Educational Leadership through the Lens of Emotion

Teacher interactions with the principal can be affirming or damaging; inspiring or soul-destroying; even life-changing. Together, these moments of interaction, some lengthy and planned, many brief and random in nature, create the relationship between the principal and each teacher. The interest of this researcher lies in exploring how teachers experience emotionally these interactions with their principal, and how the meanings they construct from their interactions influence work performance, work involvement, beliefs about themselves, and attitudes towards the principal, the school and their career. Particular interest lies in examining, through the lens of emotion, the interactions between principals and teacher-leaders. Such research aims to deepen and refine our understanding of how principals might best engage the emotional energies of teachers to foster the emergence of teacher-leaders essential if schools are to successfully reconstruct themselves as learning organisations. The following paper is a review of the literature related to this area of interest.

Contemporary educational leadership theory reveals a growing awareness that 'leadership', as distinct from 'headship', is an 'attributed status' (Gronn, 1997, p. 277), not automatically bestowed by virtue of executive role incumbency, but legitimised through the leader's capacity to build meaningful relationships with followers (Duignan & Bhindi, 1997; Sergiovanni, 2001). Such relationships are grounded in emotion (Beatty, 2000), and develop especially through the fulfilment of emotional needs by the alignment of 'personal visions' with worthwhile, shared organizational goals (Barnett & McCormick, 2003; Senge, 1990).

David Loader exemplifies this understanding in his intensely personal reflection in 'The Inner Principal', when he states:

Schools are peopled places. It is important to focus on the people… they are what gives the organization its meaning…these people have human needs and it is important to see them in this light and not as obstacles to our goals or pawns in an organization. (Loader, 1997, p. 100)

In their summary of the research literature on 'transformational leadership', Leithwood, Tomlinson and Genge (1996) assert that transformational leaders build emotionally meaningful relationships with teachers through 'individual consideration'. This dimension encompasses:

  1. The equitable, humane and considerate treatment of colleagues, encompassing such behaviours as not showing favouritism, having an 'open door' policy, protecting teachers from excessive intrusions on their classroom work, and being thoughtful about the personal needs of staff.
  2. Provision of support for the personal, professional development of staff, including encouraging teachers to try new practices, responding positively to staff initiatives, and providing money for professional development.
  3. Developing a close knowledge of individual colleagues, becoming aware of their particular skills and interests and listening carefully to their ideas.
  4. Providing recognition of good work and effort, in the form of individual praise specifically related to work.
  5. Showing sensitivity to staff needs and concerns when implementing change, following through on jointly made decisions, proceeding slowly, and instilling a sense of belonging in staff (Leithwood et al., 1996:806-807).

In the school setting, such leadership behaviours imply a preference for a deeper relationship between the principal and teacher that goes beyond the norm of reciprocality to genuine caring. 'Individual consideration' recognises that leadership is more than a role; it is a relationship – not with the staff as a whole, but with each individual teacher. Each has dreams, goals, values, emotional needs, histories of learned joys and pain, expectations of leaders and others, external pressures, and support systems. Each is different, albeit all are now at the same school. However, physical proximity does not mean psychological proximity. The challenge for principals is to be emotionally available to teachers in ways in which they want for them to be willing and able to perform at their best, and by throughflow, for their students to benefit.

As Ken Hinton, the subject of Linda Lyman's (2000) insightful case-study of an 'uncommonly caring' principal, strongly advocates:

…persons who work with children need to know they are loved, respected and cared for before they can really make an impact on the lives of children…high-quality, meaningful, and personal relationships with faculty and staff are more than business or professional relationships. Such relationships are about enhancing the being or the purpose of the life of the individual (Lyman, 2000, p. 102).

Under such 'transformational leadership', the need for reward, characteristic of 'transactional leadership', is replaced by the fulfilment of emotional needs. The outcome of building emotionally satisfying relationships is, as Sergiovanni (2001, p. 291) eloquently states, a shift from 'what is rewarded gets done' to 'what is rewarding gets done'.

