Pursuing Unheroic Leadership in an Heroic World


I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” ―Malala Yousafzai

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall

Leadership Learning: Pursuing the Unheroic Leader in an Heroic World

As I reflect on effective leaders that have crossed my path and how they approach difficult issues and as I review Leadership for Learning in Chapters 18-20(The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership, 2013), the idea of ‘relevant knowledge’ (Robinson, p.298) seems key to all aspects of leadership. The greatest leaders I have known have been Servant Leaders at heart. They have held strong beliefs and they have been widely supported by their team because they developed shared goals which supported learners first, they held moral authority by living their commitment to the core values of the community, and they were not hesitant to express outrage when the community was threatened by actions or ideologies. (Sergiovanni, 2013). Relevant knowledge is the contemporary skills and expertise efficiently and creatively applied to specific areas or situations for success and growth. As educators work each day with students to provide opportunities for success they need to be knowledgeable in current pedagogy and informed of recent and on-going research in their area of expertise.  Teachers choose to be lifelong learners and that journey involves continuing professional development, training in new and prevailing pedagogical applications, and a commitment to professionalism. Likewise, effective leaders in education commit to evolving insights, cultivating progressive strategies and systems to enhance teaching practices, and the continuing pursuit of knowledge.

Recently a leadership inquiry group’s discussion was a catalyst causing me to re-examine what I had observed in my teaching career, my time as a student, and my experience as a parent. My thinking was confirmed through a process of self-reflection and I am committed to remaining vocal and active both in the acquisition of knowledge and in providing opportunities for educational advancement of teachers. My own experiences have confirmed that not all leaders possess nor implement the skills and knowledge required for success.

There are a myriad of reasons that set the stage for misuse or absenteeism of new information, trends, and research.  In the North American market we are exposed to and influenced by direct sales efforts.  Educational materials sold to government bodies, sold to districts, sold to principals, sold to teachers, and increasingly promoted directly to parents. Many publishers respond to new curriculum or trends with revisions, re-organizations, or re-writes of materials which are then marketed aggressively in education communities. The impact of big money publishers and tech companies can be observed currently in the American education system as they direct and influence policy, curriculum development, and instructional change. (Woodward, 2013).  Educational leaders and teachers need to be vigilant. Teacher autonomy within the Canadian system is fragile and requires defending. Leaders within our education system must be informed, be current, and apply that knowledge to the standing question: What is best for learners?

Administrators who embrace student first thinking become leaders for parents, for teachers, and for students.  The resulting success occurs when leaders at all levels apply relevant knowledge; staying current on trends, research, and development is essential to this success.

Present opportunities for expanded learner success in British Columbia include the implementation of new curriculum which embraces differentiated learning and champions our students as whole persons with multiple competencies.  UDL or Universal Design for Learning is a scientifically supported pedagogical approach which supports the new curriculum while also providing opportunities for effective implementation throughout a school community. This type of relevant knowledge ensures school leaders are able to support learner development, assure the provision of differentiated instruction, and present opportunities for growth to their team. (BC Ministry of Education, 2011) (Government of British Columbia, 2015). This sets the stage for student-centred learning guided by progressive understanding free from commercial influence!

The discussion with the inquiry group regarding the link between relevant knowledge and its application to complex problems resulted in more questions. This launched an exploration into the Hero as stereo typically male.  The complex issue around sexism in our educational systems was a divisive topic. Complex problems regularly arise within a school.  They require active support, modeling, resources, and an equitable approach.

Case Study 14.2 “They dominated the conversation” (class handout, 2017-05-02) highlighted both sexism and educational superiority which created a disdain and rebuke of input from the female team members, including the chair. The blatant disrespect of the male doctors for their team members is, unfortunately, a reflection of common observations between men and women.  According to research men interrupt women “33% more often than when they are talking with men.” (Shore, 2017)  This is readily observed in school staff meetings, at board meetings, and at social events.  As a woman, one’s ability to effectively solve complex problems can be severely impacted by the underlying sexist communication styles between men and women. The perpetuation of the leader as Hero is inevitable when the majority of leaders talk, interrupt, and converse for power. (Senge, 2013. P. 4)(Murphy, 2013. P. 29).It is the perspective of the privileged to fall blind to the adverse effects their state of being creates.  In society, the failure to acknowledge gender bias is part of a wider trend in the developed world.

According to Sanchez and Thornton, “…there seems to be “an implicit assumption that problems of equity for women have been solved and there are no issues left to address” (Coleman, 2005, p. 5). Moreau, Osgood, and Halsall (2007) found that many female teachers and other educational stakeholders did not recognize or identify a gender imbalance.” (p. 3).

This statement is supported both by my discussions with the inquiry group and with my observations in the workplace. As new principals were being assigned recently, there were few women placed in administrative roles despite the overwhelming need for female role models in leadership. Additionally, school district leadership training groups are comprised dominantly of men. It is fair to ask if our system recognizes the inequity observed and to challenge popular thinking.

The “ambivalence, resistance, and antipathy” which have continued to grow around the glass ceiling and gender bias frustrate the work for gender equality. (Sanchez & Gordon, 2010, p.3).

