Leading in education – a unique leadership challenge.

New part-time MA Educational Leadership in Practice

Not too long ago, teaching was considered one of the most important of the professions in any community, with teachers enjoying the same status as doctors and lawyers. Teaching may not be glamorous and may have lost some of its identity and intellectuality but it remains arguably one of the most influential of all the professions for humanity - which makes educational leadership a vitally important role. 

The University of Manchester’s new part-time MA Educational Leadership in Practice is a unique programme focusing on leadership in the context of education from beginning to end and is designed for teachers, department heads, principals, and board members, working from nursery to tertiary education.  

According to Dr Alex Gardner-McTaggart, programme director, educational leadership is a unique leadership environment and is quite different from business or other organisational forms of leadership. 

We all remember our favourite teachers and especially those who made the greatest impact on us through our school years. Educators are uniquely positioned to influence the world through its impact on humanity – through the children and young adults of the next generation. 

Leaders in education have a unique responsibility and must have the intellectual capacity, vision and empathy to influence and empower those teachers who share a vocational commitment. While leadership styles and theories are generally dominated by those from business and focus on management efficiency and effectiveness, educational leadership is about understanding the power of knowledge and influence. 

When experienced working educators think about what comes next in their careers, they  will probably start thinking about leadership. This could be because they want more responsibility, may be good at administration and with people, or may need or want to earn more money. Others may be more interested in personal development and acquiring transferable skills to take into other sectors, after teaching.

But educational leadership is different and presents unique challenges.

Leadership is essentially about influencing others but educational leaders must be led by educational needs and responsibilities.

Why? Because unlike in business, the military or even healthcare, educational leaders are faced with the responsibility for children with young, developing minds, personalities and characters, and who will become the citizens of the world. The choices these children make, their values, politics, and how they choose to lead their lives will help form the world in which we live.

It’s important to remember that a school is not a factory or a business.

Education develops children and adults and knowledge in specific areas but also facilitates skills, educates about ‘citizenship’ and helps form the essential social being, and therefore influences human development and humanity. It is not about teaching content but developing people. Education is a social practice because it’s all about people in society.

Schools are a reflection of society and today, we are thinking more about our sustainable futures with greater awareness of  the fragility of our civilization. Increasingly, we realise the value of people such as teachers and how much we rely on them. The current pandemic has also revealed poverty, inequality, and climate change and poses the question of how we prepare young people to seek sustainable futures and lives. 

As a University, within the School of Environment, Education and Development, we are already looking at these global issues and big questions, as the Manchester Institute of Education.

Part of our work is to consider educational leadership and understand what it is and what it is responsible for. In simple terms, it is all about influence - how we get people to do things together, based on the leader setting the direction and vision. There are different ways of exerting influence but in education it must fit the context.

Leadership also connotes power and strength, which is another interesting component and, by definition, it also requires followers. It is more complex of course and people ‘do leadership’ all the time, in different ways and at different times. 

Educational leadership is not always about being ‘right’ or ‘strong’; getting things wrong, and revealing weakness is all part of the learning process for leaders. 

Leadership in education is not about a dominant or assertive style, as in business or in the military. There are still leadership trends in education, such as a focus on resilience, reflecting the uncertain world that children and young adults will face but education is about nurturing and development.  

Leadership in general is connected to power; but should an educational leader be a thinker or a policy maker, or a manager? 

This is where we see knowledge as power – because the knowledge creators inform and therefore influence our practice of leadership; this is often influenced by a focus on leadership in business. 

But education is not business.

Our new part-time masters degree MA Educational Leadership in Practice investigates these ideas about where power lies, how it is used and abused and how to level the power playing field.

It is only relatively recently that we have started to understand that leadership is something you can learn – it is merit based and not something you are born to.

Educational leadership is also a skill that can be learned, developed and nurtured. In a school environment, we are moving from the autocratic style of the strong leader to a more collegial style of empowering leadership which is appropriate for leading intelligent and professional teachers with a vocational commitment to teaching.

This empowering collegial style means leading by influencing with an emphasis on skills such as active listening, to generate empathy and connect more effectively with people.

MA Educational Leadership in Practice

This new, two-year part-time Master’s looks at theory and evidence, focusing on and developing the student’s practice. This includes models of educational leadership, educational research, leading educational change and development, educational leadership and policy, educational leadership as a social practice, research skills and a project, as well as optional modules such as leading in international schools. 
The course is designed for teachers, heads of department, principals, and directors in tertiary,  secondary, primary, and nursery education, looking to acquire the skills and knowledge to take the next career step. For those already in leadership positions in need of theoretical understanding and solid credentials, then this is the course to consider.

The programme balances theory and practice and is research driven. It is delivered through blended learning, which means that students also benefit from professional networking, and a global network. It sets the intellectual bar at a height to challenge participants and takes them back to the fundamentals of the world’s most influential profession.