Constructivist Theory and School Leadership
Constructivism refers to the belief that knowledge is actually constructed in the mind of the learner. It is based on the theory that individuals actively and continuously build, or “construct,” their own meanings and understandings of reality and the world they live in. In short, knowledge is made, not acquired. It is built, like a structure, instead of simply being taken in, the way a plant absorbs water by osmosis.
Since we all have different experiences due to diverse upbringing, cultures, and personalities, our perceptions of the world can vary greatly. The constructivist theory therefore holds that knowledge should not be judged in terms of whether it is “true or false,” but in terms of whether or not it works. The only thing that matters is whether the knowledge that is constructed functions properly in the context in which it arises. In other words, can this new knowledge be put to use? Is it practical? Will it solve my current problem?
Constructivist leaders should always consider ways to facilitate the learning process, rather than direct it, based on their belief that knowledge comes from within the individual. These leaders facilitate learning by posing questions to learners that stimulate to build their own knowledge, through interaction with others. However, the biggest hindrance to constructivist leadership is learners who are either unable (such as students with special needs), or unwilling (lazy or otherwise contrary students) to take responsibility for their own education. This road block must be overcome in order for knowledge to be created.
The process of facilitation involves active listening and repetition of what the learner says, so as to “hammer in” or “drive home” meaning and understanding. As the leader repeats this cycle of taking in what is said, and echoing it back, the learner feels validated. In turn, the learner becomes more engaged in the process. A constructivist leader seeks understanding through a balance of asking questions, repeating ideas in different terms, and clarifying what has been said, so that the learner can seek out connection and meaning in various ideas.
Leadership is all about learning, from followers as well as others in leadership roles. It is a reciprocal process that enables leaders to engage in building meaning within the context of relationships. Leaders should stop thinking of roles, or of followers as fixed individuals, and should instead think of them in terms of interconnected relationships. They add that the give-and-take processes of leadership include such activities as inquiry, reflection, dialogue, and action. Leaders should show a profound respect for the worth of every individual they encounter, and should integrate this practice into daily communication with fellow stakeholders. The results are likely to be positive for everyone involved.