The New Work of Educational Leaders: Changing Leadership Practice in an Era of School Reform

Anthony Normore (Florida International University, Miami, Florida USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




Normore, A. (2004), "The New Work of Educational Leaders: Changing Leadership Practice in an Era of School Reform", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 511-514.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

As an extension of his previous publication The Making of Educational Leaders, Peter Gronn continues to forge a framework for understanding the practices oftentimes associated with leadership in this new book The New Work of Educational Leaders: Changing Leadership Practice in an Era of School Reform. The intent of the book is to seek further insights and understandings into both the managerial and leadership practices and to bridge the concepts. Many of the issues faced by leaders and managers in the new millennium will focus on three emerging trends that will likely impact what future leadership entails: designer leadership; distributed practice; and disengagement. The book focuses on the wider framework of school policy, structural influences, and cultural abstention in respect of leadership roles which together “can be expected to shape much of the new work of educational leaders” (p. 1). While much of the data and the literature used in the book is from the UK, USA and Australia it can certainly benefit and apply to other countries on the global stage to stay alert and take heed to some of the major issues faced by educational leaders at the school district level and the university level.

The book is divided into two parts. Prior to part one, the author provides a list of explanations for organizational acronyms used throughout the book. This is followed by a brief introduction that explains the purpose and reasons for the book. Part one (chapter one, two and three) focuses on the architectural design of leadership (i.e. designing leaders, distributed view of leadership, and disengagement of leaders) and provides different points of reference for understanding professional practice and discusses the tensions that exist among them. Part two (chapter four, five, six, and seven) focuses on the ecological factors that describe the many subcultures of leadership (i.e. committees, meetings, teams, emotions). Gronn synthesizes research into practice of leadership by focusing on structure “through words, deeds and emotions” (p. 4) The format of the book is predominantly researcher and scholar‐oriented, and less practitioner‐friendly. Yet, there is much research on management and leadership included in part two of the book from which practitioners can benefit. Each chapter consists of a comprehensive literature review for the chapter concepts that are brilliantly interwoven into the fabric of the chapters' essence.

Chapter one alludes to the competencies and standards for school administrators preparation, training and development as a catalyst for certification of future administrators and for the purposes of contractual renewal and professional upgrading of incumbent school administrators. Gronn considers a series of problems and possibilities affiliated with standards‐based preparation for school leaders. With the adoption of standards regimes, Gronn introduces a comprehensive overview of the National Standards for Headteachers in the UK (government‐driven approach to standards) and the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium in the USA (profession‐driven approach to standards). Additionally, the chapter presents some unintended consequences of implementing standards by looking at career demographics, recruitment, and selection of school leaders with focus on the possible “misalignment between the profile of the candidate pool and the profile of the communities to be served by that pool” (p. 19). Chapter two discusses the distributed view of leadership. Gronn argues that “commentators and practitioners would be better served by an expanded understanding of leadership…which includes distributed forms of leadership” (p. 27). Throughout the process known as “articulation of work” emphasis is placed on interdependencies, coordination, spontaneous collaboration, and institutionalized practices. The chapter provides an overview of the concept of division of labor through an analysis of the research literature. The establishment of the division of labor, according to Gronn, “creates the need for systems management to coordinate and integrate activities of the various people who together make up the work system…it is these activities and the specific form of division of labor which determine the job of the administrator” (p. 28). The specific forms of distributed leadership in the division of labor include multiple actions, concertive action, joint work units, formal and informal units, departments, crews, committees, and teams‐ all of which are considered commonly available ways of managing work.

Chapter three presents issues of disengagement of leaders whereby increasing incidences of employee abstention and withdrawal play vital roles. Gronn reiterates that “in respect of school leadership succession and development, this phenomenon expresses itself as disengagement from leadership or the growing reluctance of teachers to consider as career possibilities senior level institutional roles which carry with them expectations of leadership” (p. 51). In practical terms, this means that education systems are unable to recruit adequate aspiring administrators and superintendents which would undoubtedly explain why the leadership shortage is a crisis in the USA and the UK. The chapter is filled with research findings and direct quotations from aspiring and practicing school administrators on disengagement that pertain to Australia, the UK and North American schools. Reasons, such as work intensification, are cited as to why individuals are not pursuing administrative roles in these countries.

