Educational Leadership – Past and Present

The history of educational leadership as a system of views begins in the United States since year 1837, when public education was introduced and made available to all social circles (Bogotch, 2004, p.10). One of the prominent politicians and educators, Horace Mann, was amongst the first to assert the necessity of separation between school and church. In fact, the politician sought to expand the inclusion of children into the basic education and served the interests of poor immigrants and underprivileged strata; as one can assume, he promoted the concept and value of diversity and non-discrimination. Apart from establishing public schools, Mann also created an educational institution for would-be-teachers, so he also cultivated and built a powerful system of collaboration between teachers and principals as well as inside the network of teachers. Ella Young, another innovator in the area of education, laid the foundation of the dynamic approach to educational leadership in the late 19th century. In particular, as a principal, she promoted flexible, reflective and democratic decision-making among teachers and allowed them to adjust the curriculum to the students’ specific needs. Therefore, she Young was a manager who inspired and motivated her “team” by giving teachers greater freedom and opportunity to take additional responsibility, invent or innovate. In simpler terms, Young recognized her teachers as classroom leaders and granted them high trust and power. Furthermore, Young regularly reviewed the curricula of her school: “As principal, Young supported “newer” subjects such as singing, drawing, clay modeling, and gymnastics, and she insisted that her teachers participate in community activities; to Young, it was not enough that teachers knew their books if they “didn’t know life outside” (Bogotch, 2004, p.14). Therefore, Young laid the foundation of cooperation between school and community, which can be viewed as a root of the modern that leaders in education should consistently respond to the challenges and changes in the society in which the educational system operates (Bogotch, 2004, p.14). Nowadays, it is highly important to update and adapt curricula of educational institutions in accordance with the tendencies in economy, science, technology and processes such as globalization, assimilation or segregation. Although these complex needs were not addressed in the historical approaches to leadership, Young actually introduced a flexible and collaborative leadership style that implied working within the constantly changing social system rather than in the vacuum of traditions and older patterns. It also needs to be noted that Young overlooked the importance of designing a systemic paradigm of teacher performance monitoring and assessment, which is nowadays one of the vital issues in educational leadership (Duignan, 2007, p.10).

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William Maxwell, a reformer of the American educational system, emphasized the importance of social learning at schools: “Maxwell argued vigorously hat scientific management (i.e., cult of efficiency) and its excessive demands for data-driven decisions would turn teachers into bookkeepers” (Bogotch, 2004, p.16). Thus, Maxwell suggested that the seemingly objective system of student educational attainment measurement (e.g. tests, examinations) did not reflect adequately the development of learners’ social skills and their overall readiness for the adult life. The need for expanding the “empirical social” element of education still exists in the present day; for this reason, modern students are more frequently encouraged by their classroom leaders to explore and contribute to the community by volunteering or creating mitigation strategies for specific community problems (Bush, p.13). Maxwell also stressed the significance of physical education and substantiated the need for additional space for outdoor physical exercise. This growing need for teaching the basics of sports was associated with increasing urbanization, which forced individuals to share space with others more often and caused many white-collar citizens to suffer from the consequences of sedentary work. Nowadays, the need for physical education is even more notable given the spread of obesity among children and the lack of healthy habits in the urban culture and lifestyle. Maxwell’s agenda also included the proposal to help children from poor families with food during classes, so educators became more sensitive to the needs of their students and tried to draw a comprehensive picture of the settings and environment which maximizes each learner’s self-actualization (Sergiovanni, 2004, p.3).

It needs to be noted, however, that until the 1950s, school leadership was not recognized as a separate profession and viewed rather as a stage in teacher’s career (Bogotch, 2004, p. 22). William Maxwell and later T. Harris worked hard to establish legal structures which would preserve and promote the professional culture of teachers by raising certification standards for managers and teachers. Therefore, Harris was a proponent of the institutionalization of educational leadership so that the standards and successful practices of teaching and management were promoted. However, “even in his advocacy of the “inevitability” of management, there was never the suggestion that management should replace education at the center of leadership and decision making” (Bogotch, 2004, p.28). Nowadays, administration in the context of education is approached from the managerial perspective rather than the educational, due to the growing structural complexity of educational institutions and the changing professional area which reflect the demands of the 21st century society.

As Smylie, Conley and Marks (2002) assume, in the 1970s-1980s educational leadership was based on the idea of individual empowerment and teacher’s professional and performance growth: “The teacher leadership initiatives in this period were closely associated with role-based theories and models of individual work redesign and job enhancement. In general, they followed a logic that variation and expansion of teachers’ work would increase teachers’ motivation, job commitment, satisfaction and performance” (Smylie, Conley and Marks, 2002, p.165). In the 1990s, the role-oriented “lens” was replaced with a collectivist task-oriented approach which prioritized the success of the organization in general and focused on the specific goals of the educational institution.

