Collective Leadership: Discovering the Feminine Model

Collective Leadership: Discovering the Feminine Model

Women lead differently. Developed out of need and desperation, women found each other in waves. They reached out across gardens, whispered in teahouses, vented in factory recesses, and discovered each other in classroom corners. Women tentatively joined hands to promote civility, bravely crawled toward personhood, and proudly stood with hands clasped demanding representation in educational literature and structures. Women shouted with one voice over the flames which ate away the straps that bound and defined. Integral sexism and bias fractured opportunities for equality but women moved forward changed. Today, in woven embrace, women celebrate the multiplicity which is woman. Women share views, secrets, identities, differences and relationships. Together Canadian women unite to pursue justice for women around the world. As educational leaders, women listen, hear, and respond. They are active members of a network connected and secure guided by goals built by many hands (Newman & White, 2006).

Canada in the 19th century was male: male ideals, male leadership, and male dominance. Women were overwhelmed with disregard and objectification. The first wave rose up. Women were active members who helped to build and develop the nation of Canada, but an appreciation of their contributions was limited. Additionally, women went unrecognized as persons and voiceless in the political arena. Denied land rights, inheritance rights, and the right to vote, women began reaching out for one another. Keeping public life separate from private life was an important first step for women during this time. They experimented with wavering voices while at home preserving the subservient role expected by society. Representing the guardians of morality, women began to gather with purpose and without redress. Newman and White (2006) indicate the convergence of multiple factors affecting society including the decline of the imperial system, rapid growth in industrialization, and the development of cities in Canada. The conditions resulted in aggravated alcohol consumption, increased prostitution, and abuse. Together women found their voice rising against drug addiction and the associated results affecting the sanctity of the family. Women joined in acts of charity to rally for improved morality. The moral outrage allowed women to gather supporting change, enacting structures for assistance, and facilitating network development (Newman & White, 2006) (Sergiovanni, 1992). Acting as servants under God, women practiced servant leadership with the power to God. Their goals were clear, and women were united in their vision and sanctified purpose (Sergiovanni). The family was the core value and the shared vision. Faith was at the centre of the household. Women grasped moral authority, found it legitimized through institutions, and placed themselves in service to the communities. Thus women assumed stewardship for the betterment of their peers while building democratic networks for support (Senge, 1990) (Grogan & Shakeshaft, 2011) (Sergiovanni).

Women were coming together on a shared vision driven by moral outrage and facilitated by moral authority (Sergiovanni, 1992). They were organizing, building relationships with women they had never met, and developing empathy for women walking different paths. The vision was widening, growing, and changing. They demanded facilities for wayward women, fought for female medical supports, sought fair treatment in industry, and asked for political recognition. The community was developing, and leaders within those communities found their leadership responsibilities growing. Women were committed to educating each other to improve conditions and increase opportunities for success. Community learning through social networks that were by nature egocentric focused on friends and family in the communities (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011). Industrialization produced opportunities for women to expand the web of relations and contacts. The impact of focused women in positional power roles created societal leaders who provided opportunities to gain acceptance of the goals in the mainstream. The traditional role of charity allowed women to reach out to and through communities building the suffrage movement and finding victory. The relentless pursuit of common ideas and growing networks of communication provided opportunities for target promotion and achievement (Wagner & Kegan, 2006) (Newman & White, 2006).

Wave upon wave rising, in the mid-20th century women found themselves’ minimized and disregarded in literature and education. Educational institutions were open to women, invited women, but did not expect their success. Women were found nowhere in mainstream literature, textbooks, or in leadership. Using socio-centric networks, women worked within the associations to unite and fight for recognition (Newman & White, 2006) (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011). The educational institutions, like the Churches in the first wave, provided a place and space to gather and demand recognition as unique and solitary citizens (Newman & White, 2006). Women were mobilizing to overcome their muted role in the home, school, and workplace. Women discovered their shift of mind and saw that their personal life was indeed public. With increased independence, active participation in the community, and improving educational opportunities, women were not going to be defined only by their sex (Newman & White) (Senge, 1990) (Kline, 2010).

Slowly wearing the foreshore, the second wave continued to crash upon assumptive norms. The movement to empower women and recognize their fundamental equality slowed in the tide of economic forces and political play during the latter half of the 20th century in Canada. In 1964 the Real Women movement, which grew out of conservative uprising, drew negative backlash in the mainstream media denigrating ‘feminists’ and proclaiming any feminist anti-family (Newman & White, 2006). Women fought back and pressed forward. During the 1984 leadership debate, NAC (National Action Committee on the Status of Women) succeeded in making issues facing women a fundamental part of the debate. Mainstream media destroyed opportunity for progress despite the high levels of national interest and significant viewer population. NAC fought and achieved public presence to advance equality in the modern space, but broadcasting representatives declared it a non-event (Thrift, 2011). Following the debate, feminism became a target and a somewhat dirty word. The Conservative party was in power and referred to the Women’s movement as a special interest group. Rediscovering the vision, maintaining the connections, and moving forward became complicated (Newman & White, 2006) (Thrift, 2011).

