Superman, Wonderwoman, and School Leadership

Superheroes abound in the entertainment world, enticing the imaginations of young and old alike. Solving crimes, displaying superhuman traits, and ridding the world of darkness and demons, our superheroes have endearing qualities which reassure viewers that things always work out in the end. My favorite was Superman, played by George Reeves. Superman was very quick (faster than a speeding bullet), strong (more powerful than a locomotive), and a good jumper (able to leap tall buildings in a single bound). Best of all, hidden behind the cape was a “mild-mannered reporter” named Clark Kent. In the movies and comics, the general public depended on their superheroes. Can the same be said for principals in our public schools? Are teachers, students, and community members expecting too much from their school principals?

In an earlier blog, I wrote of the need for teacher leadership in school reform. The burden on principals to be all things to all people is akin to superheroism–its fictional and a failed concept. A principal’s role is too diverse and demanding to fully provide the instructional leadership schools desperately need in this era of transformation. We have an instructional leadership problem: Common Core State Standards, new Annual Professional Performance Review systems, Data-Driven Instruction, Student Learning Objectives, and other school reform initiatives are exceeding system capacity. Throw in a funding cliff and you’ve got a highly stressed environment.

Fortunately, the construct of distributed leadership has been addressed in significant studies (Harris and Spillane (2008)Wallace Foundation School Leadership Studies), and states and organizations around the country are exploring teacher leadership options. Just last week, the National Education Association released  Leading the Profession: NEA’s Three-Point Plan for School Reform which includes recommendations for teacher career pathways and Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)-based evaluation systems to allow educators greater ownership of the profession. NEA’s report and research on teacher leadership sweeping across the nation are encouraging and offer hope that public education is ready to heroically step away from the late 19th century assembly line leadership model and into the 21st Century world of collaboration and shared leadership.


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