Leadership Characteristics that Facilitate School Change
Calls for educational reforms to address the needs of at-risk students are frequent. Their focus has been primarily on the content -- what students should learn, context -- the circumstances students should be learning in, and outcomes -- the knowledge and skills students should acquire. Important changes have come about as educational reform efforts focused on the needs of at-risk students. Data on students graduating with marginal skills and students not completing high schools have led researchers to question the established curriculum, standards, and practices of school systems. Information on underachieving students' performance has led to the exploration of methods that better meet these students' needs. Innovative instructional strategies such as cooperative learning have been implemented and found to benefit certain at-risk students (Slavin, Karweit, & Madden, 1989; Levin, 1988). Novel programs that include child care for teenage parents have been introduced and shown promise in increasing students' graduation rates (Garden, Casey, & Christianson, 1984; Forman & Linney, 1988; Pedro- Carroll & Cowen, 1985; Shapiro, 1987). Yet despite such efforts and the visibility of positive results, high drop out rates persist and minimally skilled students continue to graduate from schools.
Unfortunately, accompanying the calls for reform in school systems is an underlying assumption that the leadership needed to execute these changes will somehow emerge. As the reforms are implemented, the leadership skills of school administrators guiding these changes have received attention from researchers. Consensus exists on the critical role leaders play. What types of individuals are these leaders who initiate and maintain successful educational changes? Do leaders of educational change share similar characteristics? Which characteristics are unique to specific roles?
This paper, a companion to two other syntheses (Boyd, 1992; Hord, 1992), reviews the literature to determine the characteristics that appear to facilitate or impede the implementation of school improvement interventions for at-risk students. In the context of this paper, characteristics are the personal qualities that contribute to a person's leadership practices. This paper examines the influence of these personal characteristics on educational leadership.
The paper begins with a brief review of some key leadership concepts. Next, there is a discussion of the characteristics found to be unique or common in effective educational leaders. Finally, this synthesis concludes with a discussion of the implications of leaders' characteristics on implementing or initiating change within an educational system.
The information will be useful to practitioners attempting to implement an educational innovation or a systemwide change at the school or district level. In addition, this information may be used for professional development. The information might also be useful for the evaluation and selection of individuals who are responsible for change efforts and for the development of training programs of educational leaders. Finally, this paper attempts to raise awareness about individuals who promote educational change.
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