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Running Head: LEAD LEARNER

Lead Learner: A Reflective Synthesis Paper on Leadership by Adjective

Melanie Gamache

Brandon University


COSL Summer Institute

Dr. Danielle Fullan Kolton

July 22, 2016


Leadership has traditionally focused on the actions and emotions of the leader.

Leadership training exists because leaders are not simply born and success is more than just

managing an organization (Crippen, 2005, p. 3). Professional development for effective

leadership focuses on individual leaders developing their skills using empirically proven

strategies for inspiring, supporting, and leading change within a school system. Leadership

theories, including instructional, transformational, servant, feminist, queer, distributive, and post-

colonial leadership, elicit change through tweaking of a stable system and blowing up the box

for all out school reform. Many leaders and leader-candidates identify naturally with one, two,

or several of the theories.

The leadership theories discussed in this paper are not an exhaustive list and certainly do

not aim to capture the essence of an effective leader in a box. Generally, there are two kinds of

leadership: one that puts the leader at the center of the system and one that removes the

hierarchical structure of leadership. One could imagine the seven theories on a kind of

continuum of forceful leadership direction and a leader may be effective on several places on that

continuum. It is the educational context and the leaders understanding of that context that

determines the effectiveness of leadership stance.

An Overview of the Leadership Stances

The instructional leadership theory occupies one end of the continuum in terms of force

and top-down direction. High expectations, a focus on academic goals measured clearly through

time and data may work best in schools needing an initial shove in the desired direction through

a more forceful top-down approach focused on instructional improvement. (Hallinger, 2005, p.

235). This leadership stance is successful when a clear mission for the school is articulated and a

positive culture supports change in the staff. School systems and staff that become stagnant,

toxic, or stuck may respond to change through a leaders motivation or incentives for

achievement that align with the mission already established.

Slightly less directive, but still relying on the focused mission, is the transformational

leadership stance. The leader behaves admirably and supports change as a mentor or coach.

Group and individual needs are identified by the leader and through charismatic appeal, trust,

and a focus on the mission, change is supported and staff self-awareness is developed. This type

of leadership enables followers to join the mission while the leader models the way.

Moving along the continuum of leader-centered leadership stances, comes servant

leadership. Still focused on an individual as a leader, this leadership theory shifts slightly away

from the hierarchical top-down approach and instead encourages the development of a

democratic learning climate. (Crippen, 2005, p. 2). Servant leadership is marked by a strong

belief in humanity; by meeting the needs of individuals on a basic level and modelling desired

behaviours, followers will be wiser, freer, and more likely to become servants themselves.

(Crippen, 2005, p. 4). These leaders inspire others to follow and enable others to act by

understanding the groups needs to be met and quietly, behind the scenes, acts as the first among

equals. (Crippen, 2005, p. 4). What marks this theory as different from transformational

leadership is the quiet, equal approach the leader takes with his or her followers. It is emotional

leadership by way of empathetic awareness, persuasion and stewardship. These are the leaders

who serve their followers, in the trenches.

Somewhat parallel with servant leadership, one might suggest, is feminist leadership.

Although described by Dawn Wallin as a fringe stance of leadership (2016), feminist leadership

still puts a leader at the center and through this stance, transformational social change happens

not only by recognizing social injustice, but also gender injustice (Batliwala, 2010, p. 11).

Srilatha Batiwala acknowledges that all forms of leadership involve a hierarchical significance

(p. 18) and the feminist stance is not any different. Feminist leaders have a strong sense of duty

and strive to inclusively focus on individual needs and societal concerns. Values are placed on

bringing marginalized individuals or problems to the center in order to deal with them by

empowering others. This type of leader is a doer, and through a nurturing character, feminists

bring different qualities to leadership, with a greater attention to collaboration, cooperation,

collective decision-making, and above all, relationship building. (Batliwala, 2010, p. 7).

