School Leadership Is Conducted Through Shared Responsibilities Within Established Legal Structures
By Rainbow Rosenbloom, MEd
Principle Six asks us to examine how our schools are governed. What is the nature of leadership and how do leadership groups work together in a mood of collaboration, ensuring appropriate accountability and transparency? Most schools have defined leadership positions (such as a principal or administrator) who will be responsible for overall direction and many decisions; they are also asked to give teachers as much responsibility as possible for decisions that directly relate to what is taught and how it is taught, based on an understanding of the other Core Principles.
As I reflected upon Principle Six, I was aware of the possibility of interpreting its call for collaborative leadership as simply a charge for canvassing stakeholder groups prior to the “leader” making a decision. Checking in with colleagues, staff, and parents is not enough, though it is of course a good beginning. It is essential to recognize that, although a school will have individuals in official leadership roles, aspects of leadership will appear in every part of the institution, and many will be involved. Certain characteristics will be important for anyone who is involved in the decisions and leadership of a school.
For example, leadership requires self-awareness. This can be strengthened through the type of inner work described by Rudolf Steiner in his seminal book, Study of Man (Foundations of Human Experience), where he discusses the impact of antipathies and sympathies. He brings attention to our tendencies to react to experiences, based on either positive or negative responses. In the realm of leadership, regular inner work will help us to rise up above this tendency and offer the opportunity to become detached. In other words, we may feel a certain antipathy or sympathy, but as leaders we must find a way not to respond from this feeling, rather to continue our role as objective observer, guiding a process and allowing the right decision to unfold.
How do we recognize the “right decision”? This is precisely where the art of leadership shines. The leader assumes the role of process guide, allowing different individuals to take charge at various stages, pointing out where stakeholder groups stand, as well as providing enough information for the process to proceed intelligently.
A hiring example may help demonstrate the way the leadership process moves between individuals and groups, and the coordinating, directional role of the “recognized” leadership. There is probably an initial paper-screening committee, a small group that gathers applications, reads cover letters, examines letters of interest, and discusses resumes. The principal or executive director may both lead this committee and support its work by checking references and vetting the candidates. She then brings back information that leads to a recommendation for the next step, likely an invitation to visit the school for first interviews.
A second group, perhaps comprised of faculty, staff, and parent representatives with experience in personnel work, may conduct interviews. The interviews are followed by demonstration lessons, and the group convenes to decide which candidates are then invited back for second interviews. Candidates may require further vetting, and may be brought into a more informal social setting for others in the community to meet, further widening the circle of those who are able to be involved.
Collaborative leadership demands that there has been prior agreement by the board and faculty on the process to be followed, and that any individual involved in the process releases attachment to a specific outcome, such as preference for a particular candidate. How can the principle of collaborative leadership assist a school if a decision-making process goes awry? By studying Principle Six, school leaders may begin to recognize the probability—and value—of differ ing viewpoints in important decision making. Leaders are responsible for maintaining the good of the whole, and not simply those aspects that are compatible with their personal preferences.
This highlights the need for another aspect of healthy leadership, essential to the “servant leader”: humility. Humility is extremely difficult to describe and is unfortunately too often misunderstood to be self-deprecation, or self-diminishment. There is a different aspect to humility germane to collaborative leadership, and it surrounds the understanding of what Steiner referred to as “world wisdom” (sometimes translated as “world direction”). Steiner suggested that were we to become aware of this, we would see the multitude of both support and guidance available. Sometimes, as leaders, we must step back in humility, recognizing that we do not truly understand all that is unfolding. We must examine whether our sympathies and/or antipathies are at work too strongly, thus influencing our perspective. And we must trust that the approved, hygienic process we have been charged to guide is leading us to the “right decision,” though maybe a different one from what we may have hoped.
Collaborative leadership can be an art; the focus of leadership may shift depending on the issue or process at play; the designated leader may at various times be prominently visible or more in the background guiding and supporting others; a wide variety of stakeholder perspectives are heard and considered to the greatest possible extent; classroom and curriculum decisions are, whenever possible, guided by the teachers; and decisions are made in support of the vision, mission, and greatest good of the school as a whole rather than from one individual’s perspective.
■ Rainbow Rosenbloom, MEd, founded Live Education! in the fall of 1997, after twelve years of working with homeschooling families and co-ops, both privately and within the public schools. He studied Waldorf education at Emerson College in England and worked as a class teacher and a high school teacher in several Waldorf schools. Rainbow also helped to construct an innovative Waldorf charter school program in Monterey, CA and served as its director for three years. He has a BA in Philosophy from The University of Tulsa and an M.Ed. from Harvard.