Acts of Constructivist Leadership
Constructivism is an essential model of leadership that all principals should employ at one time or another. Well, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and isn’t often heard in daily conversation. However, in educational theory, it refers to the performance of actions that enable participants in the school to create a trusting environment that awakens potential, does away with old assumptions, creates meaning, and frames actions that are based on new behaviors and purposeful intention.
A constructivist leader explores the way things were, by speaking to the people who were there. Then, he or she uses what they’ve learned to determine how things should be, and works on ways to move in that direction. All this is done in a context that everyone involved can relate to. Everyone in the school can perform an act of leadership, provided they posses:
• A sense of purpose and ethics, as a basis for healthy relationship building
• Facilitation skills, which are needed during the conversations about teaching and learning, in order to construct meaning.
• A solid understanding of constructivist learning in humans
• An understanding of the processes of change and transition
• An understanding of context. (Memories can be continually drawn and enriched in creating meaning.)
• An attitude of courage, risk-taking, low ego, and a heightened sense of possibility.
Those who initiate acts of leadership have held tight to their purposes. Or, they may have redefined their personal ethics, after experiencing a pattern of ineffective or negative relationships. Good old fashioned logic, and truth, contribute to building trust in communal relationships.
An understanding of constructivist learning enables leaders to pose questions and frame actions that lead to self-construction and equal sharing of authority. These factors are important in the design of constructivist curricula, assessments, and instruction. Constructivism doesn’t emerge naturally from our training and experiences in behavior. It enables the school leader to create learning environments based on:
• unique learning gifts/perceptions
• the community
• authentic work
The main aim of the constructivist leader is to create real change that is pulled by intention, not prediction. The complex change process can only be understood through dialogue among co-leaders in the learning community. They must tap into the “community of memories,” exploring, analyzing, and planning. Communities are important because they are constituted by their past; in order to retain their past, they are constantly involved in retelling their story.
When a new principal joins a school, he or she is advised to talk to people to find out about the memories, which are mostly about the men and women who had previously embodied and exemplified the meaning of the community. The new principal learns the values and intentions that drive work in the school, fears and lost hopes that may form barriers to creativity and innovation. Through the sharing of memories, it is easier to conceptualize work. These conversations help to clarify the next steps that need to be taken.
Personal identity is formed through reflective interactions with others. Leaders who are constructivist don’t just explain; they listen to gain understanding of others. These leaders have outgrown the need to “win,” and understand that reciprocity and high personal regard are more valuable than “winning,” and far are more crucial for achieving a common purpose.
With growing clarity and confidence in their guiding values, these leaders are able to ask essential questions. Personal efficacy creates a trusting environment, and these leaders work with other stakeholders to create possibilities for all. The possibilities created are as diverse as the people and relationships that make up the school.
Constructivist leadership extends the possibility for growth, previously reserved for a select few, to many.