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Running Head: LEADERSHIP STRATEGIES FOR SCHOOL LEADERS

Leadership Theories for School Leaders: Strategies for Effective Communication, Trust, and

Conflict-Management

PME 803 Organizational Leadership

Vivian Cai

Instructor: Louis Lim

November 22, 2019

Term Paper
LEADERSHIP STRATEGIES FOR SCHOOL LEADERS 1

Introduction

In an organization like a public school, there are many different groups, known as

stakeholders, that are involved in creating a positive learning environment for students.

Stakeholders may include board members, administration, teaching staff, support staff, parents,

community members, and students. Each stakeholder plays a different yet important role in

contributing to the success of the learning community and have different responsibilities. One

can view schools using the metaphor of an ecosystem; consisting of interdependent parts that are

complex and fragile, but emphasize connectedness, relationships, and contextual

interdependency (Kutsyuruba & Walker, 2015).

With so many stakeholders involved, problems and conflict are often inevitable. As the

leader of the school, administration (the principal or head of school) has responsibilities

surrounding communicating and conflict-management between followers. When school leaders

show poor communication and conflict-resolution skills, trust can be broken and important

relationships may turn sour. The relationship between parents, staff, and students is delicate, but

what can be done when roles are broken and boundaries are crossed? As an educator and,

perhaps, future administrator, discovering potential answers to this question is beneficial to my

own professional career. This paper will discuss leadership theories that are relevant to this issue

in public schools and analyze a case study involving conflict between a principal, a teacher, and

a group of parents of an elementary school. It will also address strategies for effective trust

building, communication, and conflict-resolution for leaders in charge of a public organizations,

and suggest some multiple perspective leadership theories that are beneficial to school leaders.
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Leadership Theories

The behavioural approach of leadership is essential when addressing leadership in a

school. In this approach, leadership is composed of two general kinds of behaviours: task

behaviours, which facilitate goal accomplishment and help group members achieve their work

objectives, and relationship behaviours, which help followers feel comfortable with themselves,

others, and situations in which they find themselves. The central objective of the behavioural

approach is how leaders combine these two behaviours to influence followers in reaching a

common goal (Northouse, 2019). In a school, task behaviours and relationship behaviours are of

equal importance. Principals may self-reflect their own behaviours and determine how they are

coming across to others and how they could change their behaviour to be a more effective leader.

Task-oriented trust and relationship-oriented trust involves whether the follower is willing to be

vulnerable to the leader in terms of either task or relationship behaviours (Sherwood & DePaolo,

2005). While followers may instill trust in leaders for task behaviours, they may not trust the

leader in terms of relationship behaviours, and vice versa.

Different situations demand different kinds of leadership. The situational approach to

leadership requires effective leaders to adapt their style to the demands of different situations and

competence/commitment of their followers (Northouse, 2019). In a school setting, the principal

has followers that vary in terms of competence, commitment, and need. By adapting leadership

styles, such a directive and supportive behaviours, and being mindful of the development level of

specific followers, flexible leaders will be effective in managing a variety of followers on the

development continuum. Situational leadership stresses that there is not one best style of

leadership; instead, leaders need to be flexible and adapt their style to the demands of unique

situations (Northouse, 2019).


LEADERSHIP STRATEGIES FOR SCHOOL LEADERS 3

The difference between transactional and transformational leadership is another

framework that will be insightful for the following case study. Transactional leadership focuses

on the exchanges that occur between leaders and followers (Northouse, 2019). Work in exchange

for payment, and loyalty in exchange for security are examples of transactions within the

workplace (Beairsto, 1999). Although this type of leadership is common in most leadership

models, research suggests that followers do not necessarily see transactional leaders as

trustworthy in terms of mutually-benefitting leader-follower relationships. Transformational

leadership, which is much more preferred by employees, consists of leadership behaviours such

as encouraging creativity, recognizing accomplishments, building trust, and inspiring a collective

vision. This type of leader is attentive to follower needs and motives, and engages and creates a

connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and followers

(Northouse, 2019).

Case

Nina Smith has been a French and Drama teacher at a large high school for over 20 years.

She is a well-known educator in the district and has taught many students over the span of her

career. Last June, Nina made the decision to leave the high school she was teaching at and

applied for a job as a grade 7 teacher at an elementary school in the vicinity as her previous

school. Both schools are located in an urban, upper-middle class neighbourhood. There is high

parent involvement at her new school, Limehouse Elementary, and the PAC (Parent Advisory

Council) is heavily involved in planning, fundraising, and funding school activities and events.