The significance of 'individual consideration' in mediating the emotional satisfaction of the teaching experience arises from the intensely emotional nature of teachers' work.

Teaching is an 'emotional practice' (Hargreaves, 1998). It demands 'emotional understanding' (Denzin, 1984) by teachers of their students, an emotional investment that for good teachers goes beyond concern to deep caring. Student outcomes are enhanced when teachers focus, not just on their classroom subject matter, but on the development of each student as a whole person (Vallance, 2000). As well, teaching requires 'emotional labour' (Hochschild, 1983), most draining when it involves 'emotional dissonance' – the difference between real and feigned emotions. On a daily basis, teachers must generate everything from excitement to anger in efforts to get the best out of their students. Sometimes, these emotions are real; sometimes they are false. Either way, they require energy and exertion in their display (Kruml & Geddes, 2000, p. 9-12). In interactions with colleagues and the principal, too, many teachers labour to manage their 'divided self' (Beatty, 2000, p. 16), becoming adept at masking real feelings in a bid to project a confident, positive and professional persona.

Further depleting the emotional energy of teachers, in this author's experience, are systemic issues such as relatively low salaries, declining social status of the profession, increasing expectations to cater for the special needs of students as individuals, increased discipline problems, increasing parental expectations, changing attitudes to authority, the need to adapt to new technologies, and a widening gap between traditional curriculum and relevant outcomes for some students. When positive feedback from students is not forthcoming or is insufficient, teachers rely on others to offer them emotional support to keep the 'spark' alive. It would seem that principals are in a powerful position to offer such confidence-restoring feedback – a view supported by the teacher-survey findings of Louis (1998) who reported a strong relationship between teacher commitment and efficacy and teachers' feelings of being valued and respected, experienced through positive feedback about their work from colleagues and the principal.

The importance to teachers of emotional connection with their principal is further evidenced by the findings of a study of 332 teachers in Denmark, England and Scotland. Seeking to identify teachers' perceptions of the qualities of a good headteacher, Moos, Mahony, and Reeves (1998) asked teachers to prioritise five statements from a list of twenty-eight. Consistently, across all three countries, teachers identified 'encouraging and motivating staff' as the top priority they assigned to headteachers.

In schools where 'individual consideration' is lacking, and the emotional needs of some teachers are not met, work-related stress and burnout may occur, with serious consequences for those teachers and their students (Dunham, 1992; Dworkin, 1987; Travers & Cooper, 1996). As described by Maslach (1982), burnout is evidenced by 'emotional exhaustion' (the feeling of fatigue and lack of enthusiasm for work), 'depersonalisation' (the emotional distancing from students), and 'reduced personal accomplishment' (the feeling that nothing of value is being achieved). It is self-evident that a teacher, already under pressure from the demands of the job, experiences intense emotional pain when treated poorly by the careless words or deeds of the principal. In contrast:

Happy secure teachers, who are confident that … the admin is 'on your side', feel they have power with their leaders and quite simply, produce, grow, and… self-actualize, providing models of life-long learning that are of the utmost instructive value to their students (Beatty, 2000, p. 15).

Through the concept of 'servant leadership', Greenleaf (1977) asserted that 'great' leaders use power legitimately, not to dominate, coerce or manipulate, but to help others to grow, learn and succeed, to become more autonomous and to come to see their own leadership as service. Similarly, Block (1993) conceptualised leadership as 'stewardship', emphasising the accountability of leaders to use their power, not in self-interest, but in service to advance the organization and empower the individuals who work in it. Further, Sergiovanni (1992, 2001), in his influential construction of 'moral leadership', urged principals to recognise that:

Whenever there is an unequal distribution of power between two people, the relationship becomes a moral one. Whether intended or not, leadership involves an offer to control. The follower accepts this offer on the assumption that control will not be exploited. In this sense, leadership is not a right but a responsibility. Morally speaking, its purpose is not to enhance the leader's position or make it easier for the leader to get what she or he wants but to benefit the school. The test of moral leadership is whether the competence, well-being, and independence of the follower are enhanced… (Sergiovanni, 2001, p. 346).

