CONCEPTUALIZING POWER MAY BE THE BEST COURSE OF ACTION IN THE NEW ERA OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Updated: Mar 22, 2018
Scholars have long argued that school reform efforts ignore issues of power. As a practitioner I agree with that supposition. California’s new local control and accountability movement accepts the hypothesis too which is why since 2014 districts in California have been required prove to the State that they are building social capital by developing community-based relationships.
Situational leaders are adapting easily to this new paradigm and have shifted effortlessly because the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) might as well have been carved out of the clay Hersey and Blanchard used to sculpt their leadership model: (1) Identify the Most Important Tasks or Priorities; (2) Diagnose the Readiness Level of the Followers; and (3) Decide the Matching Leadership Style.
Leaders who are not adept at adapting are the ones who are struggling.
Many have shared their concerns in the think tank as we fish for answers to the most perplexing organizational issues in my education leadership classes at California State University, Fullerton. In the Situational Leadership Model, a leader either directs, coaches, supports, or delegates, depending on the audience.
The perfect fit, in theory. In practice it’s not so easy. Why? Power.
Now back to the opening argument that school reform efforts ignore issues of power. Before we take our pitchfork to this heap of hay to uncover what’s below, let’s agree that the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and its accountability companion LCAP are designed to topple the top-down and market economics approaches of accountability movements past. The other consideration is deeply entrenched systems, districts, and schools that are resistant to power rearrangements because they’re doing well. Reeves (2002) reserves his “Lucky Quadrant” for those schools. He argues that schools that teach students who historically achieve high results are unable to link their professional practices to results because they do not know how their practices influence achievement, because their students do what it takes to succeed. Do you know any schools or districts that fall into that quadrant? Do you know a leader of a “Lucky” school who tiptoes around the ditch of entrenchment, careful not to disable? What would a situational leader do in this case?
In my experiences the trench is not all that deep and many who have fallen into it are happy to climb out, if only they had a disabling instead of enabling leader.
The danger for schools interested in being the opposite of entrenched – continually improving – is that leaders and others who are entrenched have a significant influence over others and can obstruct a continuous improvement model.
The question of power emerges once again.Now let’s tackle the question of power as it relates to leadership in the new age of accountability. Current policy, LCFF and LCAP are examples of strong political constituencies pushing reform at the policy level. If the LCFF/LCAP is to realize its potential and not be just another failed policy, it will be because its mandates are taken seriously and districts empower their communities with more than instant power. Mark R. Warren, the renowned sociologist concerned with the revitalization of America, has framed the narrative in the context of willing educators working closely with organizing groups to build capacity for systemic and sustainable reform. Michael Kirst, generally considered the father of California’s new school funding formula, had the social capital model in mind when he created the LCFF to hold districts accountable to the communities they serve by building staying power.
In his book Community Organizing for Urban School Reform, Dennis Shirley (2010) discusses Theologian Bernard Loomer’s influential 1976 essay that outlined the differences between “unilateral power,” or power over, and “relational power,” or power with. The new accountability model requires relational power relationships, a significant challenge for education leaders who are accustomed to the one-sided and single direction model that defines many leaders. Relational power on the other hand conceives power that is generative in nature. Argyris’ and Schön’s organizational learning model defines generative learning as that which expands an organization's capabilities.
Education leaders would be wise to examine power in their organization and work to strategically build the type of mutual relationships that increase every group’s power at no group’s expense.