Also an advocate for social justice changes and a support for collaboration and alliance

within leadership is the queer leadership stance. Jocelyn Dumaresq concedes that no distinct

theory of queer leadership has been developed, (p. 30), while Dawn Wallin emphasized this

leadership concept also on the fringes (2016). The nature of this type of leadership, like the

feminist stance, is based in empathy, and often these types of leaders have experienced

marginalization themselves and as a result foster a culture of acceptance[and] advocacy for

students, (Dumaresq, 2014, pp. 2-3) in order to heal social injustices. This leadership stance

supports alliance within other groups, particularly within the school system, power is generally

generated from an individual. This power is used to create equity within the system by

disrupting the dominant discourse (Dumaresq, 2014, p. 102) and challenging societal norms.

The last leadership stance within the continuum of leader-centered theory is distributive

leadership. This stance is on the opposite end of the spectrum relative to instructional leadership

as the concept is not focused on a forceful, top-down approach rather a ground-up, collaborative

approach. In essence, distributive leadership requires leadership to be shared by the individuals

within the system. Through empowerment, democracy, and autonomy, the leadership changes

hands depending on individuals or professional learning communities (PLCs), who have the

expertise or plan to challenge and change the system (Harris, Leithwood, Day, Sammons, &

Hopkins, 2007, p. 338). In order for this type of leadership to be effective, strong PLCs must be

developed, expertise must exist within the system, and the model must be well planned. This

may not be an ideal model for an at-risk school but relatively stable contexts or those that have a

tighter congruence between values, norms and behaviours of principals and teachers, (Harris,

Leithwood, Day, Sammons, & Hopkins, 2007, p. 340) may find success with this leadership

stance. There is evidence to suggest that teacher involvement in decision making processes and

the contribution of strong collegial relationships, (Harris, Leithwood, Day, Sammons, &

Hopkins, 2007, p. 340) is important to school improvement and change. Because the leadership

is shared, there is not an individual who leads while others follow as in the other leadership

stances described in this section, but there does exist a hierarchy of power, which is why it is

included within this continuum of leader-focused theories. The hierarchy of power is evidenced

when some teachers are disrespected or disregarded because they do not carry the same authority

as others, meaning despite the sharing on which the model relies, there are, at specific times,

specific individuals leading and others following.

The post-colonial leadership theory is a concept Ive placed beyond this continuum

because it does not function within a hierarchical power structure and there is not a focus on

individual leadership. This stance is on the fringes, in the truest sense of the word, and that is

also what makes it such a compelling concept. The post-colonial stance is founded on the

understanding that all communities or systems are viable and sustainable on their own (Clegorne,

2014, p. 4) so in order to lead, a leader must benefit and learn as much, if not more, from the

community. This is done by the community clarifying its values and creating social change for a

more just and equitable society (Clegorne, 2014, p. 5). It is imperative that space[s] and

relationships (Clegorne, 2014, pp. 4-5) based on caring and mutual respect are necessary for

post-colonial leadership to be effective but it is up to the entire community to create that space by

recognizing the strengths of the individuals within the community, supported and empowered by

the leader. Post-colonialism calls privilege to the forefront to disband assumptions as feelings or

perceptions of inequity must be extinguished in order for all individuals within the community to

feel valid and significant.

Analysis and Discussion

A leader may be able to implicate social change in an at-risk school using the strong,

focused style and top-down strategy of an instructional leader. I have seen a traditional school

without clear purpose or a emphasis on learning to shift to a learner centered, equitable,

accountable system, where students perform at, or above provincial results on standardized tests

and report feeling safe and receiving of a quality education on annual surveys such as Tell Them

From Me. Most would credit the principal an effective leader of change, myself included, at

least at first. However, if that same principal transitioned to a different school, in a different

division and community to impart the same change, he may find the staff and community do not

shift in the same way, at the same rate, or to the same extent. Certainly, there is something to be

said about the context and location of a school and community that affects the effectiveness of a


At the COSL summer institute, Dawn Wallin (2016) spoke repeatedly about the fact that

stances and theories are just that: theoretical. The descriptions of the leadership stances in the

previous section are descriptions of theories, not people. It would be foolish and nave to assume

that a leader would embody only one theory and never move out of the box but without

knowledge of other leadership theories, principals, or aspiring leaders, may never know how to

develop themselves outside of the confines of their own experience. This is often the case in

small, rural schools where school leaders are hired from a small pool of applicants and the

desperation of a division to fill a position may supersede a developed and qualified leader. Once

leaders have been successful at promoting social change within their school, it would be equally

foolish and nave to assume that the leader does not need to continue learning or to develop


