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Leadership without followers

Not too long ago, I was asked the following question by a doctoral student: “What would a doctoral program in ed. tech. leadership look like?”  I’m certainly well aware of the NETS-A-based curriculum components developed by Scott McLeod and Joan Hughes at CASTLE, but my mind went to a dissertation that one of my advisees just defended about leaders of technologically innovative schools.  The major findings of that dissertation confirmed some of my own thinking in that the leaders under study were not focused on technology, nor were they so concerned with innovation.  Rather, they were leaders and learners first and foremost.  Furthermore, leadership for them was about building relationships and facilitating learning.  If learning was best facilitated by utilizing some form of technology, it was their job to marry that technology to the teaching/learning process.

The findings also brought me back to a book chapter written in 1993 (almost 15 years ago!) by Chris Dede, a Harvard professor and one of the preeminent thinkers in the ed. tech. field.  Dede wrote that true leadership requires four attributes:

  • Envisioning Opportunities
    • “One of the most important attributes that distinguishes leaders from managers is ‘vision’: the ability to communicate desirable, achievable futures quite different from where the present is drifting.”

  • Displacing Cherished Misconceptions
    • “An important attribute of leaders is their ability to displace deeply held, cherished misconceptions with alternative visions that more accurately depict reality. Mistaken beliefs most people hold about teaching and learning form a barrier that blocks improving American education.”

  • Inspiring Others to Act on Faith
    • “Inspiring a group to work toward a shared vision necessitates building trust: faith that this team of people can overcome all the obstacles that block creating a future quite different from the present.”

  • Discouraging Followers
    • “A destructive myth about leadership is that a visionary person gives directions to followers who execute this plan. Real leaders discourage followers, instead encouraging use of their visions as a foundation for other, better insights.”

This means two things for me.  First, as a professor of educational leadership, I now see clearly that this is the sort of educational leaders I MUST develop and work with.  Second, I aspire to write as eloquently and presciently as Chris Dede.


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