Nina’s personality is very straight-forward and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She is

not the most friendly or amicable person, and her comments sometimes come across as too direct
LEADERSHIP STRATEGIES FOR SCHOOL LEADERS 4

which has offended some colleagues, students, and parents in the past. Although she means well,

she has developed somewhat of a “bad reputation” over the years, and thus decided to make the

switch to an elementary school. She hoped a new environment would be a refresher to her career

and change her perspective on teaching. Unfortunately, her reputation followed her to

Limehouse.

Some parents of Limehouse had heard of Nina’s teaching style and reputation; some

older siblings had been taught by her at the high school as well. A few parents in the community

were rather upset that their child was assigned to be in her class for the upcoming school year.

These families approached the principal, Jessica Lombard, and requested for their child to be

placed in a different class. Jessica had never worked with Nina prior to this, and did not know of

her reputation or teaching habits. Jessica politely declined their request and explained that

children are placed in classes strategically and that it is not possible to move students simply due

to parental requests.

Jessica has been principal at Limehouse for three years. She is a task-oriented

administrator who operates by the book, and tends to micromanage. The school staff feel distant

from Jessica and there is a consensus amongst teachers that Jessica works mainly to please the

school board, and the parents of the community. Since the PAC has provided funding for many

amazing events and opportunities at Limehouse, Jessica tends to involve them in school planning

and decision making, and these decisions have often trumped the opinions of teachers. There

have been several instances when a teacher has felt like Jessica does not trust or support them,

and if necessary, will throw them under the bus for her personal benefit. That being said, she is

friendly and kind to everyone and there have been no major conflicts or disputes between Jessica

and the school staff. Although she tries to facilitate collaboration amongst all of the school’s
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stakeholders, there is definitely an unspoken divide between the teachers and the administration

at Limehouse. Last year, a group of parents were involved in getting a teacher suspended, then

fired, which also led to high tensions between staff and parents. Jessica did not speak of the

situation, nor did she try to resolve the issue or help staff get through the difficult time.

Since September, parents of Nina’s class have been giving her a tough time. She

struggled with the transition from teaching high school to elementary, and there was a large

learning curve that she was adjusting to. She planned extensive units and engaging activities for

her class, but struggled with time-management which resulted in the class spending too long on

certain activities (i.e. Halloween decorations), leaving less time for other curricular areas (i.e.

Math). In addition to adapting to the day-to-day role of an elementary school teacher, one family

constantly asks her to justify the material she teaches, and also likes to point out the gaps in the

curriculum she has missed. One example being, “Mrs. Z’s class (the other grade 7 class) has

already covered Chapter 4 in Math, why hasn’t Mrs. Smith’s? My child will fall behind in Math

if they are not being taught at an appropriate speed.” Furthermore, these parents also frequently

approach Jessica with issues regarding Nina, before talking to Nina about it first. When this

happens, Jessica will entertain the parents, bring them Nina’s classroom without warning, and

put Nina on the spot while questioning her lessons. This lack of open-communication led many

staff members to believe that Jessica should have trusted and defended her staff to parents first,

and then dealt with the issue privately at a later time with Nina.

It was clear to Nina that several parents of her class disliked her and wanted her gone

from Limehouse. It was also clear that the principal did not trust her; every action was

micromanaged, she had little autonomy, and has been put under a microscope since September.

As a senior teacher with 20+ years of experience, Nina was not going to put up with it. Nina felt
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alone and unsupported from all facets of the school organization. In all of her years of teaching,

she has never felt so uncomfortable in her workplace. Feeling defeated, Nina went on work-

related stress leave due to the continuing parent-led witch-hunt and lack of support by

administration. She remained absent for the rest of the school year. This was not communicated

to staff, who had assumed parents successfully had another teacher fired again. Nina had

volunteered to chaperone for an upcoming week-long graduation trip for grade 7 students but did

not attend. Without sufficient chaperones, the graduation trip was cancelled, and parents were

not pleased, especially because their fundraising efforts had gone to waste. There have been a

few substitute teachers in her classroom since she left, all of whom have not “lived up to the

standards” of the demanding group of parents. All of these issues have all been brought to

Jessica by outraged parents who were expecting a quick-fix solution to Nina’s absence. This

sequence of events has left Jessica struggling to maintain satisfaction of employees and parents;

she lost a teacher amidst a teacher shortage and it has been challenging to find a suitable

replacement, school staff trust her less and less, there is little open-communication and more

gossip between groups of stakeholders at school, and she is still receiving complaints from the

group of hard-to-please parents on a daily basis even after Nina has left.

