This post is excerpted from the March 2018 issue of English Journal. For this issue, editors Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski invited three current leaders—Jocelyn Chadwick, Leigh Patel, and Ken Lindblom—to respond to a series of questions in order to offer a broader perspective on the concept of leadership in education.
EJ: What does “leadership in education” mean to you?
Jocelyn A. Chadwick: As Carol Gilligan asserts, leadership at times requires a negotiative discourse. At other times, it is linear, objective, and singular with leaders needing to stand alone, if necessary, for ethical reasons. Effective leadership is always understanding and probing the audience to inform oneself. Leadership is tapping into human resources to provide the highest level of service.
Leadership is not believing your own press; and leadership is never forgetting the why and the ethics of the mission and all those individuals—teachers and students—who have placed their trust in you.
Leigh Patel: First and foremost, leadership in education must marshal a humble stewardship of learning. At this moment, we are flush with well-paid leaders in education who have much to say about innovation but precious little to say about learning, and even less to say about the population-level patterns of denied access to education.
Leadership in education must be able to reckon with the legacies and the shortcomings of Eurocentric frames of human development that are individualistic and exist for the purpose of achievement and domination.
In kind, it must also know of epistemologies that aren’t simply counter to Eurocentric empire, but are grounded in what came before, . . . and what is possible when we prioritize relation and connectivity over achievement and certificates.
If an educational leader does not know what kind of learning took place in Noir Marron communities, then I believe they, minimally, have much to learn about learning and its steady relationship to freedom. I think it is difficult to be an education leader who has only learned about one narrow form of being on this planet.
Ken Lindblom: Leadership in education means always keeping the learning of the students as the only goal. Keeping that front and center will always keep an education leader focused on the right things.
Of course, that means doing everything necessary to support students and teachers. It means ensuring that teachers have everything they need to do their jobs well.
It means keeping up on the latest knowledge in teaching, content, and organizational theory. It means motivating and educating. It means keeping unproductive, even hostile, external forces at bay, and it means supporting societal change that will increase all students’ learning. It means advocating externally and internally for student learning.
It means doing everything necessary to ensure all students have all they need (e.g., food, quiet space, safety) to be able to learn at their best. It means providing a professional context that allows—and obligates—teachers to do what they know is best for their students’ learning, allowing them to ignore, if needed, anything that could impede student learning.
We have a “bottom line” in education: it is student learning—and standardized exams don’t reflect student learning well enough to be reliable measures on their own.
Jocelyn A. Chadwick is president of the National Council of Teachers of English and author of The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Leigh Patel is an interdisciplinary researcher, educator, and writer.
Ken Lindblom is an associate professor of English and dean of the School of Professional Development at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York.