For teachers, moral leadership by their principals is emotionally significant, since principals have almost absolute power over teachers to affect their career trajectory (Beatty, 2000, p. 14). In such a vulnerable position, teachers may avoid contact with the principal, fear asking for advice, resist risk-taking, value a quiet classroom over forms of group learning which might appear noisy and unstructured to the passer-by, or focus energies on more visible attainments at the expense of effort in the classroom. The power imbalance is emphasised by the lack of reciprocality, for no teacher will ever be asked to provide a reference for a principal.

Further, teachers rely on power through the principal to provide 'back-up' for their classroom management. They respond with hurt and anger when that support is withheld, the student's side is taken, or the suggestion made that they did not handle the situation well.

…student discipline is perhaps the most critical test of the teacher leader relationship… the administrator's decision not to comply with the teacher's request results in direct loss of power in the classroom [and] can destroy a leader's credibility instantly. To the stranded teacher it is prima facie evidence he/she is alone, and emotionally and professionally disregarded and misunderstood (Beatty, 2000, p.16).

As well, teachers need power to experiment, adopt new pedagogies and implement new curriculum. From the principal, they need trust and permission, so as not to fear reprisal if their risk-taking results in failure. By giving power to, principals maximize the organization's capacity for creativity and innovation, valuing people 'as a source of energy for achieving shared goals and purposes' (Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 133). Giving power to is synonymous with 'teacher empowerment' (Blase & Blase, 1997; Edwards et al., 2002).

In their micro-political study of the principal-teacher relationship in eleven effective schools in Georgia, USA, Blase and Blase (1997) found that:

…overwhelmingly, teachers reported that the principal's strategies and personal characteristics…contributed significantly to their sense of empowerment (Blase & Blase, 1997, p. 145).

The most significant aspect of what these researchers termed 'facilitative school leadership' was the principal's demonstration of 'trust' in teachers; principals enhanced trust by creating school climates free of fear, intimidation, coercion and criticism (Blase & Blase, 1997, p. 149). Other effective facilitative strategies were encouraging teacher input, encouraging teacher autonomy, encouraging teacher innovation, developing shared governance structures, giving rewards and providing support. Further, the personal characteristics of caring, enthusiasm, optimism, honesty, and friendliness were identified as significantly contributing to teachers' sense of empowerment. Empowerment by teachers was experienced in three dimensions: an affective dimension (feeling 'good', 'happy', 'satisfied', 'trusted', 'peace') related to satisfaction, motivation, esteem, confidence, security, and inclusion; a school-wide dimension related to expression, ownership, commitment, sense of team, and efficacy; and a classroom dimension, related to autonomy, reflection, professional growth, and efficacy (Blase & Blase, 1997, p. 145).

Similarly, in a study of over 400 teachers in Colorado, USA, Edwards, Green, and Lyons (2002, p. 81) found a strong positive correlation between teacher empowerment and administrator treatment. Interestingly, too, strong correlation was found between teacher empowerment and learner-centred attitudes toward students, sending a powerful message to the reflective principal.

In contrast, Blase and Blase (2000, cited in Beatty, 2000, p. 4) found that teachers who were 'disempowered' by being yelled at, criticised, treated unfairly, or otherwise negatively dealt with by their principals suffered significant effects on their emotional well-being and behaviour. These teachers reported reductions in patience, tolerance, compassion, motivation, enthusiasm and commitment; increases in cynicism, anxiety and expressions of anger; and reduced approachability and openness to students.

The relative emotional capacity of male and female leaders to be 'caring' and 'nurturing' is an interesting thread in the literature, with these emotion-laden terms appearing to suffer from their feminisation. Lyman (2000) contends that:

Gender barriers to caring by male principals are widely recognized. Because in our culture men are expected to have the answers, to be in control, many men learn to be stereotypically strong, decisive, and silent about their feelings. Emotions are considered out of place in the workplace (Lyman, 2000, p. 145).