Leadership, as Ive learned from the COSL summer institute, is a product of knowing the

people, the situation, and the history of a particular school and community in addition to having

clear foresight about the desires for the future. Maria Montessori theorized that in order to be

able to teach effectively, the subjects (students) must be clearly observed and understood as

human beings capable of independent thought and moral conscience (Montessori, 1912, pp. 20-

22). This also pertains to effective leadership: in order to lead effectively, the leader must

understand his or her subjects in the school as well as the culture of the community.

The leadership stances I have included on the leadership continuum share the

characteristic of individually focused leadership. This is completely different from the post-

colonial theory of leadership which does not recognize leaders and followers. The individual-

focused stances assume that the service and direction provided by the leader would benefit all the

followers in the system. To assume that service is inherently benign, beneficial, and even

heroic, (Clegorne, 2014, p. 4) is a colonial assumption. History has taught us over and over

again that the systematic assimilation and social obliteration of a culture is never heroic and the

detriment caused by such interaction is felt for generations. Schools and communities have

culture and values and, under this same pretence, an individual leaders forceful, directive, top-

down service is not automatically heroic. Paulo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed

notes that dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one persons depositing ideas in another,

norideas to be consumed by the discussants. (1970, p. 158). This means that the benefit or

necessity of the change the leader is trying to inspire a matter of perspective and cannot be

assumed that one persons ideas should be consumed by others.

Fringe stances (i.e. feminist and queer), which typically are characterized by individuals

who have a history of being supressed and marginalized may make one question why the roles

are suddenly reversed? If feminists and queers have felt for centuries that they do not have an

equitable voice or ability to take action, why would that kind of leadership value a model where

an individual, with firm ideals and bias, creates followers and inadvertently marginalized

groups? This kind of leadership still demonstrates a centralized, colonizing approach that can

lead to the marginalization of followers, despite the fact that the feminist and queer stances are

meant to provide equity for the previously marginalized.

Throughout all of the theories, individual-focused or otherwise, one characteristic of

effective leadership that was common was a leaders ability to listen well. Listening in order to

understand anothers perspective is important in inspiring others to join, enabling others to act

towards a shared vision, and encouraging the heart of the school and community. When leaders,

or people with authority, truly listen, the hierarchy of power changes; it becomes more level.

Freire wrote about the power of dialogue and conversation and emphasized the transformational

potential for the world when in praxis, a combination of reflection and action derived through

dialogue (1970, p. 157). In praxis, the oppressed became aware of their situation and could then

make necessary changes. For effective leadership, especially under the post-colonial stance, to

happen, leaders and members of the school and community must dialogue and effectively listen

to understand the reality of the situational present and work together to make changes that

benefit the school and community without the expense of eradicating culture or values important

to the oppressed. The key in Freires work was that the oppressors and the oppressed needed to

leave personal bias and judgement outside of the dialogue, in essence, to level the playing field

and focus on listening, reflecting, and finally taking action for change.

Effective leadership, as described here may be difficult to imagine in practice, but that

may be because leadership often is observed as silent, systematic, strategic, and individually-

focused. When leadership becomes shared in a way that sustains the ways, norms, and values of

a particular group of people, building upon the strengths, bonds, and community that already

exist, then truly beneficial, transformational change can occur.

Personal Reflection

Prior to the COSL institute, I believed that my observations and experience with

leadership over the past 10 years as a secondary teacher had taught me about the kind of leader I

want to become and the kind I want to avoid at all costs. What I now believe is that leadership is

fluid; it evolves and is dependent upon factors that are out of my control like the location and

culture of the school and community in which I work.

