A Followership Leadership Approach To Managing Student Leaders Education Essay

Published: 2021-06-30 15:00:05
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Introduction
Managing men [people] is very different from managing machines, materials and money. Men in the work scene bring with them positive and negative emotions and attitudes which determine their personal efficiency and often spell their organization’s survival. (Lorenzana, 1998:7)
The core business of managing people in an educational organization is to promote students’ learning. In other words, students’ learning is seen as the nucleus of educational organization. Since organizations are made of people with different emotions and attitudes working together towards a common goal, managing them is therefore critical to the successful achievements of the aims and purpose of the organization. The purpose of this essay is therefore to critically analyse ways in which management of people in an educational organisation can be improved to enhance student’s learning. Literature informs us there are many ways management of people in an organisation can be improved to enhance students’ learning which include (in no particular order or hierarchy) managing conflict, teamwork and team building, continued professional development (CPD), involving students in leadership activities, effective and efficient communication within and beyond the organization, motivating students and teachers, strong students’ career guidance services, mentoring and coaching, institutional collaborations among others. However, because the scope of this essay is limited, I will only focus on managing student leaders i.e. how involving and managing students in leadership activities impacts on their and other students’ learning. I will also be referring student leadership to student organizations (e.g. student unions) formed in schools in which student themselves choose their leaders or representatives. I have been teacher and a deputy head of department for seven and two years respectively in a Technical Training college in Kenya, which means my organisation involves managing adult students aged between 19 and 25 years which may vary slightly in managing pupils/students in primary or secondary schools. Managing adults can be different especially when they form a large group of people with different opinions and are responsible for themselves. The essay will thus be organised as follows: I will start by briefly reviewing literature surrounding the concepts of management, managers and educational institution. Then I will proceed to critically analyse how student leaders who represent students’ voice can be managed in my organization to enhance students’ learning, with an attempt of unveiling the role of students’ leadership in an educational organization, identify the gaps existing and how these gaps can be reduced to improve their leadership roles. I will also examine how culture of student leadership is inculcated in schools by comparing Sub-Sahara Africa and UK. I will then draw a conclusion based on the literature and reflections from my own professional experience.
Background and Rationale
Globally, there has been a heated debate on educational quality that is given to learners and aspects of inclusiveness have been greatly underscored. For example, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to the provision of quality education have indicated a need for inclusive education not only in the aspect of access to education but also in terms of student’s involvement in the learning process. This includes students’ participation in leadership roles in schools. In addition, there has been on recent past a growing number of student unrest in middle-level institutions (e.g. TVET institutions) of higher learning in Kenya attributed to lack of school administration not involving student leaders in some crucial decision making that affect students. The result has been chaos, rampage, closure of institutions of learning and students’ learning interrupted (Mutua, 2012). Thus, the friction between school administration and student leaders has been based on paternalistic or authoritarian leadership rather than a democratic one (Jeruto and Kiprop, 2011). On the other hand, however, it is also believed ‘those students are viewed as minors, immature and lacking in the expertise and technical knowledge that is needed in the running of a school’ (ibid: 92). But the question is, where do we draw the lines between student leadership and the administrative leadership? To what extend is student leadership inclusive in matters pertaining to students’ learning? And more importantly, how do we manage student leadership?
The rationale for exploring this area of managing student leaders in this essay is three-pronged: general, contextual and personal rationale. The general rationale is that student leaders and organizations in a school set-up have been regarded as "learning laboratories" (Rashid, 2002 citing Street, 1997) where students have an opportunity to unlock and develop their leadership talents, skills and interests. This is in line with the understanding of students’ learning being beyond academic performance but also inculcating leadership and other generic skills required in producing future leaders in our society. My contextual rationale is based on the status of research involving management of student leaders in TVET institutions in Kenya. Scanty research has been carried out in this area and therefore there is limited literature on student leaders in TVET institutions. However, since this essay involves a review of related literature, the essay will provide a parallel augmentative critique by drawing reflections from student leaders in secondary school institutions. This is because managing student leaders in middle-level colleges is almost the same as in secondary school with a slight difference that the former involves managing adults who are responsible to themselves. My personal rationale is that as a teacher myself, I want to gain skills and knowledge on how management of student leaders in education impinges on students’ learning so that when I will returning back to my job, I will have already acquired skills and knowledge required to undertake this position and hence improve my career trajectory and the careers of those who I will be serving.