Beatty (2000) found tentative support to this traditional view, in her investigation of teachers' memory of emotionally positive and negative interactions with their principals. She reported that, in secondary schools:

The female administrators were under-represented in the negative category and overrepresented in the positive category, suggesting the possibility that female administrators in secondary schools are more likely than their male counterparts to make an emotionally positive contribution to teachers' working lives (Beatty, 2000, p. 34).

If such a gender bias is systemic, it behoves male leaders, in particular, to develop their 'emotional intelligence'. Daniel Goleman (1998), through his seminal work this field, asserts the importance of 'soft skills' in maximizing organizational capacity.

Interpersonal ineptitude in leaders lowers everyone's performance: It wastes time, creates acrimony, corrodes motivation and commitment, and builds hostility and apathy. A leader's strengths or weaknesses in emotional competence can be measured in the gain or loss to the organization of the fullest talents of those they manage (Goleman, 1998, p. 23).

In agreement, Duignan and Bhindi (1997) advocate 'authentic leadership', in which the development of 'trusting and caring relationships' is an essential element. Through such relationships, authentic leaders foster 'the development of a culture or climate where values relating to honesty, integrity, fair-mindedness, loyalty, justice, equity, freedom and autonomy are internalised and find expression through everyday practices and procedures' (Duignan & Bhindi, 1997, p. 201).

Education systems face increasing pressure to adapt to rapid social, economic and technological change, to better prepare students to succeed in the globalised 'knowledge society' of the 21st century (Hargreaves, 2002). To meet this challenge, relationship oriented leadership, grounded in moral, facilitative and authentic practices, has emerged as the preferred model. For its capacity to empower teachers, such leadership is deemed to be a pre-condition for the successful reconstruction of schools as 'learning organisations'. An organization with an increased capacity to learn seems best equipped to model and facilitate lifelong learning (Davies, 2002; Silins & Mulford, 2002), and to most effectively generate change (Argyris & Schon, 1978; Senge, 1990).

By adopting 'systems thinking', advocated by Senge (1990) as the 'fifth discipline' essential for effective organizational learning, it is instructive to think of the emotional energy within a school in terms of its circulation or flow. When the energy flow is predominately positive, it energises and enthuses those within, maximising organizational capacity. It is imperative that principals consistently act with 'emotional accountability', recognising that, rather than neutral participants, they are perhaps 'the single most defining variable in the energy balance of the school (Beatty, 2000, p. 16).

Whether by omission or commission, s/he is always adding or subtracting from the affective bottom line. The spirit of a school is a matter of emotion. Every day, educational leaders make decisions, communicate and act in ways which carry, safeguard, ignore, or even jeopardize the 'spark' (Beatty, 2000, p. 36).

Analysing the data from the 'Leadership for Organisational Learning and Student Outcomes' (LOLSO) research project conducted from 1997-1999, Silins and Mulford (2002, p. 429) identify four dimensions that characterise high schools as learning organisations:

  1. Trusting and collaborative climate – supporting collaborative work, sharing of information and open communication.
  2. Taking initiatives and risks – school leaders and structures support experimentation and teachers feel valued and rewarded for taking initiative.
  3. Shared and monitored mission – teachers participate in decision-making and review and share a coherent sense of direction.
  4. Relevant, challenging and ongoing professional development.

Implicit in these dimensions is recognition of the responsibility of the principal to nurture the emergence of a critical mass of teacher-leaders who can drive sustainable organizational reform.

In learning organisations, teachers are empowered and supported as professionals and therefore continually increase their capacity for growth and success. When teachers are empowered in areas important to them, they become a profession of learners who engage in inquiry, reflective practice and continuous problem solving and, at the same time, build leadership capacity (Silins & Mulford, 2002, p. 431).

