Are educational leadership faculty seen as ‘leaders’ by the leaders that they serve?
Here’s a recent Twitter conversation that I had, followed by some additional thoughts…
Okay, Russ, I’ll bite. How should it be?
Well, of course, in an ideal world educational leadership faculty should be seen as "leaders of leaders." If we’re preparing educators for formal leadership positions such as principal, superintendent, or special education director, we should be seen as credible authorities and thought-leaders. And we educational leadership faculty are sometimes seen as "leaders," I believe, in specialized arenas like research and (maybe) policy circles.
I'm not sure, however, that educational leadership faculty often are seen as "leaders" by administrators in the field. Sure, we're usually seen as good people who often provide a decent (or at least not horrible) credentialing experience. But that's not the same as being looked to for leadership.
I think this situation occurs because educational leadership faculty typically are not deeply engaged with schools and/or the people who lead them. Other job demands and institutional reward structures both work against tenure-track faculty spending a lot of time in the field. To be honest, many higher education faculty also aren't that interested in being too involved with K-12 practitioners. A great number of us are pretty introverted (as Sir Ken Robinson notes, we faculty 'live in our heads'), a trait which is okay in academe but typically isn't associated with great success in K-12 school administration.
If success in academia is a four-legged stool – research, teaching, service/outreach, and grants/external funding – service/outreach is definitely the short leg of the stool. When we do define "service" in academe, it's primarily seen as disciplinary service such as serving on editorial or advisory boards, as journal editors, as officers in academic organizations, as proposal reviewers for conferences, and so on. The idea of service as "active engagement with and assistance of K-12 educational practitioners" is not very high on most faculty members' agendas. Often we see our teaching and credentialing (and an occasional meeting of a statewide committee or task force) as fulfilling that role of service to the field. When educational leadership faculty ARE involved with schools (i.e., we actually leave the university and go inside school buildings), it's often simply for a research project that may or may not have much tangible benefit to the participating school organization. We also like to have our 'clinical faculty' (i.e., non-tenure-track and thus, at many universities, "lesser" faculty) be the ones that primarily go out and work with schools, not us tenure-track folks.
We can point to isolated examples where what I've said here is inapplicable, and I'm sure that some of my academic peers across the country would take great exception to this post, but I believe that I've accurately described the general trend for most educational leadership faculty at most universities (particularly our most prestigious research universities), whether we want to admit it or not.
As those of you who regularly read or interact with me know, I'm a bit of an anomaly within my academic peer group. I see university education faculty as being in a service profession, one which should be serving the needs of K-12 (or higher education) practitioners. That's why I struggle with our definition of "service" as internally-focused service to ourselves rather than externally-focused service to others. That's why I struggle with academic publication hierarchies that value an article in a "prestigious" academic journal that no practitioner ever reads over an article in a still-selective practitioner journal that's read by tens of thousands of school administrators. That's why I struggle with a system that, for myself, can't (or won't) figure out how to value things like
- trying to serve as a thought leader that hopefully can mobilize an entire state's (and maybe down the road an entire country's) K-12 leadership community to move their schools into the digital, global era;
- providing professional development and technical assistance to tens of thousands of administrators and teachers on issues that are really important; or
- blogging, podcasting, and providing other online resources that reach hundreds of thousands of educators all over the world.
Will my "roll up my sleeves and get into schools / write in places where others can find me / actually try to be helpful" path be successful in the long run in academe? Will my current university figure out how to place a value on the things that I do? Should other educational leadership faculty view writing and/or service/outreach more like I do? Only time will answer these questions. In the meantime, however, don't hold your breath waiting for much help or thought leadership or, in fact, any kind of "leadership" for K-12 administrators from educational leadership faculty. The system that currently exists places value on other activities and it's not changing any time soon.