Transformational Leadership for Transformational Learning
Updated: Mar 17, 2021
Educational reform, is a term that is constantly bandied about void of a connection to, or relationship with, a vision that inspires sustainable growth and progress. When delving deeply into the issues facing the institution of education, one recognizes that in many instances, reform simply isn’t enough. Despite the noblest of intentions, the proverbial “bandaids” are not suitable for the hemorrhaging. Constraints abound and have certainly confounded those who have attempted to offer progressive solutions to very complex issues. How do we marry the needed commodity of pragmatism with the multiple realities (social, political, economic) facing those who attempt to pivot the system? More importantly, how does a progressive vision take hold in the midst of tremendous uncertainty? These questions are adequately answered when stakeholders address them with a purposeful reimagining of the manner in which education is framed. A fundamental characteristic of seeking growth requires that change rely on pragmatism that possesses a long range view. Instances of reaction without clear, realistic outcomes only continue the viscous cycle of “change for the sake of change,” embodied in the many programs and policies enacted. It is imperative that this moment in history serve as a pivot by which a new entry point can foster a future in which the essence of optimal learning is the attainable goal.
Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted as saying, "A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus." True leaders / movers can see beyond the minutia that can cripple an institution and facilitate a comprehensive vision of the future. With a sound moral/ethical compass, accompanied by a will to drive towards that which they are committed, movers confidently foster the elements necessary to garner the true foundation from which that vision can take root. Sustainability can only be achieved when individuals refrain from compromising their strong held tenets for political, institutional or perceived social expediency. This philosophical approach that lies at the heart of our educational beliefs are certainly suited for these days of instability. The structure of the environments we have cultivated over the years have been founded on a clear vision that transcended institution and fostered differentiation. Through that prism, we have been willing to take risks in the direction and implementations we have put forth. Navigating the terrain and being cognizant of the obstacles that need to be overcome, have and continue to be critical in persevering towards the attainment and fulfillment engendered within our charge and that of our vision.
There is no greater moment than the present to embark upon a transformative future that rises above reactionary policies. This notion stands at the center of a tremendously crafted book titled Heroic Leadership, by Chris Lowney. Within the pages of this text sits an intriguing look at the power of self-awareness and the need for leaders to find opportunities in the midst of the unanticipated. Education must not simply address the current set of circumstances with a narrow view of quick fixes, but rather, take this moment of upheaval and crisis to build a vision that reframes the system towards need and purpose. It is here where competency-based learning must be at the forefront of the decision making process. As administrators cultivate plans for reopening, they should direct a keen eye towards the manner in which staggered scheduling can enhance, promote, and define learning in the “new normal.” Meeting the needs of the students and structuring reopening plans to meet that need is essential to ensure the gaps that exist are not exacerbated. A competency-based model affords administrators with an entry point by which to reshape systematic structures, while truly meeting a fiduciary charge. Through true introspection, inspiration is cultivated and the passions inherent in one’s heart are manifested, emboldening our actions to contribute meaningfully. To that end, stakeholders should advance the cause of learner-centered environments that are founded upon the principal of competency. Such a focal point of learning will be the turning point that endeavors to shift the culture of the current educational system. As such, we at S.A.G.E. would posit that the well developed threads of an integrated approach are readily accessible and can seamlessly harness the benefits of all modalities of learning. Let our students meet their potential through philosophical thought that promotes the structure of conversation and debate while affording opportunities for neural engagement and application. For it is these elements that will serve as the seeds to foster the tenets of authentic and meaningful learning, while meeting academic need with the cultivation of purposeful thought.
To address the obstacles of uncertainty brought forth by the pandemic, it is necessary to apply a synergistic model with the fluidity of a Socratic approach, where learners are immersed in a culture of thinking that looks to develop understanding. The development of insight can inspire a depth to learning and an inclination to apply developed skills into meaningful applications that have real-world implications. To engender such an approach, all environments for growth should be fluid, flexible and engaging. The spaces for learning should reflect opportunities of choice that allow for the unencumbered flow of ideas, strategies and inquiry, while instilling a similar flow within the ease of movement amongst collaborative bodies. The applied imagination of the facilitator must be reflected in the environment developed. This visibility of ingenuity will spark the desire for progress amongst all learners, while providing spaces for individual development. Within this model, educators remove the cloak of teacher and embrace the openness of facilitation by serving as mentors who offer feedback as guidance by implementing a questioning apparatus that affords meaningful cogitation. Although merely a step in the multitude of shifts necessary, this illustration forces stakeholders to take a moment to simply ponder their own interest in making a difference. We believe the question of possibility can be framed through the following inquiry; if the needs of the learner are central to purpose, why must we continually employ the stricture of practices that obfuscate need ? Breaking the structures of the past require leaders to strive for something greater than the status quo. This moment is primed for leaders who can see a vision for the future, free from the constraints of mediocrity that have stifled our present.
