School change: Are principals “visionary leaders?”

by Steve Wyckoff on May 4, 2010

I just saw a tweet about the book The School Principal Visionary Leadership and Competent Management. In part of the summary there is a quote, “Today, school-level administrators are expected to be both visionary leaders and competent managers.” I haven’t read the book but my first impression was, “I don’t think so.”

This is not to denigrate in anyway the job of the principle but I simply don’t see our principles as visionary leaders. They have an extremely difficult job, that is getting more difficult all the time. And maybe it’s just a difference in the definition of leaders versus managers. When I think of leaders I see their role as deciding what to do, and the job of managers is how to do it. Leaders ask the question, “Are we doing the right things?” Managers asked the question, “Are we doing things right?”

I think all the “visioning” has been taken out of the hands of our school administrators by bureaucrats. By default our vision is for schools to look like they always have. All of the rules and regulations being forced upon us by state and federal bureaucrats are based on the assumption that schools will look exactly like they have for the last hundred years. And the measure of what we are doing has been dictated as standardized test results.

They assume that our schools will be organized by age, compartmentalized by content area, prepare kids to go to liberal arts colleges, and learn in the abstract absent a context.

It is my opinion that if our principles were “leaders” they would be looking at society and asking the question, “Is what we’re doing in our schools preparing our kids to be productive members of a 21st-century society?” Perhaps I’m in the distinct minority, but I can’t imagine anybody thinking that what we are doing in schools today is in any way visionary, and preparing our kids for the 21st century.

Again, I am in no way trying to disparage school principals, but a constant focus on raising test scores is management not leadership. – Steve Wyckoff

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