Concepts of Leadership, Management and Organisation
We are living is a society comprising of ‘large and complex institutions with many people working together’ towards common objectives of an organization (Dash and Dash, 2008:1). It has become increasingly important to note that leadership and management lenses have now been magnified to global perspectives of education quality vis-a-vis school effectiveness and school improvement. As Bush et al. (2010:6) observe, ‘global interest in educational leadership and management has grown…and there is widespread recognition that leadership is second only to classroom practice in terms of impact on school and student outcome’. In this era of globalisation, management has become unequivocally critical and important because of the complexity of our organizations characterized by diversity and interdependence of people and a plethora of stakeholders while operating in an open system of legal, political, ethical and technological environment. Because of this complexity, management has been seen as ‘the primary force within any organization which coordinates the activities of its various systems in relation to its objectives’ (ibid: 1). But what exactly is management?
Management can be defined as ‘a set of activities directed towards efficient and effective utilisation of organisational resources in order to achieve organisational goals’ (Bush, 2008:1 citing Sapre, 2002:102). In this sense, the management activities are hinged on the goals and objectives of the organization. Lorenzana (1998) refers to these activities as "functions of management" and categorises these activities broadly as planning, organization, staffing, motivating and controlling. In addition, Lorenzana views management as both a science and an art: a science in the sense that ‘causal relationships between management variables have been ascertained and underlying principles have been discovered’ and an art because ‘managers use judgement based on common sense and experience rather than merely following a prescribed set of management rules’ (ibid:8). A manager on the other hand can be viewed as the person responsible in overseeing implementation of the management activities mentioned above while focusing on the organization’ s goals and objectives. This resonates with Lorenzana’s (1998:3) description of the role of a manager as ‘to plan, organize, direct and control operations to ensure that organizations accomplish their goals’.
Leadership, on the other hand can be defined as ‘a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal’ (Ricketts, 2009:1). Though there are varied definitions of leadership, there are four components of leadership that are central to these definitions: it is a practice or process, involves influencing people, takes place in a group context and focus on attainment of certain goals. Management and leadership are different but related terms. Table 1 below summarises quotes from different authors indicating differences between leadership and management.
Table 1: Authors’ quotes on differences between leadership and management.
Source: http://www.stellarleadership.com/
In addition, appendix 1 summarises the major comparisons between activities involved in management and leadership as identified by Northouse, (2007). In the context of schools, student leaders are usually elected by the student body or a group of students to represent them in relation to their welfare. Thus, the student leaders are used as an interface to influence the school management team or administration to bridge student voices or concerns that are important for their successful learning.
