I have been working my way recently through Don Ledingham’s “Seven Sides of Education Leadership”. As with everything Don does, his model demonstrates an intelligence and a creativity that should immediately render it worthy of consideration, I believe, by anyone needing to think about the peculiarities of leadership in education. Like Don, I usually think in metaphors. For instance, almost everything I do in ICT –whether using an application, searching, troubleshooting, developing — is based on a whole series of internally-held metaphors. Some of them are extremely vague and would not look too intelligible were I to try to write them down or picture them. But they work for me, and that is the important thing.
Don’s metaphors are derived from his own take on the peculiarities of education and the definite and distinct requirements for effective leadership within this domain.
So, the important thing about Don’s model is that it is aimed squarely at leadership in the educational context, a context, by the way, that is not necessarily confined to the school. Too many leadership models are generic, all-encompassing — many have much to commend them, but few make explicit the assumptions behind the mental or cultural model that underpins them or the specific context(s) in which they were first envisaged. For Don, there are enough distinctive traits and idiosyncrasies in education that he feels the need to define a model for leadership that meets those specific characteristics. I agree with him on that — I know from long experience that education is different enough to warrant special treatment. The varied and, often, conflicting sets of stakeholders in education (think, for example, of the desired ends that parents and their children seek from schooling — they do not always coincide — whose needs should take precedence?) means that being a leader in education can be difficult and challenging.
With his leadership metaphor — really, an extended metaphor comprising a number of sub-metaphors — Don explicitly seeks, therefore, to establish a particular cultural model for behaviours throughout education. For Don, this would be a culture that eschews the constrictions of hierarchy, that values genuine participation at all levels, that seeks, perhaps, a distributive model of decision-making (puts me in mind of Greg Whitby on Distributive Leadership), that engenders community, that trusts people, and that promotes critical thinking throughout an organisation. This, of course, is a vast simplification of Don’s thinking, but it draws a picture of an educational organisation at work that I could easily envision as one that is sympathetic, adaptable, transformational, humane and intelligent — how many organisations can claim all of these epithets for themselves? And how many educational organisations?
The point is, I guess, that any of us could come up with our own set of metaphors for leadership, at any level and in any context, but I agree with Don that any particular set of metaphors brings with it its own explicit or implicit cultural baggage. If you like the cultural message outlined above, then take a long hard look at Don’s ‘Seven Sides’ model.