The Challenge of Integrity as a School Leader (or anyone else for that matter)

I'm currently reading Theories in Practice by Argyris and Schön. It is a remarkable, thought-provoking work, exploring the inconsistencies between the things people claim to value and the things they actually value; between the theories they claim to have about how changes occur and the theories they actually use to direct their actions. It is easy to reflect on how these inconsistencies are evident in the words and actions of others - much harder to see our own inconsistencies.

As school leaders, we say we seek to increase the effectiveness of our schools. But what do we mean by effectiveness? Do the things we claim to care about improving match the things we actually demonstrate caring about by our actions - the things we actually care about improving? And how do we claim to be going about effecting improvement - what are our espoused theories of improvement? Do we use these espoused theories to guide our actions, or do we actually operate according to different theories, of which we may or may not be consciously aware?

These questions are difficult but worthwhile, particularly if we are feeling frustrated by our attempts at school improvement. Frustration arise when things don't go the way we hope or expect. We are in big trouble if we try to analyse such failures by looking at our espoused theories, when in fact we aren't using them! And doomed to disappointment if the things we claim to be trying to improve aren't actually the things we value.

I'm thankfully not feeling frustrated in my school-improvement efforts, but I do see inconsistencies in myself. For example, I espouse a non-judgemental, growth-mindset, coacherly approach to raising the capacity of colleagues, but have been guilty on occasion of operating on the assumption that colleagues are incapable of changing. I espouse an open, consultative style of leadership, but have been guilty of making assumptions about the motivations of colleagues then failing to check these assumptions with them.

I'm not beating myself up here. I'm just curious about how to become a better leader, and this seems like fertile ground.


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