This is a fascinating topic; please excuse my incursion into it.
P, I was intrigued by the prescriptive nature of your exposition (i.e. repeated “should”s) which imply a direct knowledge of truth, so I looked at the Blase and Blase (2000) article to see how they arrived at their certainty about leadership. As this study in an excellent example of leadership theory building, I’d like to present a short critique in order to place its findings in a more stable, i.e. less certain, context, and highlight some of the issues that educational leaders need to consider when reading literature on leadership.
Blase and Blase (2000) developed a survey instrument to investigate how leadership influences the professional conditions of primary and secondary educators with particular reference to how those conditions mediate teacher development. This particular study formed one part of a longer project that was described in their later book (Blase and Blase, 2004) in which they argued that “the practice of instructional supervision has admittedly been plagued by images of control and bureaucratic snooping in classrooms” (Blase & Blase, 2004, p. xiii, italics in original). Blase and Blase’s (2000) wish to present better leadership practises that counter officious methodologies that are based on rigid Tayloresque behavioural approaches. Instead, they propose a social interactionist approach that promotes the image of teachers themselves comprising learning communities.
A few cautions are needed. Firstly, the very nature of most states’ control over primary and secondary education is categorically different from the principles of autonomy and academic freedom of the university, although this may be changing (Winter, 2009). The fundamental monitoring culture found in compulsory education produces cultures in which positive leadership styles have markedly different meanings to positive leadership in higher education. Secondly, although Blase and Blase (2000) assert that their study is a symbolic interactionist one, their survey instrument has more in common with construct psychology than symbolic interactionism. These two epistemologies overlap, but claims made about sociology from psychological instruments need to be treated with circumspection. Furthermore, they associate ‘effective’ with ‘positive’ and ‘ineffective’ with ‘negative’. These concepts are not identical seem to be begging the question.
This leads to the main criticism of the study. Blase and Blase (2000) begin their paper with a quotation from Prawat; “The goal in a learning community is to build connections between people” (p. 130). However, this ‘goal’ is a secondary one which aims to realise a more fundamental purpose. The goal is proxy that assumes that an environment in which teachers can, themselves, grow results in better student engagement, student learning achievement and higher student learning capacity building. These primary goals are valid, and the proxy itself is plausible (that is, I can believe that such an environment may produce better learning), but the underlying question needs reframing and re-articulation; how can a better learning environment translate into better learning? With this new question, leaders can then seek to develop measures to account for the mediation of the environment on learning. Arguably, Hattie (2009) has done just that in his meta-analysis of variables that impact on learning, but Hattie’s work is contentious and I’ll leave that for the moment.
Blase and Blase (2000, 2004) build their argument in a particular socio-political climate, environment and with an ideological purpose. They wish to promote individualism within neoliberalism and relate this to the compulsory education sector. All of these facets limit the scope of any truth claim the study contains. It behoves educational leaders to identify the assumptions (hence limitations) within any research study they wish to use to inform their leadership. This requirement partially explains why this Ed.D. course’s developers placed this module after the one on research methodology. We need to build on our own learning and incorporate that into our developing skill set.
Blase, J., & Blase, J. (2000). Effective instructional leadership. Journal of Educational Administration, 38(2), 130–141. http://doi.org/10.1108/09578230010320082
Blase, J., & Blase, J. (2004). Handbook of Instructional Leadership. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Abingdon: Routledge.
Walker, B. M., & Winter, D. A. (2007). The elaboration of personal construct psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 58(FEBRUARY 2007), 453–477. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085535
Winter, R. (2009). Academic manager or managed academic? Academic identity schisms in higher education. Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management, 31(2), 121–131. http://doi.org/10.1080/13600800902825835