The term "learning organisation" has subtle definition and interpretation depending on the context within which it is used. In the context of a school, Bush and Middlewood (1997:34, citing Southworth, 1994:53) described a learning organization as that in which:
the focus is on the pupils and their learning;
individual teachers are encouraged to be continuing learners themselves;
teachers (and sometimes others) who constitute ‘staff’ are encouraged to collaborate by learning with and from each other;
the school (all those people who constitute the school) learns its way forward, i.e. the school as an organisation is a learning ‘system’;
the head teacher is the leading learner
In this description, Bush hints that a learning school comprises of a leader, a teacher and a learner; major focus being pupils/students and their learning. It also shows that a teacher is also in the process of learning by ‘learning with or from each other’. This dismisses the perception that only students are learning. It however concurs with Senge’s view that "in order for organisations to excel, organisations must create an environment in which people can learn at all levels in the organisation" (Senge, 1990:4). In addition, Southworth’s description of a learning school further shows that even the head teacher is also a learner. This means that every person in an organization, whether it is a senior manager or a supporting staff is in the process of learning to help in improving performance and adapting with changes and future uncertainties. This view, however, is not reflected in the Kenyan setting where majority of leaders and managers believe that they know everything than the people they lead or manage. The effect is that even their junior staffs feel coy or scared to making their contributing voices in decision making for fear of victimization or even losing their jobs. By critical analysis, I would argue that if we understand that every person is an organization is in the process of learning, this can be the starting point for understanding leadership. This is because leadership is a process of setting an organization’s journey to success and not a title or a position. In addition, Bush and Middlewood (1997) remind us that in a school setting, the head teacher, members of staff and student are also leaders in certain levels. Students use student leaders who may be referred to as a student council, prefects or student representatives.
In an educational organization, student leaders are seen as a medium of amplifying voices of the student body and managing student leadership has been viewed as one of the major strands of managing people in education that has a direct bearing to the students’ learning. In this essay then, I will focus on managing student leaders in the context of TVET institutions in Kenya and how it might be improved to enhance students’ learning. In this context, students’ learning will be not limited to engagement in curriculum or limited to learning within the four walls of the classroom but involves overall learning experience which includes participation in co-curricular activities and community involvement beyond the schools’ gate.
Student Leadership Activities and its Impact in Learning: Some Research Evidence
Rudduck and McIntyre (2004) in their book titled Improving Learning through Consulting Pupils accentuate the need for involving students’ voices in consultations involving teaching and learning activities. They argue that student leaders in an educational organizations form part of organization’s decision making process. In representing the voices and the welfare of the student community, these leaders are usually organized in form of ‘student representative bodies - such as school councils, student parliaments and the prefectorial body’ (Jeruto and Kiprop, 2011:92). The nature of engaging students in leadership stems from distributive leadership where leadership roles are distributed across the broad network of the people in an organization with the people in leadership positions performing duties prescribed to them (Harris, 2004). The extent to which the student leaders are involved in making decisions is also limited (Jeruto and Kiprop, 2011) and confined to certain issues in school. The rest is dominated by the school administrators and managers. This is evident in some Kenyan colleges where student councils are formed as formalities rather than the emphasis of representing students’ voices in decision making. At the end of the day, the student leaders exist in paper and not for the intended purpose. But why is student leadership important in the first place and to what extend?
Literature informs us that there is a strong correlation between students’ involvement in leadership activities and its impact in learning experience (Bardou et al., 2003 and Patterson, 2012). Through student leaders’ participation in decision making, student welfare issues are taken care of and their voices are channelled through a systematically organized way. In this way, chances of friction arising between those involved in leadership offices are reduced because issues are dealt with using a cascaded problem solving structure. Kouzes and Posner (2008) observe the need for student leaders in an education organization goes beyond achieving their goals in school but also as one of the major conduits to nurturing the future generation of leaders:
The most significant contribution student leaders make is not simply to today’s issues and goals, but rather to the long-term development of people, communities, and institutions so they can adapt, change, prosper, and grow. The domain of leaders is the future, and leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It is a process ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best of themselves and others. When the leader in everyone is liberated, extraordinary things happen. (p.1)
In a school setting, there are various leadership activities that student acquire while participating in co-curricular or extra-curricular activities which provide a contribution in their learning process. For example, Reed (2001) conducted a research in Virginia Tech to find out skills of leadership that students learned while engaging themselves in co-curricular activities and the influence of these skills in enhancing students’ academic experience. The study revealed that activities like school clubs instilled students with leadership skills which helped them easily accomplish classroom tasks or assignments when they are working in groups. This is because when they are working in groups, they would elect the chairperson, secretary and the reporter for report their finding (similar to a distributed leadership model), just the same way they would elect leaders among themselves in school clubs.
