Who Are the Leaders?

Leaders and leadership have become the coin of the realm in educational administration discussions (Murphy, 1991). This has not always been so. In the early history of schools, administrators were teachers with additional support responsibilities. As schools became larger and more numerous, administrators became more management oriented, emulating business and industrial models. In the face of growing societal unrest and tensions, school managers were challenged to bring order and stability to schools. In the past decade, however, school and district administrators have been encouraged to move beyond their stabilizing posture and step boldly out to provide guidance and leadership for instructional change and improvement.

Much has been recorded about the principal's leadership role as change agent and gatekeeper to instructional change (Duttweiler & Hord, 1987). As visible as the principal has been in accounts of change, the superintendent has been nearly invisible and ignored (Crowson & Morris, 1990). Lamenting this situation, researchers have turned attention to district level players and to the contributions of the chief educational officer in the local district (Hallinger, Murphy, & Peterson, 1985, 1986, 1987). Further, the manner in which the superintendent relates to principals and orchestrates change across a district is the focus of a growing body of knowledge (Coleman & LaRocque, 1988; Pollack, Chrispeels, Watson, Brice, & McCormack, 1988).

An additional focus of attention has been on teachers and counselors who serve with principals in roles to facilitate change. The discovery of these "second change facilitators" (Hord, Stiegelbauer, & Hall, 1984) revealed their close association with principals in supporting implementation of new practices (incorporation of new curriculum or instructional strategies into regular classroom use, for example). These change facilitators work as a team, through holding regular briefing and debriefing sessions where implementation is assessed and the needs of implementors (those putting "newness" into place) planned for. Such teams frequently include central office staff who serve as an external assister, a factor identified by Cohen (1987) as a necessary force for change.

The effective schools process, based on the effective schools research and used by many schools as a school improvement vehicle (Levine & Lezotte, 1990), employed such a school leadership team to guide the staff in the preparation stage of change, to support the development of a school improvement plan, and to facilitate implementation of the plan when it had been completed. Studies focusing on these teams make it clear that while the principal is viewed as a key player in change efforts, and bears responsibility for its success, the principal by no means acts alone. A team comprised of various stakeholders in the school, including professional and non-professional staff, parents and community representatives, carries out the complex and regular demands made of schools involved in the change process.

Thus, many persons in different roles or positions contribute to leading and facilitating change. These can be superintendents, central office staff, principals, teachers, students, counselors, external consultants, parents, school board members and community persons. What these persons, in various configurations, do collectively to provide implementation guidance and support is the focus of the next section.

What Do Leaders Do?

The literature has included reports about the roles and activities of leaders and leadership teams engaged in effective school projects and school improvement efforts. Typically, such reports focus on the introduction of a change, initiation of the change process, and mobilization of the school and/or district as 1) goals are set, 2) data are reviewed, 3) needs are established, and 4) campus or district action plans are developed. Many educators are relieved when the hard work described above has been completed. Many also assume that somehow the job of school change and improvement has been completed at this point.

Whereas these first four steps in the school change process constitute a preparation stage, it is at the Fifth Step, Implementation, that the changing actually begins. At this point, the new practices identified in the action plan are ready to be put into place in classrooms and the school. And it is at the implementation stage that many improvement efforts fail for lack of attention. This paper draws particular attention to the implementation stage of change and to the actions taken by school leaders who effectively implement policies and practices identified to improve their educational organizations.

Understandably, the position of a leader who is providing supportive action for change could influence the action's effectiveness. However, the relationship of leader position and effectiveness varies from site to site. This report, then, focuses on the actions required by leaders for successful implementation of change, irrespective of who does them. To describe what is done by such leaders, a short review of relevant literature from change research is reported. This research is followed by the school improvement story of a district that exemplifies what has been learned about leadership for change.

Next Page: From Research

Published in Issues ...about Change Volume 1, Number 2, Leadership: An Imperative for Successful Change (2000)