At the heart of learning organisations, there must be trust. With its five facets - benevolence, reliability, competence, honesty, and openness – trust is of critical importance in nurturing collaborative relationships (Tschannen-Moran, 2001, p. 326). Through collaboration, the emotionally significant process of building a worthwhile 'shared vision' can proceed (Barnett & McCormick, 2003; Edwards et al, 2002), reducing the 'balkanization' of schools into separate and sometimes competing groups (Fullan, 2000). By embracing shared worthwhile purposes, teachers and leaders are able to fulfil their spiritual need to find a deeper purpose or meaning in their lives, to connect their work to 'something beyond self and to something that demonstrates to them that they do, in fact, make a difference' (Duignan & Bhindi, 1997, p. 198).

It is through the concept of the 'learning organization' that research into the micropolitics of the relationships within a school (Blase & Blase, 1997) converges with research into 'change leadership' (Calabrese, 2002; Hargreaves & Evans, 1997). Change needs to be viewed, not only from an organizational perspective, but also from a personal perspective. The change leader must be emotionally receptive to employee anxiety associated with the proposed change and work to create a 'psychologically safe environment' which 'protects members' sense of identity and competence' while they adapt to the change (Calabrese, 2002, p. 327). In schools, especially, principals must be sensitive change leaders, for 'teachers are the indispensable agents of educational change' (Hargreaves & Evans, 1997, p. 3), and it is in the classrooms where curriculum and pedagogical innovations are put into practice.

If educational reformers ignore the emotional dimensions of educational change, emotions and feelings will only re-enter the change process through the back door. Festering resentment will undermine and overturn rationally-made decisions; committee work will be poisoned by members with unresolved grudges and grievances; and pedagogical changes will fail because they have not engaged the passions of the classroom… (Hargreaves, 1997, p. 108-109).

In recognition of the value of recasting schools as 'learning organisations' to facilitate change, the most recent conceptualisations of educational leadership have been more inclusive, democratic models such as 'distributed leadership' (Harris, 2002; Lakomski, 2002; Spillane et al., 2001) and 'parallel leadership' (Andrews & Crowther, 2002; Crowther, 1997). According to Harris (2002), 'distributed leadership' implies that:

… leadership resides not solely in the individual at the top, but in every person at entry level who in one way, or another, acts as a leader… Distributed leadership therefore means multiple sources of guidance and direction, following the contours of expertise in an organization, made coherent through a common culture (Harris, 2002, p. 4).

In a similar construction of leadership as 'parallel leadership', Crowther (1997) casts teacher-leaders – the 'unsung heroes' - in the role of 'pedagogical leaders' whilst principals exercise 'strategic leadership'. Andrews and Crowther (2002) identify three distinct qualities that characterise 'parallelism': mutual trust and respect; a sense of shared directionality or purpose; and allowance for individual expression. These qualities, they assert, facilitate the growth of a professional learning community based on a culture of collective responsibility and mutual valuing.

In two major studies of school principals in England (Day et al. 2000; Harris & Chapman 2002, cited in Harris, 2002), it was found that successful heads 'recognised the limitations of a singular leadership approach and saw their leadership role as being primarily concerned with empowering others to lead'. These leaders were 'primarily transformational leaders who built self-esteem, enhanced professional competence and gave their staff the confidence and responsibility to lead development and innovation'. Further, their leadership was underpinned by a set of core personal values that included the modelling and promotion of respect for individuals, fairness and equality, and caring for the well being and development of students and staff (Harris, 2002, p. 6-8).

In conclusion, a review of the literature on contemporary educational leadership theory has demonstrated that the most effective schools in the future are likely to be those that operate as learning organisations. To this end, the challenge for school leaders is to build relationships through which the positive flow of emotional energy will grow the leadership capacity of the organization. From the research literature, it appears that school principals and senior managers might be well advised to place emotional meaning higher on their agendas if they seek to authentically engage the emotional energy of teachers to drive continuous improvement of their schools in the new century.


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