Analysis and Reflection

It is clear that the situation at Limehouse is a frustrating and uncomfortable one for all

parties involved. Staff feel that they cannot trust their leader from both task and relationship

perspectives. Parents feel that their children are not being educated up to curricular standards,

missing out on opportunities, and worry about the frequent teacher changes in one school year.

Finally, Jessica struggles to be an effective leader to the two primary groups of stakeholders
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involved in making Limehouse a positive learning community. Although it may seem like

multiple parties are at fault in this sequence of events, the responsibility of communicating roles

and resolving conflict falls on the administrator, and Jessica has failed to do so effectively.

As a leader, Jessica’s main shortfall is that she has yet to gain trust from her followers. If

her staff trusted her leadership, they would not be so critical of how she handled Nina’s situation.

If parents trusted her abilities, they would trust that she is training and providing sufficient

mentorship for a struggling teacher. Leadership is considered trustworthy based on the leader’s

conduct, integrity, use of control, ability to communicate, and expression of member’s interests.

Trust is the lubricant that allows a leader to bring transformational change in an organization

(Kutsyuruba & Walker, 2015). When collaborative parties depend on each other for something

they care for, like at Limehouse, trust plays a critical role. The establishment and building of

trust is a key capability for educational leadership; this process cannot be established overnight,

is time consuming, and requires certain efforts and intentions (Kutsyuruba & Walker, 2015).

Research has identified two different facets of trust; task-oriented and relationship-oriented

(Sherwood & DePaolo, 2005). Jessica has been at Limehouse for three years, but has not taken

the time or effort to get to know her staff on a relational-level. She is unrelatable, distant, and has

not put much focus on building good relationships with followers. Although Jessica engages in

task-behaviour most of the time, she has not shown competence and consistency in her abilities

as a principal either. The more competency and consistency a leader shows, the most likely

followers will show task-oriented trust (Sherwood & DePaolo, 2005). From a behavioural

perspective of leadership, Jessica has been ineffective at combining task and relationship

behaviours to influence followers to reach a common goal. Due to this, trust has also not been

strongly established between her and staff, and her and parents. Any trust Nina had for Jessica
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has been broken at this point, which will require a long time to rebuild, or in some cases, will

never be restored (Kutsyuruba & Walker, 2015). Although research has not adequately shown

how task and relational behaviours are linked to performance outcomes (Northouse, 2019), in a

school setting where performance is difficult to measure, relationship and trust matter greatly.

Jessica did not alter her leadership style to fit the needs of her followers. According to the

situational leadership theory, effective leadership occurs when leaders can accurately diagnose

the development level of followers and then exhibit prescribed leadership styles that match the

situation (Northouse, 2019). Based on Situational Leadership II (Northouse, 2019), Nina needed

Jessica to exhibit the supportive approach that is low in directive and high in supportive

behaviour (S3), but instead she received the exact opposite, high direction and low support (S4).

Jackie demonstrated supportive low directive leadership (S3) to parents but would have benefited

more from displaying high directive and high supportive behaviours (S2), and coach and define

clear boundaries to overbearing parents during the school day. Unfortunately, Jessica was unable

to adapt her leadership styles to the demands of the situation, which led to its severity over time.

While Jessica’s transactional leadership style is sometimes successful, she does not

engage in many transformational forms of leadership, which is more preferred by employees and

leads to greater organizational success (Northouse, 2019). Research has shown that

transformational leadership works well in government organizations, and has stronger

motivational effects when followers have direct contact with people affected by their work

(Anderson & Sun, 2017). School systems are government organized hierarchical bureaucracies

but also moral communities where employees work closely with clients (students). School

organizations require leaders to attend simultaneously to both transactional and transformational

leadership styles (Beairsto, 1999).


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Looking at leadership through one lens is insufficient when analyzing effective leaders.

Each theory has its own strengths and limitations, perspectives overlap and sometimes even

contradict each other based on research. A “full-range (Anderson & Sun, 2017, p.90)” style of

leadership is recommended by recent research, which is an explicit and coordinated integration

strategy of current leadership styles. A leader can possess multiple self-identities and may

develop more over time. Leaders can draw from these self-identities using the full-range

approach depending which self-identity the situation or context primes (Anderson & Sun, 2017).

