Without an effective head teacher it is unlikely that a school will have a culture of high expectation or strive for continued improvement. And a huge amount of research and thinking has been devoted to understanding models of school leadership in terms of their impact on teaching, learning and assessment outcomes.
However, far less attention has been paid within education to the role of leadership in creating and sustaining social capital, what sort of leadership that requires, and how leadership can effect change in those areas. Indeed, paradoxical though it may seem, arguably more interest may have been shown in relation to understanding the linkage between leadership and social capital in the business world than in education.
Maak (2007), for example, argues that business leaders have to deal with moral complexity resulting from a multitude of stakeholder claims, and must build enduring and mutually beneficial relationships with all relevant stakeholders. This he terms ‘responsible leadership’ and its key component is “... the ability to enable and broker sustainable, mutual, beneficial relationships with stakeholders, to create stakeholder goodwill and trust, and ultimately a trusted business in society”. The responsible leader “acts as a weaver of stakeholder relationships and as broker of social capital in pursuit of responsible change”.
Applying this concept in an education context, Stone Johnson (2013) suggests:
Responsible leadership in practice means weaving those who have typically only been recipients of leadership to full-fledged participants, and developing relationships with them that serve to benefit not only students but also the stakeholders themselves.
The next stage of school improvement requires a more complex understanding of the relationships between schools and learners, schools and families and communities, and between learners and their families and communities. It also means paying closer attention than is often currently given to a much wider set of learning outcomes for learners in the personal and social domains, even though their measurement may not be as precise, whilst at the same time scaling back some of the pre-eminence given to purely externally test-based academic outcomes, bringing both into a new and mutually supportive relationship. This in turn reflects a belief that fundamentally everyone is a learner and has a desire and ability to learn.
The diagram below represents a first attempt to understand and represent the interaction of these wider insights. It suggests that traditional school improvement thinking only addresses half the picture – the blue area in the top/left area of the diagram:
A model of connected school leadership
Broadly speaking, this area represents the insights and focus of established thinking on school improvement, focused on the school as a self-contained entity and the quality of teaching and learning therein. Leadership exerts a major influence (the light blue arrows) on that and on securing recognised attainment outcomes for learners.
Of course, the great majority of schools also pay some attention to outcomes associated with personal and social development for learners. These are not, however, in most cases the prime concern and are only partially addressed. Moreover, parents and students often feel excluded from leadership for school improvement.
In contrast, the white triangle (the bottom/right area) represents the area of additional emerging understanding and leadership which, if secured, might afford a more complete picture of educational achievement. In this view, students and their families and communities share significant responsibility for outcomes, both attainment outcomes in the accepted sense of the term but also those wider personal and social development outcomes which are crucial for the learner, citizen and worker of tomorrow.
The diagram is further suggesting that these wider outcomes have importance in their own right, but in addition can contribute to the achievement of more recognised attainment outcomes through increased motivation, confidence and self- esteem. Moreover, those qualities of confidence and self- esteem and motivation may influence the long-term development of families and communities.
The notion of connected leadership stands at the centre of these two arenas of school improvement and wider engagement. It seeks to harness the forces of growth and impact within each and to bring greater alignment between them in order to improve the learning of pupils both within and beyond the school. The role of both trust and engagement is central to developing the conditions for such growth. It understands it is nurturing a pond rather than managing a pool.
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