There exist certain leadership characteristics that are necessary for developing and leading a mission- and vision-based learning culture in an educational organization.
The leadership qualities necessary for developing a culture of learning that creates followers rather than subordinates and reflects the vision and mission of an institution are wide and varied. In the educational environment, it would behoove an administrative leader to strive to possess the following characteristics:
The aforementioned leadership characteristics are only some of the qualities that can be seen as most important and integral to fostering an effective culture of learning. Since no one person can possibly acquire all the characteristics, a leader has two remedies. First, she can begin the process of fostering desirable qualities. Second, she can begin the process of adopting a collaborative and servant’s heart mindset. These two qualities alone may be said to be the hallmarks of a good leader. Combined with healthy and proficient cultural leadership skills the leader can also be a planter and enhance the growth of learning by helping all participants of the institution learn to learn.
The Processes of Becoming a Good Leader and Impacting Learning Cultures
Leadership is a process of acquiring skills and cultivating a mentality that supports the roles and responsibilities of a leader. Gardner’s (Grogan, 2013) definition of a leader offers additional insights in relation to the role of leading a culture of learning:
“Leadership is the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers … They perform (or cause to be performed) certain tasks or functions that are essential if the group is to accomplish its purposes” (p. 17).
The probing questions that beg to be asked are: What is the role of leadership in improving a learning culture? and How do high quality leaders achieve this goal?
Communication and Collaboration
First, the leader can gather information and intelligence and collaborate with stakeholders building a consensus among them in order to chart a clear course that everyone understands. Second, she can establish high expectations hand-in-hand with sharing leadership, learning with each other, and by doing new things. Third, she can effectively use data to track progress and performance (Cuyahoga, 2012; Grogan, 2013; Leithwood, Lewis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004).
By developing people rather than commanding subordinates a letting go of control happens that empowers employees to embrace their potential. The effective leader will help her workers to identify their current skills and create an awareness of leadership/management principles that they may indeed possess. For example, in the educational environment teachers and staff are provided with support and training to succeed and thus impact learning. Thus a good leader will empower her constitutes to raise their standards, improve their knowledge, contribute and apply objectives and leadership/management skills that may or may not be self-evident to them thus equipping her constituents to meet the needs of all stakeholders, students, parents, teachers, and administration, and to perpetuate the organization’s mission. In essence, rather than “lionize leadership … and ignore the invisible leadership of lower-level staff members” (Grogan, 2013, p. 30) she can mold leaders that contribute to and create a shared vision crafting throughout the institution an effective learning organization.
A Culturally Proficient Leader
A conceptual approach that combines the aforementioned leadership qualities with that of being a culturally proficient leader can be found in a rubric created by Carmella Franco, Maria Gutierrez Ott, and Darline Robles. The Cultural Proficiency Leadership Rubric may provide the organizational leader with the opportunity to identify and/or change her views and move into the direction of becoming a leader capable of leading a mission- and vision-based learning culture. There are five essential elements of a culturally proficient leader. Subsequently, each element can be seen to house a vast number of previously mentioned leadership qualities as well.
Assessing One’s Own Culture and Others
This element is a vehicle for the leader to assess her culture and that of others. It addresses the compassion and transformational skills that should be visible in a culturally proficient leader. The leader realizes that all cultures and individuals have value, talents, and abilities. Furthermore, the leader takes her time to educate all the stakeholders to understand that equity in school is optimal to breaking down barriers and fostering other cultures and learning.
This element addresses diversity in promoting cultural pluralism for all involved. Not just the influential, the wealthy, or the politically advantaged stakeholders, but rather everyone. The leader promotes community building and tries to get one and all to collaborate on common goals that close the educational, societal, and economic gaps giving power to everyone, not just those who share the status quo. Gardner (Grogan, 2013) suggests that there exist the professional and “performance elite” (p. 19). Further, Gardner (Grogan, 2013) posits, people in any society, be it democratic or equalitarian are “elites in the sociologist’s sense: intellectual, athletic, artistic, political, and so on” and that leadership is now within the reach of those who were once excluded because they did not belong to the exalted social or status quo.(Grogan, 2013).
