Constructivist Leadership

Applying Constructivist Leadership in the School Setting

Constructivist leadership is the mutual and dynamic interaction and exchange of ideas and concerns. At its heart, it involves the various ways participants in the school community work together to build meaning, leading them toward a common purpose. Reciprocity here means practicing empathy; moving outside oneself, to see the perspectives of others. The required maturity emerges over time, as a product of the processes of meaning-making in communities.

For school stakeholders to develop their capacities for relating to one another, they should always engage in the processes of meaning-making, while living and working together in educational communities. Paulo Freire wrote, “knowledge is not extended from those who are considered to know to those who do not know, instead it is built up in the relations between people.” So, we can gather that learning is based on interaction.

Multiple forms of relationships in schools and differences among friendly, collegial, and individualistic relationships. As the cooperative nature of workplace culture changes over time, these relationships usually shift. Give-and-take is therefore a spiraling experience, gathering strength the more it is practiced. People usually generate information through interactions with others. This information becomes feedback, enriching existing information and creating new information.

The reciprocal process that enables us to construct meaning usually occurs within the context of relationships. Therefore, creation and expansion of the possibilities and capacities for relation only occur in communities that are rich in relationships. There is  a need for school leaders to stop thinking of people as separate entities, but rather in terms of interconnected relationships.

The governance structures in most schools reveals a relationship pattern. Many such schools and districts form divided governance processes such as leadership teams, school curriculum committees, PTAs, and professional development committees. These  fragmented processes tend to be independent of each other. The result is a decision-making process that becomes time-consuming, redundant, and disengaged from  vital information and feedback systems.

These processes deny the link between practice and building of effective school communities. Control and coordination can connect them via information, people, and products. Unified structures are vital to building and connecting relationships, and bringing about opportunities for dialogue and finding common ground.

A study by Claremont Graduate Schools’ Institute for Education in Transformation identified the most important factor in schools: relationships. The study was carried out by teachers, and conducted as a series of dialogues. The participants, parents, students, teachers, administrators, and support staff, pointed out a lack of authentic relationships in which they were trusted, given responsibility, regarded with warmth and honesty, and treated with dignity and respect.

The perceptions of caring varied among groups. Teachers viewed dedication to their work as an indication of caring. Students, though, saw caring from teachers in the form of direct, personal touch, use of their names, being asked or told personal things, and shared laughter.

Teachers and school administrators realized that their relationships were dominated by rules, regulations, and contractual agreements. School leaders admitted that changes were often unsuccessful, because they rushed preliminary dialogue. Participants who survived in impersonal environments, devoid of meaningful relationships, admitted to going elsewhere to get what they needed.

Give-and-take relationships form the basis for humans to make sense of our world, by continually defining ourselves and growing together. Through relationships, predictability becomes potential. Potential is the possibility that develops within us;  the personal passions and plans we use to build meaning and knowledge. It is unpredictable, limitless, relationship driven, paradoxical, and always renewing itself. New actions evoke other potentials, and new information and deeper meanings are created.

Dr. Lynch is an award winning writer, activist and an associate professor of education.
2 Comments on this post.

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  • johanna
    28 April 2014 at 1:45 am -

    This very theoretical approach to decision-making and relationships in schools sounds good on paper, but what happens when you put the human element in it? With the right type of leader this may work out well, but with the idealistic administrator who wants this but doesn’t know how to lead well it would seem the process would be counter productive.

  • Applying Constructivist Leadership in the Schoo…
    22 May 2014 at 1:12 am -

    […] "The reciprocal process that enables us to construct meaning usually occurs within the context of relationships. Therefore, creation and expansion of the possibilities and capacities for relation only occur in communities that are rich in relationships. There is a need for school leaders to stop thinking of people as separate entities, but rather in terms of interconnected relationships."  […]

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