Finding one another, building networks, creating contacts, discovering understanding; these were the relentless focus of feminists during the drought created out of economic pressures and the return to patriarchal leadership in a conservative Canada. During this time women found interest groups within their community of women. Women of colour, Aboriginal women, women of poverty, and abused women found each other and began calling for a change to social norms around the subordinate station granted women (Newman & White, 2006). They demanded cultural shift, representation, and structures to support the pursuit of equality. Women were united in their calls, clear of their vision, and focused on changing mental models (Senge, 1990). Women embraced Unheroic leadership (Murphy, 1968) in these new groups. The vision was clear; women were comfortable asking questions and open to responses to change, enrich, or amend their thinking. The diverse groups of women gathered, listened, and depended on each other for promotion and growth (Murphy). The struggle to understand and embrace what it meant to be woman was and is on-going. Women recognized that they are an integral member of our societal system and a leader for families and education. Today, women are continuing to build relationships, create webs of information and lift each other to equitable living. The waves are returning changed and amended. United in differences women gather and inform utilizing open-system networks to connect (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011). Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, have become powerful tools used to unite and lead women to equality. Increasingly focused on cultural interventions, (Newman & White) women are weaving wider nets, creating links to one another, finding their sameness, and celebrating their diversity as a collective (Bowden, 2009).

Canadian women participate in a global context with benevolent works seeded during the first wave. Throughout the recent history of feminism, women have worked improving the lives of others. Charity in groups and as individuals in the new era remains a feminine enterprise. Ground-breaking charitable works done by women continue nationally and internationally. Match International is a Canadian organization which gives Canadian women an opportunity to support women outside of Canada fighting abuse and inequality. Because I am a Girl Canada and United Nations groups like Global Citizen are struggling to end child marriage and improve education of girls. Canadian women united in interests and goals are coming together philosophically, economically, and actively in a new age of communication (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011) (Newman & White, 2006). Because women build networks and relationships, the opportunity for collaborative innovation exists. Additionally, because women work outside traditional models of bureaucracy, they have the freedom to introduce, test, and develop ideas without being restricted by a narrowing list of rules and guidelines. Cognitive shifts are resulting from women working within social structures rather than in segregated power organizations. Women work integrally with multiple members in a community allowing multiple viewpoints and providing opportunities for changes in thinking and innovative problem-solving. Ongoing development of the women’s movement includes coming together in unlikely ways, to respect the diversity of women, to hear each other, and to speak freely (Grogan & White, 2011) (Starratt, 2004) (Tschannen-Moran, 2004) (Murphy, 1968). Their voices and influence are evident in the gathering for Pan-Canadian feminists.
” We are the young RebELLEs who have answered a feminist call, and we are proud to call ourselves feminists…We are women of diverse abilities, ethnicities, origins, sexualities, identities, class backgrounds, ages, and races.” (Manifesto of the Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering, 2008)
Feminism is by its very nature inclusive. Reaching out to the deep and varying persons who are woman opens conversations and leads to connections and relationships. Female educational leaders approach the multifaceted educational arena to create communal experiences, develop ties, and generate impactful interactions. In Canada, the new curricula published (BC Ministry of Education, 2015)(Alberta Ministry of Education, 2016) in several provinces provide a focus on diversity, acceptance, and social/emotional learning. Subsequent tides, robust and bracing, will ride on the leadership of women able to build associations and cast their net wide. Women continue to be misunderstood and overlooked. The traditional hero leader is male, and the heroic style of leadership is observable and measurable (Murphy, 1968). The servant and collective leaders are often unseen, unheard. Heroes lead from without; Women lead from within and they are essential active members who relate to the group. By empowering individuals, developing local specialists, and sharing in focused goals, women demonstrate empathy and build trust within the collective (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011) (O’Brien & Shea, 2010) (Senge, 1990) (Robinson, 2011).
Women traditionally held little power. They were not part of authority structures and had no voice to effect change. Women were forced to connect and communicate differently. They searched and found one another working to create opportunities to improve the lives of women, demand change, and fight for a voice. Collectively women built relationships and worked cooperatively to begin building equity in their world by demanding female leaders, literature with relevant female role models, and acceptance as unique citizens. Feminism faltered under male dominated media, but women found their voice and rallied for a broadened acceptance of what it means to be woman. As a net anchored and connected to its task, collective leadership lifted women with trust, relations, and passionate visions. Their voices rose and they found membership together. Women supported one another creating influence and effecting change while embracing diversity. Today female leaders endorse group learning, develop resident experts, encourage open conversation, and cultivate essential trust. Women present a distinctly feminine leadership model that is present in mind and functions cohesively and decidedly Unheroic (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011) (Senge, 1990) (Robinson, 2011) (Iannello, 2010) (Starratt, 2004). Women lead differently.
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© 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


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


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© 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