When we learn from failures we unlock the potential that ushers in a clarity for the future. Through a historical lens we can disaggregate the successes from failures, using both as the means to cultivate a vision. We need only look to individuals like Dr. Maria Montessori who devoted her life to studying and observing the smallest details in the developmental growth and learning processes of young minds. Her passion and commitment to understanding the whole child and the contributing internal and external factors affecting their growth were not only inspirational, but astounding. Through guided facilitation, sensorial learning experiences, and a detailed, scientific approach in observation, she embraced the majesty of potential within all human life. According to the life lessons shared by Dr. Paul Czaja, a visionary and inspirational catalyst of the Montessori educational movement, “To educate means, to bring out; to evoke.” An understanding of the child being a part of nature, developing from the inside out, is a significant piece to the puzzle in igniting the flame residing within the heart, mind, and soul of one’s being. Such straight forward thought from the past emphasizes the importance of reflection as a means to ensure balance. In implementing progressive models of growth, one must examine their individual role and responsibility through their actions of “normalizing” the process for all stakeholders. Normalization for all learners occurs when interconnected engagement is attained, through a balanced sense of innate motivation and learning opportunities. As responsibility in facilitating growth is harnessed, the potential of the child is drawn out. By providing children with adaptable spaces and inquiry-based initiatives, expectations for building understanding and problem solving become embedded in the foundation of their experiences. Possibilities in transformative education exist, when we honor the essence of learning and the innovative legacies of influential thinkers from our past.
Like the educational stalwarts from history, our circumstances should inspire innovative thinking through reflective practices that envision a system that places the student at the center of all experiences. In doing so, integrating elements of practice provide learners with opportunities to make connections and build understanding through the repetition of engaging opportunities that developmentally align with the stage of the child. A cyclical process that when implemented to meet the need of the learner, will consistently frame the process of academic leveling. As such and over time, concepts are consistently revisited, leading to long term processing and deep learning experiences. Through spaced practice, a true understanding develops, as the individual learner presents a sense of readiness for new avenues of growth. The spiral approach within learner-centered environments is essential in establishing foundations that are built upon frameworks of clarity and understanding. Being that learner's transition based on developmental levels of mastery and understanding, movement is fluid and not based on specific ages or grade levels. Opportunities for growth are individualized and center around the needs of the individual. The integration of subjects and content become central components for the journey of each life-long learner, creating unique paths that are unified by a vision for understanding.
Engendering movement towards a cultural shift in paradigms will bolster learning through a process that promotes the collaborative engagement and norms facilitated within progressive learning. Significant to this approach is viewing the unknown as a requisite component of opportunity. Acceptance of this shift allows for recalibration and redirection in the development of understanding. In fostering the elements essential to the success of a progressive model, learners must be engaged and engrossed in the inspiration found within the natural environment that surround the learning space. As such, both the physical environment and digital presence will encourage and reinforce the need to see the world as a bastion of revelation for creative thought. Through this facet of learning, thinkers will see all avenues available as opportunities to develop insight for future innovative endeavors.
From a S.A.G.E. perspective, we believe it is a necessity that one is able to intrinsically see and feel the beauty within an endeavor in order to create and sustain it. We encourage educators to become versed in the practice of implementing competency-based models that individualize learning opportunities and address the academic gaps that exist for far too many learners. Moreover, stakeholders must enhance routines of reflection that merge progressive vision with goals that bring clarity to implementing practices designed to uniquely address each learner. As facilitators and leaders of learning, it is essential that the optimal goal ensures independent thought is fostered when building solid foundations that ignite the passion within all learning experiences. A culture of thinkers that see the world through the lens of possibility reflects the essence of life. Creating opportunity requires a willingness to discover in the midst of challenge. For it is this lens that sits at the heart of a fluid and flexible design. Leadership, innovation, and progress can only be sustained by remaining true to a progressive learning theory that is adaptable to meeting the needs of the community for which it resides and the global community for which it attempts to serve. It is our belief that a courage of conviction must be central to the decisions that will afford all learners the opportunity to create understanding and generate new assumptions by uncovering possibilities that transcend institutional constraints.