Beairsto (1999) also discussed how monocular models of leadership promoting one particular

style provides, at best, a flat view of the topic. We can appreciate the depths and richness of real

life leadership by combining multiple perspectives, which may sometimes be conflicting and

contradictory, but is the nature of the real-life experience of leadership. Another multi-

perspective suggestion to leadership theories is binocular leadership, where one “eye” looks in at

the organization, while the other “eye” looks out at the community simultaneously. This provides

a more well-rounded view of the organization. The binocular view requires leaders to deal justly

with the situation by fairly applying rules that govern the organization, but also deal

compassionately with the person or situation, particularly because school communities are

mainly defined by relationships (Beairsto, 1999).

From the incident, I have learned the importance of communication, trust, and conflict-

management when it comes to being a school leader. I discovered the importance of using

multiple leadership perspectives when leading an organization that consists of different

stakeholders, and that there is not one best leadership theory that can be used in order to be a

well-rounded and effective leader. Based on my research, I would make the following

suggestions for Jessica if she were to start all over:


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● Set clear boundaries and expectations for parents during the “Welcome Back to School”

event in September. School should be a parent-free zone from 9:00am - 3:00pm in order

to foster independence in students and give teachers professional autonomy. Describe a

chain of communication to parents for what to do if they have an issue with staff. Stress

that parents need to schedule an appointment to meet with a teacher, and not drop-in

unannounced.

● Genuinely interact with staff and get to know them better. Communicate openly and

honestly with Nina regarding her rough transition to Limehouse. Trust is derived from

repeated interactions, and social relations are mainly responsible for the production of

trust (Kutsyuruba & Walker, 2015). Jessica did show she was capable of declining parent

requests and showing trust for her staff when parents asked to switch children out of

Nina’s class in the beginning of the year, and should continue to demonstrate this trait

when necessary.

● Consider the appropriateness of timing when addressing conflicts (Aguilar, 2016). Is it

more beneficial to tackle the issue now or later? Jessica could have avoided bringing

angry parents to Nina’s classroom if Jessica chose to address the conflict later on at a

more appropriate time, perhaps when emotional tensions were lower. It would have also

given Nina the opportunity to be more prepared for a difficult meeting.

● Consider the content of the discussion happening during conflicts. Conflict can be

healthy in an organization as they can promote growth (Aguilar, 2016). The conflict

between Nina and the group of parents can be turned into a healthy discussion that will

positively impact the students. As the leader, instead of stopping certain conflicts, Jessica

can try to shift unhealthy dynamics into healthy ones.


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● Instead of being reactive to conflict and unpleasant situations, Jessica can be more

proactive in preventing conflict among staff and parents. Pleasing staff and parents

should not be the primary goal of administration.

Conclusion

The leader of a school plays a critical role in the success of the organization. Their

responsibilities include effectively communicating and managing follower expectations, and

ensuring that all shareholders operate within their defined roles and responsibilities to achieve

the common goal of fostering a positive learning environment for students. In this scenario,

parent funding should not have been such an influential factor on Jessica’s leadership in a public

school setting. By keeping both the organization and the community in mind, and using multi-

perspective approaches to leadership, school leaders can do a better job at maintaining balance of

the interests of all parties. This case is only one example of many instances where conflict may

occur in a school. School staff deal with and observe issues like these often, and it would be

beneficial for my future practice to review more research related to leadership in schools and

effective management of conflict.


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References

Aguilar, E. (2016). Managing conflict in school leadership teams. Retrieved from Edutopia

website: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/managing-conflict-school-leadership-teams-

elena-aguilar

Anderson, M.H., & Sun, P. (2017). Reviewing leadership styles: Overlaps and the need for a new

‘full-range’ theory. International Journal of Management Reviews, 19(1), 76-96.

Beairsto, B. (1999). The Artistry of leadership. Education Canada, 39(2). 14-17.

Kutsyuruba, B., & Walker, K. (2015). The lifecycle of trust in educational leadership: An

ecological perspective. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 18(1), 106-121.

Northouse, P. G. (2019). Leadership: Theory and practice (8th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sherwood, A., & DePaolo, C. (2005). Task and relationship-oriented trust in leaders. Journal of

Leadership & Organizational Studies, 12(2), 65-81.