A recent similar study was also carried out by Kariyana1 et al. (2012) in several district secondary schools in South Africa. In their study on the effect of students’ involvement in co-curricular activities in school on their academic success, the researchers found out that most co-curricular activities involved working in teams which means that that there was distribution of roles to accomplish tasks. This team work and team building helped in honing individual’s leadership such as developing confidence and accountability in undertaking assigned duties. These would later translate to positive learning experiences in classroom where students become more responsible, self-disciplined and creative, which would consequently improve on their academic achievement.
In the case of student leaders or students council members elected by the students to represent them in their welfare like accommodation, health, entertainment, etc, their leadership duties could be considered a notch higher compared to those within classroom level or school clubs. They are more engaged and connected to the school administration and in some cases these student leaders have been perceived by other students as being ‘spies’ for the school administration or the head-teacher. The dilemma here is this: how best can student leaders learn from their seniors? To what extend can head-teachers (in this case higher echelon leaders) be good role models to the student leaders (in this case followers)? This brings as to the next section of the essay which looks at the social constructionist theory behind managing student leaders based on a fellowship-leadership approach.
Social Constructionist Theory: A Followership-Leadership Approach to Managing Student Leaders
As I mentioned earlier, a school can be seen as ‘a learning laboratory’ where student can learn leadership skills. In a school environment, they can learn from peers and teachers as well. In this case, we can say there is a leader (from whom the student learns leadership skills from e.g. head teacher, member of staff) and a follower (the student leader who is learning leadership skills). Followership can be defined as ‘the acceptance of influence from another person without feeling coerced [or forced] and towards what is perceived to be a common purpose’ (Stech, 2008:48). Thus, followership is a process of being directed and guided by a leader, and the person being guided and directed is a follower.
There are many theories or models (e.g. the Erikson’s Identity Development Model, Leadership Identity Development Model and the Social Constructionist Theory) that can be used to describe how student leaderships are developed and their impact on students’ leadership, but in this essay I will only talk about the "social constructionist theory". This is a theory which was proposed by Meindl et al. (1985) and it describes the relationship between followership and leadership, what they called "romance of leadership". I have decided to look at this theory because it has been vastly eschewed and yet it is as an area than can help develop and manage student leadership. As Avolio et al. (2009:434) put it, ‘one of the most interesting omissions in theory and research on leadership is the absence of discussions of followership and its impact on leadership’.
Social constructionist theory of leadership underscores the significance of ideas and real-life interaction in generating knowledge and meaning. When leaders interact with their followers (in this case, the student leaders are the followers), there is a social construction of the truth and notions of reality between ideas of what a leader should be and the reality as demonstrated by real life interaction with the leaders. As such ‘leadership is significantly affected by the way followers construct their understanding of the leader in terms of their interpretation of his or her personality, behaviours, and effectiveness’ (Avolio et al. 2009:435). Taking a case of adult students in a TVET institution where I have been a teacher, I can argue that these students come to college with prior beliefs and experiences of what leadership is, depending on their cultural and social contexts. When they encounter new experiences in college, the knowledge they carried with them about leadership and the meaning is re-constructed and can associate what they know with what they learn from their leaders. If a leader has desirable leadership skills, this may impart desirable characters to the learner who learns by identifying with their leaders. This means that leadership is a learned process and a leader is an icon from whom others can learn from. In a school setting, teachers’ leadership role in classrooms and at school administrative level are supposed to act as role modelling tools from which student leaders can mimic, emulate and learn from. If school leaders change their leadership practices, this may translate to change in classroom practices. This theory is also glued to the culture and ethos of an organization. The culture of the organization shapes how the incumbent student leaders will conduct themselves or relate with the school management body. If an organization has a culture where leaders are developed and not born, the student leaders are likely to construct their knowledge about leadership based on what they see is/has been happening and adapt this approach in their leadership activities.
