations of curriculum and pedagogy may give us a window to look through. Maybe we can gain insight from some of our past great thinkers such as Dewey, Piaget, Montessori, and Vygotsky to name a few. Another example is American pedagogue William Heard Kilpatrick, a pupil, colleague, and successor of John Dewey who said, “The world we live in is constantly changing at so rapid a rate that the past found knowledge no longer suffices. Am I wrong in thinking that education is changing now more than ever before?” With a few changes in vocabulary and syntax, this could have been written today but is actually from Kilpatrick’s Foundations of Method (1925). Kilpatrick was a major figure in the progressive education movement of the early 20th century and served on the faculty of Teachers College, Columbia University, from 1915 to 1938.
Often we coin terms as a response to the zeitgeist of our age and the political and cultural experiences of our times. For example, Dewey and Vygotsky coined the terms ‘progressivism’ and ‘constructivism’ in education to describe their innovative educational approaches, terms that are also names of art movements. These together with Seymour Papert’s theory of ‘constructionist learning’ reflect connections between knowledge, development, innovation, and materials. The future holds exciting emerging and future technologies; what pedagogical approaches could we anticipate as ‘Augmentedrealism’, ‘Blockchainism’ or ‘Nanomaterialism’? Conjecture aside, the discovery and manufacture of new materials require new words to describe them. However, not all new materials are produced intentionally. ‘Plasticglomerate’ is a word that was proposed to describe the composite material developed by the inadvertent combination of molten plastic waste with natural debris, often found on the seashore. How does this reflect our zeitgeist?
In changing times, how can you, as a leader, contribute to or build the new vocabulary we need for our students and faculty? What does it mean to be progressive today? Many school boards believe technology can address the curriculum gaps. However, Will Richardson says, “simply adding a layer of expensive tools on top of the traditional curriculum does nothing to address the learning needs of modern learners.” Even though school leadership supported faculty in delivering online and hybrid learning, we need to rethink how we engage our learners. So if our understanding of learning has changed, what about leadership in 2022?
Has the role of leadership changed? No, we have always needed effective flexible leaders who can empathize, adapt, define, rethink, replan and communicate. Leaders who can cope and flourish when the goalposts move. But the pandemic has shown us that now more than ever, through this time of loss and uncertainty, our leaders need to be brave. We need to emphasize the vital importance of empathetic and compassionate leadership to support all our school stakeholders.
Our Harbord & Khan Ethical Modelⓒ supports leadership and modern learners. Inspired by moral values, it provides a versatile framework to spark inquiry about who we are, how we live, who we want to be and our potential to impact our world. In looking back to move forward, can we be inspired by our own humanity? What if we developed a non-judgemental framework that promotes problem-solving and critical thinking and, through this, self-awareness so all our leaders can make it to the World Cup?