A Philosophy of Leadership in the School Setting
The Head of School as Visionary – Head Teacher – CEO
Written by Rodney J. Marshall, Ed.D.
Leadership in the school setting involves the exercise of principled influence to attain institutional ends. To reach these ends, the Head of School will provide thought and organizational leadership in three primary arenas, each of equal importance. These are a visionary leader, a head teacher, and a chief executive officer. The Head of School leads as a visionary because the organizational leader needs to perceive where the academy is going to lead toward achievement of its highest ends. As head teacher, he (or she can be assumed throughout) leads an academy where teaching and learning great ideas is the paramount purpose. The Head needs to inspire all constituencies to develop a vibrant learning culture. As chief executive officer, because the Head of School is the sole report of the board of trustees, responsible for fulfilling academy ends while assuring organizational integrity. The leadership opportunity is a broad and exciting one because the Head of School is leading an organization that changes the lives that will influence the future, and everything rises and falls on leadership.
"The leader thinks strategically about what could be, or what the academy should become, and how it should influence people."
The Head of School as visionary acts as the ardent proponent of the Academy’s unchanging mission and deftly leads it through changing times. He thinks and leads strategically. While managers care for the day to day activities of the school operation, a visionary leader prays, reads, and thinks years into the future to set organizational trajectory today. The leader thinks strategically about what could be, or what the academy should become, and how it should influence people. The visionary leader can also sense the obstacles to success that need to be overcome before impact, and find a way through the rubble while building on the experience. While the manager thinks about damage control, the leader looks for opportunity in a changing environment, and persuasively communicates this to key people and eventually to all constituencies. The manager surveys others in order to satisfy them, while the visionary thinks, and leads from the front.
The Head of School leads as head teacher and thought leader because he leads an academy where teaching and learning great ideas is the paramount purpose. The title headmaster, sometimes used for school heads, means head teacher (caput magister), or the leader of the college of faculty. The head’s learning audience includes every constituency related to the organization. Directly, and indirectly, by word and by example he teaches the board, the administrative team, the college of faculty, the student body, the parents, the alumni, the donors, the broader community, and those who will join any one of these constituencies in the future. He, therefore, needs to be an idea leader engaged in the great conversation about the world of the past, the present, and the future, and about all the marvelous subject matter that make up a school curriculum in academics, arts, and athletics. As head teacher, he is energetically engaged with transmitting and discussing these ideas to and with all constituents because he loves it and he is excellent at it.
As Chief Executive Officer, and the only direct report of the board of trustees, the Head of School is comprehensively responsible for leadership toward the achievement of organizational ends while maintaining organizational integrity. The CEO leads a management team that works to achieve organizational ends while operating every aspect of the institution’s business functions, advancement goals, and educational programs with excellence. While leadership style is not most important, most schools are best run neither autocratically or via a laissez-faire approach. Rather, most school management teams work with the head to reach consensus on significant decisions, while the head still retains responsibility for final choices. The Head of School regularly reports to and works with the board to achieve Academy ends with integrity. As chief executive officer, the Head of School leads the entire institution forward with a standard of excellence.
The effective Head of School will provide leadership as a visionary, head teacher, and chief executive officer. The job description is a broad and exciting one because the Headmaster is leading an organization that changes the lives that will influence the future—and everything rises and falls on leadership.