Frustration is observable both in team members and in students as they navigate a complex reality of gender and bias. The absence of gender issues in public discussion is the result of societal changes while navigating the rise of neo-liberalism and the increasing loss of backing for social programs which support gender equality. (Rebick, 2013, p. 678) To ignore specific gender issues ignores the growing effect on our youth and their understanding of education and leadership. Social programs build awareness and effect avenues of address. Increased awareness and highlighted effects on our youth are essential to changing the situation. Relevant knowledge includes being informed on social issues and how they affect children.  (Ligocki, Retrieved 2017)

According to Blount (2006), “Although men held only 21% of all teaching positions in 2000, they accounted for 87% of superintendent positions.” (p.2 Encyclopedia of Educational Leadership and Administration). Despite the overwhelming statistical evidence indicating deep-rooted gender bias, the fight is declining. Recent events like the March for Women has increased awareness once more, but within our community, there is little voice given to the reality which will imprint on learners and affect women’s ability to lead effectively without bias. There are distinct differences in how men and women communicate.  Men communicate to advance their power and reputation while women communicate to build relationships and develop connections. (Shore, 2017). Servant leadership is seen as feminine; soft and gentle. Hero leadership is strong and dominating; essentially what we perceive as masculine.

The patriarchal society we live in is our reality. Add to that the white conservative bread-basket we experience in the Okanagan Valley, and the “Father Knows Best” belief which pervades our systems of thinking (particularly in education where the school is an extended part of the family) and male leadership is the norm.

To experience student-centred learning and student-centred problem solving we must acknowledge this state of being. It is through accepting our reality, our unconscious belief systems, that we can challenge the Hero and open ourselves to equal opportunities. Murphy (2013) emphasizes that instead of issuing answers leaders need to acknowledge ignorance, search for knowledge, and take action to effect change. (p. 32). The elimination of bias will lead to balanced systems, leadership, and learning structures. Student-centred learning means students see equality in the faces of teachers, administration, parents, and ultimately themselves.  Together we teach.

In the face of public belittlement such as the one observed at recent meetings between Union representatives and school districts in BC where a female head of a union group was advised by a male superintendent “there, there, don’t get emotional”  we should all be challenging disrespectful leadership and pursuing change. Relevant knowledge includes the transformation of core belief systems through ongoing education and problem-solving asking always “What is best for learners?”

I am committed to servant leadership. It is my belief that in quiet reflective moments we are surprised with insights.  As leaders we can effect change, support team members, and ensure opportunities for on-going education with quiet presence. Transformational growth can emerge from complex issues when approached with a shared understanding and established trust. (Robinson, 2013. P. 307) (Fink & Markholt, 2013, p. 328). This approach requires our ability to engage and direct when necessary. We cannot be washed away by sexist systems.  We must be ever vigilant like the wave upon the shore changing the landscape with every effort.  Moral outrage is effective but also necessary.  As educational leaders it is our responsibility to mentor, teach, and guide.  These responsibilities will drift from reach if we do not call out that which violates our core beliefs and moral goals. We must challenge traditional thinking. (Sergiovanni, 2013. P. 380). Relevant knowledge is essential to solve complex problems.  Student centred leadership is an opportunity for leaders to implement current information to enhance educational systems and creatively approach sensitive crisis in the community.

I will continue to pursue equality, fight demeaning comments, read, and research, explore new developments in education, and lead for learners.

#globalgoals             #educate           #girlpower         #bevocal


Blount. S. (2006). Encyclopedia of educational leadership and administration. English, Fenwick (Ed.). SAGE Publications, Incorporated. Retrieved May 6, 2017, from UBC Library database: http://gw2jh3xr2c.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info:ofi%2Fenc:UTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid%2Fsummon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi%2Ffmt:kev:mtx:book&rft.genre=bookitem&rft.title=Encyclopedia+of+Educational+Leadership+and+Administration&rft.atitle=WOMEN+IN+EDUCATIONAL+LEADERSHIP&rft.date=2006-01-01&rft.isbn=9780761930877&rft.externalDocID=9287952&paramdict=en-US

B.C. Ministry of Education. Supporting students with learning disabilities. Author. (2011) Retrieved May 13, 2017 from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/docs/learning_disabilities_guide.pdf

Fink, S. & Markholt, A. (2013). The leader’s role in developing teacher expertise. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 328). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Government of British Columbia. B.C.’s new curriculum. (2015) Retrieved  May 13, 2015 from https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum-info

Grogan, M. (Ed.). (2013). The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Ligocki, Danielle (2017). How does sexism operate in schools and wider society. [Electronic version].

Academia.edu. Retrieved May 13, 2017 http://www.academia.edu/2471094/How_Does_Sexism_Operate_in_Schools_and_Wider_Society

Murphy, J. (2013). The unheroic side of leadership. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 29-32). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Rebick, J. (2013). The future of feminism. In Gender and women’s studies in Canada;  Critical Terrain (pp. 678-684). Toronto, Ontario: Women’s Press, an imprint of Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.

Robinson, V. (2013). Three capabilities for student centred leadership. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 298-307). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Sanchez.J. & Thornton. Dr. (2010). Gender issues in K-12 educational leadership. Advancing  Women in Leadership Journal, V. 30 – N. 13. Retrieved from: http://www.advancingwomen.com/awl/Vol30_2010/Sanchez_Jafeth_AWL_Vol_30_No._13_final_9_21_10.pdf

Senge, P. (2013). “Give me a lever long enough… and single-handed I can move the world”. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 3-5). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Sergiovanni, T. (2013). Leadership as stewardship. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 379-388). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Shore, L. (2017). Gal interrupted, why men interrupt women and how to avert this in the workplace. WomensMedia. Retrieved May 13, 2017 https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2017/01/03/gal-interrupted-why-men-interrupt-women-and-how-to-avert-this-in-the-workplace/#71582cae17c3  

Woodward, D. (2013, August). The corporate takeover of public education. HuffPost. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diann-woodard/the-corporate-takeover_b_3397091.html

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites https://mredmanwrites.wordpress.com/


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