School Leadership

The unfortunate reality of modern day schools can be found in their leadership approach. A number of schools have placed great emphasis on campus leadership. This leadership can be found among both faculty and students. Two local Houston private schools that have made leadership a focus are that of Houston Christian and the Second Baptist School. Houston Christian’s faculty collectively read the book Good to Great; in reading this work, faculty members broke up into small groups to discuss and analyze the models presented about leadership and what it is. The process of leadership, in my unqualified opinion, is one that shapes the dynamics of a culture; it is here in which the sociological complexities of group formations can be tricky.


Individuals define and see leadership and the shaping of it very differently. As it relates to schools and the role of faculty members, leadership and how we as faculty value leadership is most important. Independent schools should set the model for leadership for all schools; we have the freedom to be different and work outside of state structures that interrupt the make up of a community. Campus leadership is about empowering faculty members not only with access to facilities to conduct academic work as professionals, but granting them a voice of governance. A topic I have blogged a great deal about is that of faculty tenure. Although this is important to me and those in my academic circle, I have found that schools with a structural sense of organization to be the best models of campus leadership. Last spring, I received a copy of After the Harkness Gift, a book that addresses the academic and intellectual culture of school life at the Phillips Exeter School – one of the nation’s most elite schools. Their model for campus leadership is one that should be emulated by all independent schools.

For example, in chapter 2 entitled Governing a Faculty-Run School, the authors addressed a few key topics as it relates to school leadership and organization:

“One of the most distinctive features of the Academy, indeed, is the faculty government. Like the school itself, its government is completely democratic. Often divergent views are expressed, on occasion recommendations by committees or administrative officers are reversed, and all action is decided by vote of the Faculty. It is perhaps needless to add that these decisions are wholly free from political or religious bias and influence” (pg. 34)

“…. In any event, this action marked the true beginning of Exeter as a “faculty-run” school, because it meant that the faculty not only directed academic and student life, but also controlled membership in the community, from admissions through graduation” (pg. 36)

One of the models I have found to work best among the many independent schools I have visited or in some way associated with is the empowering of departments to work autonomously. According to an anecdote in the book that describes the power of department chairs:

“…Some years ago at the beginning of the fall term, during a meeting of an academic department, the new professors were told – and old members reminded – that matters of policy were democratically settled by majority vote. The members were also told that decisions on the subject under discussion could not be made “because the ‘majority’ has not yet arrived. ” The majority, in this case was the chairman of the department” (pg. 37).

I like this model of leadership in that faculty members model a sense of empowerment.


2 thoughts on “School Leadership

  1. The sad reality of course is that many administrators watched an outdated power trip to being oon top. Giving faculty members this type of authority is elite. Most schools are not this elite to operate in such a progressive way.

  2. In reference to the paragraph above in which a quote is taken from page 34 of the book in question, the following statement is quoted, “It is perhaps needless to add that these decisions are wholly free from political or religious bias and influence.”
    If the above quote had been made in a different book, this reader would have to take the statement with a grain of salt or infer that the statement was made tongue-in-cheek.
    It is certainly true that decisions can be made by a faculty in which neither political, nor religious, considerations influence the decision. But when major philosophical decisions concerning content of curriculum, teaching methodology, or the guiding philosophy of an entire school, it is the opinion of this reader that the above statement is not only false but unrealistic.
    When making a major decision in a democratic method in which each faculty member has a vote, it is the responsibility of each faculty member to take the act of voting seriously and consider the act of voting not only a privilege but a responsibility, a responsibility to be exercised with forethought and careful consideration.
    Given the importance of some decisions made by a faculty, let us use as an example a re-evaluation of a school’s mission, how can it be possible that a faculty member not base part of his or her thinking about this important topic on their own personal worldview?
    Even in an independent school which places a high value on diversity both in worldviews, ethnicity, political orientation, and religious backgrounds, how can faculty be expected, nay, required, to divorce themselves from their personal values and worldview when considering their individual vote on such an important issue as the school mission?
    To do so would require, for this reader at least, a dispassionate approach to issues of importance to the reader. Given that passion for learning, teaching, and the instructor’s academic area of interest is such a part of the “art” of good teaching, it must certainly be an unwise practice to encourage an instructor to be dispassionate about the decision making process when deciding how to cast an individual vote on an important matter that will impact each faculty member and each student affiliated with the institution.
    In a perfect world, they would be consensus in all matters in academia. Such a world does not exist. This reader looks at the quoted statement as in reality a statement that the faculty is either homogeneous in its worldview, in which case it is not intellectually diverse as it claims to be, or has been bullied into submission by dominant personalities within the faculty.
    I could be wrong. I doubt it.
    It is the very conflict of ideas in a democratic process, the adversarial approach, that often sparks further creativity, compromise, and new ideas. Certainly it can be agreed upon by civil, well educated professionals to disagree agreeably.
    How can ethics be taught without some basis in morality? What is the most common source of moral guidelines that are consistent? Religion is the usual source. Enough from this scribe. This is really food for another topic.

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