Chapter four considers a number of problems and possibilities in the tradition of field research in search of what leaders and managers do. Gronn addresses questions such as how leaders accomplish what it is they do and reasons why they do what they do. The chapter synthesizes a comprehensive body of research by individuals who have expressed interest in studying what leaders do. Gronn reviews 50 years of research that link realities of leading and managing in educational and non‐educational settings with emphasis on the commonalities and differences between managers and leaders. Management and leadership have always been intensive and demanding forms of work. It would be of utmost interest to theorists who believe that effective leaders also manage and that effective managers also lead. For readers who believe the two are disconnected, this chapter offers some interesting and in‐depth insights between management and leadership practices provided in the literature. The chapter assesses the adequacy of current knowledge base as a possible departure point for evidence‐informed judgements about practice.

Chapter five and six consider the dynamics of leaders meetings, committees, and leadership teams‐ prominent forms of distributed leadership. While the need to confer is likely accepted in varying degrees by many people, it is also rejected by many others who see conferring as an infringement of their tightly packed work schedules and commitments. Chapter five emphasizes “the vast majority of meetings will have at least one thing in common: their inherent fecundity, for they are more than likely to have created the need for even further meetings” (p. 91). Emphasis is placed on the thought that managers and leaders regard meetings as more efficient means for effective decision making and goal achievement. The chapter discusses the ubiquitousness of meetings and how “talking and listening” take up a high proportion of managers and leaders time. Gronn investigates through the literature when meetings occur (spontaneously, time tabled meeting cycle), and the types of meetings (identity, games, deliberations, power, positioning, and groupthink). In chapter six, Gronn presents features of teams and team meetings. Teams are the most prominent and popular of distributed leadership. A key element in the efficiency of teams is whether teams are “mandated or imposed from above by managers, or whether the initiative for their creation comes from below” (p. 109). In many schools and universities, senior management teams are now utilized for reasons of greater managerial complexity or explicit commitment to collaboration. Reasons for teams are justified as being opportunities for self‐management, self‐leadership, and learning. While these reasons certainly are optimistic for team members and for conducting effective organizational management in educational settings, there is also a dark side to teams in non‐educational settings, and some educational settings, that lead to oppression for the team members. Critics argue that oppression can take the form of identity politics, surveillance through willing compliance with team norms, and “imposed teams represent a contrived version of community” (p. 116).

Chapter seven presents the range of emotions experienced in the workplace. Gronn begins by clarifying the nature of feelings and emotions by referencing theories of management and organizations to support the fact that research evidence “classifies the psychological dispositions of leader‐managers towards their work was…as either task‐oriented or person‐oriented … getting the job done or putting interests of workers first” (p. 128). Emotionality is addressed briefly, followed by a comprehensive overview of leaders as emotional objects (psycho‐social dynamics of leadership, managing anxiety). South Australian principals are cited as being particularly vulnerable to new public management since “playing the game” of leadership came at a “very severe emotional cost…higher than average anxiety and/or depression” (p. 135). These principals cited “heavy work demands, lack of employer support and a general lack of control of their work” (p. 135) as the major contributors to their above average score as well as to their fears of failure and success. The UK principals cited similarities. Gronn presents an in‐depth overview of how feelings of failure (trouble, vicious circles, scapegoating, organizational conflicts) and success (self achievement, advancement) play important roles in emotional leadership for school administrators.

Chapter eight, the concluding chapter, alludes to the new work of educational leaders as being “greedy work” and that educational leadership is to be understood as “an increasingly greedy occupation” (p. 147) that is performed on behalf of “greedy organizations in the pursuit of voracious and stingy public policies” (p. 146). Gronn fleshes out the idea of greedy work practices (exploitation and serfdom) in respect of leadership roles, leadership identities and the claims that greedy policies make on leaders. Reference is made to how “workalcoholicism” is fast becoming the culturally accepted norm of the new work order…that when one signs on for a leadership role, he/she is implicitly signing a contract that that represents the adage that “one lives to work, rather than works to live” (p. 153). Gronn reiterates that greedy work is no laughing matter for it can lead to work stress and become the measure of what one is and not just what one does.

In reading the book it is imperative to bear in mind that educational leadership and management are expanding so rapidly that it becomes difficult to keep up. This book, The New Work of Educational Leaders: Changing Leadership Practice in an Era of School Reform is very timely and well‐written for particular audiences. The book is a highly valuable, insightful and recommended volume, often presented with great rigor and thought. It is especially recommended by the author of the article for research scholars and college professors who study and work with educational leadership preparation programs and policy. Policy makers would benefit immensely from this book as well. It can serve as a guide for policy development, implementation and analysis. Finally, school districts might benefit from this informative book when engaged in leadership development processes for aspiring school administrators and renewal processes for practicing administrators. Additionally, they could seek further understanding of the professional and organizational socialization processes involved in leadership succession planning.

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