In a nut shell, using social constructionist theory of leadership, I can argue that one of the best ways to manage student leadership is by teachers and school administrators furnishing their professional duties and leadership skills and conduct themselves in a manner that the followers (student leaders) would emulate. For example, if a head-teacher is rarely in school assembly, this will send a wrong signal to student leaders that meetings and/or assemblies are not important.
Developing the culture of student leadership in TVET institutions: Comparing Sub-Sahara Africa and UK
As I mentioned earlier, leadership is a process and starts from our immediate environment. The culture of management and leadership in Sub-Sahara Africa has been, for a long time, rooted and dominated by cultural beliefs and practices. For example, men have been seen as the heads of the family and therefore dominating in decision making. As Littrell (2011:69) puts it, ‘male dominance, polygamy, patrimony, and patrilineage signify that gender treatment is not egalitarian’. Unfortunately this culture of male dominance has spilled over to government and private institutions including learning institutions. This has even been reflected in the choice of student leadership positions where male students dominate in the students’ leadership council. The effect is that we have a skewed student leadership with no equal representation of gender. The impact is that we don’t have enough female leaders who can serve as role models to the rest of the female students. Due to these perceptions of the role of a woman in society, female leadership has not been nurtured and has experienced a glass ceiling effect even in career advancement and trajectories in management positions. Since schools are seen as one the best environment where leadership skills are identified and nurtured, as a good manager, I think it is equally important to involve female leadership starting from a school environment where female leaders should be given an opportunity in representing their colleagues. Improving students’ learning is not just about academic performance, it is also about inclusiveness regardless of gender orientation. This can be done by having one male and one female representative for each post in the student leadership council.
One of the renowned scholars who were actively in research surrounding students’/pupils’ voice and leadership in the UK was the late Professor Jean Ruddock. In her research, she argued that students’ participation in school activities, including involvement in leadership roles, is one of the keys to school improvement. Since student leaders represent students’/pupils’ voice, Ruddock (2004) elucidated this perception by arguing that:
Pupil voice is the consultative wing of pupil participation. Consultation is about talking with pupils about things that matter in school. It may involve: conversations about teaching and learning; seeking advice from pupils about new initiatives; inviting comment on ways of solving problems that are affecting the teacher’s right to teach and the pupil’s right to learn; inviting evaluative comment on recent developments in school or classroom policy and practice.
The situation in the UK is slightly different from that in Sub-Saharan Africa. The idea of male versus female dominance is not as chronic as it is in sub-Sahara Africa. Although leadership in UK educational settings is still dominated by men, there have been developments in recent decades. In England for example, government statistics (School Workforce Census) indicate that in 1997, 26% of secondary head teachers were women out of a teaching force that comprised of 52% women, while in 2006, 31% of secondary head teachers were women out of a teaching force of that comprised of 56% women (Coleman, 2009). There has been gradual increase in participation of women in school leadership.
Managing conflict in student Leader organizations through Communication and Interpersonal Behaviours
Student leaders form part of managing team in a school but at a lower echelon. The need for teams is underpinned by, among other reasons, the assumption that collective expertise and wider casting of the leadership net is more likely to influence pluralistic perspectives to issues if groups of teams participate in decision making. This in turn provides a link to minority or diversity of people’s opinions and hence inclusiveness. As Bush and Middlewood (19997:77) put it, ‘a team is a small group of people who recognise the need for constructive conflict when working together in order to make, implement and support workable decisions’. One of the areas that I have identified as being crucial in managing student leaders in schools is conflict identification, prevention and management between head-teachers and student leaders when it comes to decision making.
