Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Educational leaders required: Blending envisioning with humility

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I have to admit that I have been very resistant to political issues and specially politicians’ behavior since I remember. It has been hard to understand how our supposedly servant leaders have tended to pave the way to their own benefit and profit rather than to introduce real education politics that can be at the basis of mending our fragmented society. Our last three Presidents, including the governing one, have been involved in bribery scandals and trial. I have the impression that Greenleaf (1977) himself will find them as perfect examples when the act of lead precedes any kind of act of service.

Consequently, I have been trying to approach to this issue working in the education sector. I have been consistently interested in how different actors interact and build social relationships, and how they handle power relationships. Schools were appealing institutions to observe that. Although the relationships between teachers and the directive team implied tension, I could observe that when the school’s principal assume his or her role in a collaborative approach, he or she was planting the seed of trust to introduce change (Packard, 1998; Nadler, 1990). But when principals assumed that schools were hard to manage due to the continuous conflicts among teachers, they deny their responsibility to intervene.

Pedagogical change was the result of an individual or small group effort in the class setting. But when looking for innovations in the school’s management, the school’s principal was a key piece to generate a shared sense of accomplishment and an optimal climate to work. But he or she will rarely affirm that it was his or her contribution what made things happened, instead the principal will refer the results to everybody’s contribution and commitment with the school and, especially, with enhancing students’ performance (Collins, 2005).

Afterward I worked at a university. It was like a tangled network that was far from the more sophisticated school organization I have ever met and looked very different from the memory I had about it when I was a student and, later on, a teacher assistant. I realized that there was not anything that can be called “the university” – as I used to call it in my former years of student -, there were a multiplicity of universities, determined by who was talking, that is, a teacher or a student, an undergraduate or a graduate student, a syndicated employee or a non-syndicated one, etc. However, this is the place were social capital is reinforced through the efforts of academia, as Brian Heuser (2000) states in his article Academic social cohesion within higher education.

I worked very close to many academics in order to assist them to develop their annual plans. The different departments I worked with were challenging and each one them reclaimed that the university was reluctant to recognize their specific needs about human and financial resources.

When new deans of schools and chairs of departments were elected each three years, the new academic authorities assumed those positions being aware of the implications, even the ones that assume this sort of academic-administrative function. Nonetheless they intended to continue and/or introduce different perspectives about how the academia can do their job better aligned with the institutional goals, I can observe that their qualified reputation as brilliant scholars and professors made this process tough the first two years and then they are almost ready to leave. Surely their perspective about the university has changed but sometimes their energy to face the challenges has also diminished due to a recharged administrative labor with scarce time to think big about their school, department or even the university (Sashkin, 1989).

So I wonder if this situation is probably related to the academic culture related to the cultivation of strong self-images, based on the knowledge acquired and expressed by academic degrees, publications in indexed journal, grants or funds received, and so on. Therefore I wonder if this kind of culture is not dangerous not only for the university’s process of authorities’ succession within universities but also I am worried about the implications in the relationship with the students. 

I do not intend to say that academic culture damages the ethics of younger students, when stimulated to be competitive, self-centered and base their achievements in the academic arena. But I have the feeling that this can be a sort of hidden curriculum with pervasive effects when this former students become active part of the civil society being enrolled in different job positions but due to their focus in their egos, reserve very little time to think big, to identify ways to commit with social change and with improving the education in our country. I am really concerned if this way or being focused on oneself and give little time to think about the organizations we are part of is also at the basis of our permissive behavior about the representatives that lead our country and systematically make it more fragile.

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