The five main traits of leadership philosophy include team-orientation, standard bearing, motivation, coaching and integration (Bush, 2003, pp.16-17). Team-orientation implies leader’s collectivist vision, acting in the interests of the team and taking responsibility for the group of people the person is leading. Standard bearing is a set of practices, aimed at setting, promoting, communicating, maintaining and changing the standards or principles of certain activity; in this sense, the leader is expected to serve as a role model and inspiring example of perfect commitment to their standards. Coaching refers to the processes such as training the team, monitoring each member’s success, planning the development of their skills and supporting them throughout the process of learning. The concept of coaching differs from instruction, since the former process is more interactive and symmetrical. Motivation is a system of practices which maximize the performance of team members by raising their willingness to engage with a certain activity; in this sense, leaders are supposed to inspire their tem with enthusiasm, innovation and ethical commitment. Finally, integration refers to the optimal organization of team members’ differing potentials, diverse talents and skills so that the group functions as a coordinated system.

One of the earliest philosophical perspectives on leadership was developed by Greek philosopher Plato who invented the concept of the philosopher king, who should have idealistic beliefs and strive for creating a perfect society (Wren, 2007, p.29). According to Plato, the philosopher king rules with a sense of duty and realizes the power concentrated in his hands. There is no need for laws in the nation-state, governed by such leader, as he himself is a source of justice and juridical accuracy. As one can assume, Plato stresses the importance of standard establishment and promotion as well as “team vision”, reflected by the philosopher in terms of the sense of responsibility. In addition, Plato’s leader is described as a brilliant coach who enlightens the society and organizes the transmission of the skills which he believes facilitate the society’s movement towards the common good. Aquinas, in turn, created a foundation of motivation in the context of leadership, yet the philosopher did not specify whether the motivation system should be based upon punishment or reinforcement: “For Aquinas, although he championed the superiority of the good leader, his focus upon the results (the common good), led to a shift in viewing the relationship among leaders and followers” (Wren, 2007, p.36). Interestingly, Niccolo Machiavelli, a Renaissance philosopher, seemed to overuse Aquinas consequentialist idea of leadership and stated that the goal justifies the means. In his paradigm of leadership, Machiavelli focuses on the practices of integration and organization; in particular, the thinker assumes that the true leader should compel citizens and their immediate staff to comply with his standards and principles of serving the common good , so force and violence can be employed inside the “team” (or society) as extreme measures. Modern view on leadership was greatly influenced by the philosophical paradigm of the Enlightenment thinker and writer, John Locke, who introduced the idea of democratic leadership and highlighted the importance of motivation positioned as trust for the group and delegation of powers and entitlements. Furthermore, Locke’s concept of integration is much closer to the modern view, as he believed human natural desire for the realization of personal interests could not be escaped or ignored, so it is important to offer each member of the group the opportunity to choose the preferred activity (Wren, 2007, p.247).

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The emergence of servant leadership and value-added leadership (Sergiovanni, 2004, p.4) is associated with the spread and popularization of oriental (particularly Chinese) views on leader’s selfless devotion to the development and achievement of the group, communicated by Lao Tzu. According to the doctrine of Confucianism, the leader should facilitate the collaboration within the society by cultivating the value of tradition and connection (parent to child, subordinate to manager, friend to friend) and provide consistent coaching to all group members, presented in the context of available and affordable education which allows any industrious and hard-working person to raise their social position. Lao Tzu’s and Confucius’s ideas of balanced and ethical use of power and combination of both positive and negative motivation are nowadays widely used in the system of educational leadership.


Bogotch, I. (2004). A History of public school leadership. In The Sage handbook of educational leadership: advances in theory, research, and practice, edited by F.English and G.Anderson, pp. 7-33. SAGE.

Duignan, P. (2007). Educational Leadership: Key Challenges and Ethical Tensions. Cambridge University Press.

Bush, T. (2003). Theories of Educational Leadership and Management. SAGE.

Smylie, M., Conley, S. and Marks, H. (2002). Building leadership into the roles of teachers. In The educational leadership challenge: redefining leadership for the 21st century, edited by J.Murphy, pp.162-188. Humana Press.

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Wren, J. (2007). Inventing Leadership: The Challenge of Democracy. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Sergiovanni, T. (2004). Strengthening the Heartbeat: Leading and Learning Together in Schools. Jossey-Bass.

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