The leadership stance that initially resonated with me was servant leadership, mostly

because it described many of the traits that I felt I already possess and believe make a good

educator, leader, and parent. Without really knowing this theory of leadership, I was already

practicing it. When Wallin described the feminist stance, I wasnt particularly drawn to it. In

fact, I even critiqued the fringe theories as being less of a leadership stance and more a lens

through which a leader might flavour his/her directives. Upon delving into the research of

feminist and post-colonial theory, I felt more drawn to both. I appreciate leaders who recognize

and build upon the strengths of others, rather than trying to change them, because that has been

my focus as an instructional coach. I appreciate the feminist theory in that there are parallels to

servant leadership, mainly focusing on individual or group concerns, and using inclusivity and

participation to meet the needs of those in the school and community without needing to take the

credit for it (Batliwala, 2010, p. 18). Again, in my experience as a teacher leader in my school, I

believe I already embody these characteristics. What bothered me about both the servant leader

and the feminist leader, however, was the notion of individual-focused leadership, which is why I

am so compelled by post-colonial leadership.

The individuals that I work with on a daily basis as a teacher and instructional coach are

students, teachers, support staff, and the four members of our administration team. My principal

often asks me to fix the instructional delivery or social dynamic of a teacher by instructing and

modelling my own teaching or relationship building style, especially when we first began to

work together. He has clear traits of an instructional leader and I have emphasized that I cannot

fix anyone, nor does anyone need to be fixed. Because my principal is also my mentor, and

is helping me to develop as a leader, he has supported my inaction to never attempt to be a

handyman. Instead, I observe, I talk with, and I listen intently to the teacher Im asked to work

with to help them reflect on their own values and style in order to understand where they are

coming from. Doing this empowers teachers to recognize their own strengths and shortcomings

so we can work together to learn how to overcome his or her self-identified deficiencies.

My own personal strengths that correspond with servant, feminist, and post-colonial

leadership include a sense of duty to support others, nurturing as opposed to directing, and

believing and finding value in all people rather than changing them. I possess a strong belief in

humanity and humans as inherently good people who want to do the right thing, which, to some

makes me nave. I have experienced working with students who have felt that no one believed in

them, had essentially thrown them away as no good or rotten. Talking and listening as one

human to another instead of a student to a teacher or a follower to a leader has allowed me to

realize, and help students realize, their gifts. I have seen complete turn-around in students, who

have taught me about my own privilege and humility when it comes to learning, understanding,

and interacting with other. I understand now that this is the foundation of post-colonial


My gift, which was uncovered only through my practice of serving others to develop

their own style and gifts, is optimistically finding the good in people. I believe my natural sense

of humility, kindness, and empathy have shaped my role as a post-colonial, feminist, servant

leader to my colleagues, students, and fellow human beings.

Because I naturally support from behind instead of lead out in front, my ability to inspire

others to join is less developed. Also to be an effective leader, I must develop confidence in my

abilities to serve and meet the needs of others and confidence in my practice of leading with

equitable power. This confidence really can only be acquired through success and yet the type of

leader that I want to be will not necessarily create results immediately the way an instructional

leadership might. In order to develop confidence, I must continue to revisit my own core values

and the values of others that I work with, to remind myself that my work is encouraging for

others and that I am a catalyst for change in way that is not pushy, intimidating, or that produces


My goal for personal and professional development is to align my leadership style more

closely to the post-colonial stance. I intend to develop my leadership style through professional

development workshops, professional reading, and attaining my masters degree in order to meet

my professional growth plan objectives of inspiring others using their gifts and values as well as

develop confidence. I also plan to reflect on my actions, interpretations, and learning more

regularly in order to set goals for myself in a similar form as the TIPS method used during the

COSL summer institute. Thinking as reflection is something I do regularly already, but I do not

feel simply thinking is enough for me. Writing it out and then discussing my realizations with a

trusted colleague are what solidifies those concepts for me. By sharing my professional goals

and reflections, I am more likely to make changes in myself that will last and, in turn, develop

my leadership skills.

As I head back into the classroom in September full-time my focus will be on my

students and developing my leadership style through them. I intend to practice inspiring their

learning through conversation and reflection so they may recognize their own strengths, values,

and personal areas of challenge so together they can take control of their learning and develop

their own understanding and interpretation. While my role of instructional coach will not be a

formal position for the upcoming school year, I will still support my colleagues professionally

also through conversation and reflection. Through this process, I intend to support my own

learning and growth as a post-colonial, feminist, servant leader.



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