Though student leaders form part of school managing team, their role has been usually limited to handling students’ welfare. However, a recent study conducted by (Jeruto and Kiprop, 2011:92) in several secondary schools in Kenya has indicated that students’ voices need to go beyond student welfare issues and include participation in decision making in the curriculum and administration. For example, the study found out that students are not given an opportunity to participate in decisions like the kind of diet to be offered in school, students’ discipline and the nature of punishment, and teacher’s performance appraisal. Students’ input is particularly important when such decision areas affect students’ learning.
One of the salient features of successful teams is communication. Communication between student leaders and school administrators cannot be taken for granted. How head teachers communicate with student leaders has an impact on how conflicts are resolved or handled between the students and administration. Sources of these conflicts are diverse, but as Johnson (2003) pointed out, the head-teacher’s interpersonal behaviours are major sources of conflict:
Principals who look for the sources of these conflicts may find that many of them reside in the principal’s own interpersonal behaviours, which may be products of their leadership skills…The interpersonal behaviours and leadership skills [e.g. communication skills] of the principal are explored as possible sources of conflict. (p. 29)
These leadership skills can be natured through, for example, continued professional development (CPD) programmes because it is not obvious that managers can develop them intuitively.
8.0 Critical reflection on managing student leaders
Throughout the essay, I have argued for student leadership involvement in school leadership activities and how managing student leaders is important in enhancing students’ learning. I will not conclude this essay before reflecting critically on the extent to which students’ voices matter. While acknowledging the role of student leaders in promoting students’ learning experiences in school, I will be one sandwich short of a picnic if I argue that student leaders must be involved in every decision making in school. There are boundaries to be set and participants in decision making to be filtered; otherwise proliferation of ideas and opinions will derail focus not only from student leaders but from other members of staff, head of departments, parents and the outside community. The head teacher or principal should thus act as a gatekeeper. It is therefore important that job descriptions are clearly stated in the extended version of the aims and objectives of the organization rather than raising unrealistic expectations of students’ involvement in decision making which is then denied of them.
Conclusion
In concluding, this essay looked at ways in which the management of people in an organisation can be improved to enhance student’s learning with the focus on managing student leaders i.e. how involving and managing students in leadership activities impacts in enhancing their learning. The essay started by looking at the background and rationale for this focus and argued that this is an area of student leadership that has been eschewed and not vastly explored. The essay then explored concepts and definitions of leadership, management and learning organization. In order to set a point of departure for critical discussion, the essay examined briefly some literature evidencing the impact of student leadership activities on students’ learning. Following this was a comparative analysis of student leadership in Sub-Sahara Africa and UK with an aim of comparing practices and influences (historical or political) shaping leadership in various organizations and how it has been translated and/or cascaded to students’ leadership at school level. I then shared my own professional experience as a teacher in managing student leaders in my previous leaning institution where I identified conflict management as one of the critical area of managing students’ leadership that affect students’ learning. Here I looked at causes of conflict and how these conflicts can be subjugated by use of communications and interpersonal behaviours.
It is worth reiterating that managing student leaders, especially in an educational organization comprising of adult students, is both a scientific and an artistic engagement. It requires understanding of each administrative team with clearly defined tasks. Student leaders acquire leadership skills within and outside their school curriculum. However, majority of their skills are evidenced by how they socially interact and construct their knowledge within the school where their teachers and other staff members serve as role models. The essay has also hinted that in order to manage student leaders effectively, it is important to first create a conflict-proof environment to insulate the institutions from conflict-related consequences arising from student and administrative leadership. This involves an understanding of how conflict arises between student leaders and school administration (sources of conflicts) and how to manage them. The role and characteristics of the manager in such institutions is thus to have patient, good communication skills and good relationship with student leaders. More importantly, a learning organization’s main objective is to ensure that students experience learning in a more fulfilling way, and therefore this must be reflected in the organization’s culture and ethos. The head-teacher should therefore act as the ‘gate-keeper’ in the sense that he/she does not to allow proliferation of the school policy, always having fingers on the pulse of the school culture and being aware where the school is at and the direction it is taking!

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