Leadership Characteristics that Facilitate School Change
About this Series of 3 Literature ReviewsThis monograph is one of three in a series of literature reviews focusing on topics that influence school change. These are:
- Méndez-Morse, S., Leadership Characteristics that Facilitate School Change (who are school change leaders and what are their attributes?);
Boyd, V., School Context: Bridge or Barrier to Change
(how does context influence leaders' work for change?); and
Hord, S.M., Facilitative Leadership: The Imperative for Change
(what do leaders of school change do to make change successful?).
These monographs are part of SEDL's Leadership for Change Project. This project's goal is to promote leadership and facilitate change among education professionals to foster systems and schools that are structured to increase achievement for all students, especially those at risk. The project hopes to inform practitioners and policy makers about the need for attention to the change process and the factors that will enhance the potential for successful change efforts.
As noted this project pays with particular attention to students characterized as at risk of failing in or dropping out of school. The Méndez-Morse and Boyd reviews provide insights relative to leader characteristics and contextual variables especially significant in addressing school change for the benefit of at-risk students. Méndez-Morse suggests that effective leaders possess particular sensitivity to the needs of less successful learners, a characteristic that helps them make sound judgments about potentially powerful programs to introduce and implement in the school. The paper reports about other leader characteristics as well.
Boyd maintains that leaders need special understanding of the contextual factors that impinge on at-risk students, on staff and on their school in order to plan change with staff, parents, and community. Boyd enumerates environmental and cultural factors that constitute the school's context. Without accurate perceptions about the environmental and cultural factors that interact with students and staff in at-risk settings, successful change in these sites may not result.
Whether in sites of high ethnic/minority populations, in settings of language deficient students, in schools where children come from poverty level, one-parent families -- or from middle-class suburbia -- the strategies that leaders use to bring about change are generic. School leaders may shape their actions and behaviors to their own personal characteristics and belief systems, and deliver them in ways that account for the cultural and environmental factors of the staff, school, and community. But their strategies, operationalized by their actions and behaviors, remain consistent, as revealed by the research conducted in widely varying school sites.
For example, a leader in an economically disadvantaged school may introduce the idea of school change in a way different from the leader who introduces improvement to an economically comfortable school with a high number of merit scholars. But in either case, a key strategy for initiating change is development of a vision of improved effectiveness.
This review identifies strategies generically required for successful change in any setting. However, it is not a how-to-do-it document. Training and development in these strategies may be found in various professional development programs, and the Leadership for Change Project is producing some resources. For example, see Tompkins, The Change Exchange: A Compendium of Resources. Further, the project is creating a set of growth and development materials and activities to support leaders' knowledge, understanding, and skills in facilitating change. These materials titled, Leadership Development for Facilitating Change, will be available Spring, 1993. In addition, project staff produce short, four to ten page quarterly briefing papers on Issues ...about Change to increase attention on and awareness about change leadership.
This paper includes an examination of approaches to change articulated in the 1960s and 1970s and cites a typically missing factor in these early approaches -- the human interface or change facilitator. A second section of the paper focuses on the change facilitating strategies of principals and their leadership teams as documented in the 1980s, and also on strategies of superintendents that are parallel at the district level to those at the school level. In the final section, material about leadership for change needed for restructuring and systemic change in the 1990s is reported -- for the most part speculative, since little research has to date been conducted or reported on the "restructuring" leader.
This paper has been produced in honor of those school leaders who have energetically and enthusiastically committed themselves to improving schools, and in the hope that the information reported about these leaders will be helpful to others as they engage in making schools more effective for all children.
Shirley M. Hord, 1992