The Future of Leadership in Education: Embracing Innovation or Clinging to Convention?

November 24, 2023 / 5 minutes min. read

The difference between ordinary leaders and extraordinary ones is often a little extra effort, the former American football coach and sports analyst Jimmy Johnson once proclaimed. I cannot think of a more appropriate time to appreciate the accuracy of that quote as it relates to leadership in education.

The ongoing debate regarding the need to completely overhaul the traditional education system is a topic of significant interest, particularly among a dedicated group of educators on social media platforms. Many, including myself, advocate for change, which may seem radical to those accustomed to the traditional ways of education. Initially, I too followed these conventional methods, but over time, I’ve come to see them as outdated and in need of reform. This is especially true for the high stakes exams prevalent in many of our educational systems. These exams often represent a significant aspect of what many now challenge as an archaic approach to education, one that prioritizes standardized testing over holistic learning and development.

As education reformer John Holt wrote, “We destroy [children’s] love of learning by encouraging them to work for petty rewards rather than genuine satisfaction…We kill not only their curiosity, but their feeling that it is good and admirable, so that by age ten most will not ask questions.”

In discussions within our LinkedIn communities and beyond, it’s almost a given to acknowledge the massive changes occurring in the educational landscape. This transformation isn’t just a passing phase; it’s a fundamental shift, especially with the integration of AI in education (we also need to say that). This begs the question: are we in need of a new kind of educational leader who can navigate and utilize these changes for the betterment of learning experiences?

There’s a growing discussion about redefining school leadership. A case in point is the Michaela School in London, often referred to as Britain’s strictest school. With its rigorous discipline and structured environment, it serves as a solid benchmark for discussing the kind of leadership that could define the next decade in this era of change. Is this really the future we want? For not just learners but also for ourselves as professionals.

Recently, I spoke to a large audience, both in person and virtually, in a region with a traditional educational approach. Surprisingly, I found support for my views against standardized exams and in favor of learner-led education. After the event, young attendees stayed behind for photo’s and a conversation, they expressed their sincere frustration with the current system, highlighting its focus on exams over genuine learning, and shared stories of their peers’ struggles with mental health.

This brings us to an essential question: should we redefine what it means to be a leader in education? It seems imperative to consider traits like adaptability, technological savvy, and a global perspective in the recruitment of new educational leaders – but we also need leaders who understand the learner-journey not just in our eyes, but theirs. This quality is no longer just desirable; it’s necessary for those who will steer our educational institutions in the future.

When asked by Kazakh students during my appearance at EdCrunch, Almaty 2023, I realized the importance of addressing the shortcomings. The current educational system, led by a handful of providers, is slow to adapt its leadership recruitment policies to match its evolving narrative calling for change in educational methodologies. This issue of clinging to traditional approaches in leadership recruitment is becoming a global challenge and could become a real problem as chasm grows.

Reflecting on these thoughts, it’s clear that the path ahead for educational leadership is both daunting and possibly exciting. Future leaders have the opportunity to embrace a diverse skill set and a mindset geared towards embracing change and innovation. As we continue to debate and shape the future of educational leadership, we should strive to be as progressive in selecting our leaders, advancing our personal specifications and being risk-takers in opening up to new talent as we are in envisioning the future of education itself.


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