Managing the Dynamics of Difference
This element uses conflict as a catalyst for dialogue rather than a reason for dissention. Employing the skills of being an active listener the leader gains opportunities to facilitate understanding of her constituent’s culture and that of the world around her. In essence, she gains the perspectives of all which in turn lends to a greater chance of solving organizational problems. Additionally, she uses data to help stakeholders understand the nuances of educational and thus societal injustices. For, what happens in the schools will ultimately reflect and influence what happens in society. A byproduct of fostering discussion with key leadership and lower-level leaders-to-be is that the culturally proficient leader empowers her followers to be leaders for equity and social justice as well.
Adapting to Diversity
A good leader is not afraid to share organizational data with other organizations. The evangelical church is a true example of this process. For example, the mission of the Fairview Avenue Brethren in Christ (FABIC) church is to “glorify God by going, caring, and developing dynamic followers of Jesus” (FABIC, 2015). The ultimate vision is not to fill the pews with people and augment the coffers; rather it is to make it possible for all people to enjoy eternal life with Jesus; it is not to encourage all people to come to FABIC, but encourage all people to seek Jesus and be rewarded with eternal life in heaven. Thus, churches share information, programs, assistance to everyone, and so forth. Thus, it should be the same with educational institutions. The leaders of educational organizations’ goals should be to make education accessible to be all and become stewards of the children entrusted to the educational system (Senge, Cambron-McCabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton, & Kleiner, 2012) no matter what school or university the students’ attend.
Institutionalizing Cultural Knowledge
The fifth element advocates that leaders collaborate and glean information and intelligence from stakeholders in order to gain their input, to develop goals together, and take action. Rather than enforce and maintain educational policy for the sake of compliance, the culturally proficient leader will challenge the system, impact and influence policies and practices in order to “level the educational and societal playing field (Grogan, 2013, p. 103)”, and celebrate others’ leadership successes. Furthermore, according to Franco et al (2013) this concept enhances “multiorganizational credibility, trust, and effectiveness in meeting the needs of stakeholders (p. 103).
An amalgamation of effective leadership qualities with a strong cultural proficient mindset can be a vehicle to creating a vision together that can transform a school from the inside out to districts, states, and beyond.
Ideal Culture and an Institution’s Mission
The qualities of an ideal culture of learning can be seen in an institution’s vision. The mission statement of the university explains the purpose of the institution, the why of its existence; the values of the institution are those intrinsic virtues that are held to be worthwhile. Although the mission and values of the institution are integral, the vision by definition is the dream of what may be. The three are intertwined.
Therefore, it could be said, that in an educational environment the ideal culture of learning would be one where helping students learn to learn is taught my teachers who learn to learn. It would also be guided by a servant-leader who embodies the qualities of an appreciative manner and an innovative collaborated mindset that fosters the culture of learning. A leader who would plant seeds that encourages them to reach their dreams tapping the positive potential of all stakeholders and constituents within the learning culture and thus expanding organizational wisdom that maintains the mission and vison of the institution.
Thus, there exist leadership characteristics that are necessary for developing and leading a mission- and vision-based learning culture in an educational organization. The next step is to bridge the theory with practice that will capture the essence of learning and leading within a culture of learning.
Cuyahoga Community College. (2012). AQIP systems portfolio 2012. Retrieved from www.tri-c.edu/about/documents/tri-c-aqip-systems-Portfolio-2012.pdf.
FABIC. (2015). Fairview Avenue Brethren in Christ Church. Retrieved from http://www.fabicchurch.org/.
Grogan, M. (Ed.). (2013). The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. ISBN: 9781118456217.
Leithwood, K., Lewis, K.S., Anderson, S., and Wahlstrom, K. (2004). Executive summary: How leadership influences student learning. Toronto Ontario Canada: Leadership for learning project.
Senge, P., Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J., & Kleiner, A. (2012). Schools that learn: A fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: Random House/Crown Business.