The management of educational centers has always been a complex and varied task, but in recent times the global pandemic has added obstacles to the usual problems and has increased the complexity of management. It seems logical to think that the people who have to lead in these circumstances – and also in the previous ones – must be competent in very different areas.
In addition to managing the pandemic, school administrators have to respond to complicated challenges: from the need to be held accountable for results to continuous changes in laws and regulations. And all this in a context of increasingly diverse students that requires greater efforts to achieve inclusion and equity in schools.
Faced with these challenges, which are very similar in different parts of the world, some school leaders rise as leaders of their communities and manage to change them, while others allow themselves to be won over by circumstances or even abandon their leadership position.
What is it that makes each other different? Why do we call the former leaders, and don’t we do the same with the latter? And finally: what is it that makes true educational leaders capable of change different from directors who simply let themselves be carried away by circumstances?
What are educational leaders
Contrary to what some still think, educational leadership does not consist of ordering and commanding from the top of an organization and waiting for everyone to obey and change to take place. Nor is it simply a matter of managing or administering the center’s resources so that everything works in the best possible way.
The authentic leadership of a school director consists of mobilizing other people to achieve shared intentions and goals in the educational center, involving the entire school community in the common improvement project.
In this process, all those people capable of producing a mobilization of purpose would be leaders, regardless of their place in the organization, since leadership can and should be found in many places.
However, we are not talking about eliminating hierarchies – which are necessary – but about training more people within the organization and working together to achieve the common purpose.
All this work has to be carried out with capable leaders at the head of the schools, because no examples have been found of educational centers in which there have been great improvements that have not had a leader or a leader heading the organization.
What qualities define educational leaders
It is difficult, risky and at the same time unrealistic to answer this question with an enumeration of the list of characteristics and qualities that school leaders should have. On the one hand, because the list would be very extensive and could lead to think that superwomen or supermen are needed to be in charge of organizations.
On the other hand, this list could give the false impression that the directors and directors, the management teams, must be the same or very similar, when experience shows just the opposite.
Each educational center, even those with very similar characteristics, has very different people in front of it, as different as the rest of the people that make up the different educational communities.
That said, and celebrating the difference in each organization and between people, we could venture to point out some characteristics that are more necessary than others to lead in these complex and changing environments in which many human beings are trying to be educated.
Knowledge and planning
Different investigations have made it possible to define some basic traits in which school directors agree that they can be considered as leaders of their organizations. Some of these traits are of a technical nature, but most of them are personal or relational qualities, since some personal and interpersonal relationship characteristics are basic to managing people.
What qualities do the best school leaders agree on? Leaders who bring about improvements in educational organizations know very well the context in which they operate: they have knowledge about teaching and learning, about what happens in classrooms, about teachers and families.
In addition, they are characterized by their ability to find and solve problems and a good ability to organize and plan.
These qualities being very important, the most necessary and relevant qualities are the personal ones. Among these, the researchers highlight: integrity, humanity, great humility, a systemic thinking that understands the organization as a whole, optimism, resilience, communication skills and proactivity.
Relational and socio-emotional qualities are also key, allowing the recognition of other people’s emotions, managing one’s own emotions or acting in an emotionally appropriate way.
Apart from these ingredients common to all educational leaders, each person who runs a school will incorporate their particular personality characteristics that make them unique and unrepeatable. And it will govern having its sights set on the vision of the center and organizing people and resources in the service of this common goal that has to move the hearts and wills of the entire community. That is true educational leadership, and those are the qualities of true mountain-moving leaders.
Author Bio: Mireia Tintore is Professor and Researcher at the Faculty of Education, specialization in organization and management of educational institutions at the International University of Catalonia