Leadership in Education: How to Play the Hero's Game

Leadership in education needs to be about aligning primary human need support across multiple levels of the school community before instruction is provided.

But, before I explain my understanding of leadership, alignment of primary human need support and what the multiple levels are, please watch this playlist of a two-part video (~27 min. total).

It provides you with a framework for understanding the true challenges that leaders in education face; a set of challenges that are not yet found in the public dialogue about how we should be changing our K-12 schools.



Heroic Leadership in Education Challenge #1: The Game of Paradigm Change


When a paradigm changes then what is taken to be obvious also changes.

The change from the miasma theory to the germ theory of disease is a historical example of paradigm change.

The appropriate historical parallel for the current moment in education seems to me to be about the 1850's in medicine.

A variety of small changes have accumulated in local ways, and have largely been ignored because they don't make sense within the current paradigm.

We are awaiting a fundamental idea that can guide the over-all enterprise of education to make sense of what matters in the field in new ways.

The process of paradigm change is complex and is not precipitated all-at-once.

Naturally, there is no way to tell at the time which idea will be the one that is accepted as a comprehensive sense maker.

However, I believe it is the time in the education change process in which someone needs to reframe the enterprise in a way that makes sense of the both the mainstream and the anomalies that are deviating from it.

I am offering my ideas in the spirit of that kind of change.

I've considered these ideas for over two decades and I have concluded that they constitute a paradigm change in the sense that Thomas Kuhn meant: a change in what counts as obvious and the questions that follow from what is taken to be obvious.

Growing mental maps is the new paradigm in education.

Content delivery is the old paradigm.

Leadership in education needs to understand the difference and how paradigms function at the levels of society, an individual, and everywhere in between.

(A Note on the Term "Paradigm": I have previously avoided the term due to it's having been a business “buzz word” that bore no relationship to the idea that Thomas Kuhn presented in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Thanks to the marketing misusage I have tended to associate the use of the term as much with empty promises as with an actual social phenomena.

However, I have recently concluded that there is no other relevant term for the change in education that I believe is immanent.)

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Heroic Leadership in Education Challenge #2: Saving the Children (and the Adults, too)

An abundance of data shows many children are harmed by the old paradigm**.

A small but growing body of data also shows that children are nurtured in certain kinds of alternative schools that are mostly ignored***.

In the new paradigm human nature is minimally specified by primary human needs that have been empirically validated.

There are currently eight primary human needs that are accepted due to robust experimental data to support them, though more are possible.

The eight are:

  • oxygen (a.k.a. air),
  • water,
  • material nutrients (a.k.a. food),
  • sleep,
  • protection from extreme environmental conditions (a.k.a. shelter),
  • competence,
  • relatedness, and
  • autonomy.

In K-12 schooling the autonomy need might be the most frequently thwarted need.

And the thwarting of the need for autonomy seems to occur at all levels for both children and adults throughout the system.

The most basic intervention to accomplish substantive meaningful change in K-12 schools will have to result in the support of the needs for both autonomy and relatedness.

However, we are not required to navigate this challenge starting with a blank map.

Alternative school models, such as democratic schools and home schooling, around the world were locally developed paths to the solution and can help show us the way.

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Heroic Leadership in Education Challenge #3: Treasuring Optimal States of Mind

Currently education treasures instruction more that optimal states of mind that instruction should lead towards.

This is wrong.

Access to optimal states of mind needs to be a prerequisite to instruction.

Schools still need to be about instruction, but instruction as shaped by properly motivated students and teachers.

Hospitals are about treating illness and injury, but since the germ theory of disease became the paradigm for understanding disease they only provide treatment in the context of antiseptic protocols.

In the same way the change I am advocating in education is about ensuring that instruction is provided in the context of nurturing protocols; protocols that ensure access to optimal states of mind is available to everyone in schools.

Self-reports of intrinsic motivation and engagement with instructional activities are objective indicators of whether or not primary human needs are being systematically met.

A hospital without antiseptic protocols would seem bizarre to us today because the protocols for antisepsis have become the “obvious” ways that things are done in hospitals.

What if you took away all the uniforms, masks, gloves, and the ability to wash hands and disinfect stuff?

A hospital might not look any different than a hotel (and probably a cheap one) except that the majority of people in it are sick or injured.

The doctors would be wearing the same kinds of clothing as everyone else and would probably only be recognizable by their lack of illness or injury and perhaps a stethescope around their neck.

That was the case before germ theory and it's implication brought about antiseptic protocols and the infrastructure to support them.

Medical practice was largely ineffective except in a select few areas such as the setting of broken bones.

Schools today are defined by their instructional function, but the results we get from them are poor indeed.

However, that does not need to be the case if we can institute nurturing protocols and develop our infrastructure to support them.

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Heroic Leadership in Education Challenge #4: Well-Being Through Primary Need Support

In order to provide practical advice on the transformation of schools from this perspective it is critically important to distinguish between leadership and management.

Management is the process of meeting the primary needs of an organization.

Organizations must have people who belong to it, financial resources to exchange with their economic ecology, and must have a profitable pattern of using those resources.

Those three factors are an organizations primary needs in the sense that if any one of the three is interrupted then the organization will cease to exist.

Leadership, on the other hand, is how the different levels of need satisfaction align.

Both the organization and the individuals that make it up have primary needs.

Those needs could be mutually supported or one level of need satisfaction could thwart the needs at the other level.

When a person puts their own interests ahead of the organization through skimming funds or in other ways then they might improve their ability to meet their immediate needs, but at the expense of the organization, then the organization is being harmed.

An organization that allows managers to exert dictatorial control over their employees behavior will thwart the primary need for autonomy in those workers most of the time.

The organization will likely benefit from the work gained but the employee will have less well-being as a result.

Excellence in leadership is about aligning the meeting of all levels of need satisfaction.

When the employees have all their needs met and the organization simultaneously gets it's needs met, then everyone is going to be optimally productive and the organization is going to be sustainable.

Ultimately, if the need satisfaction alignment includes higher levels such as society and the planet the result is the kind of sustainability we need to survive and thrive as a species.

A true leader knows what the management issues are and has a sense that there are ways to accomplish those basic organizational survival tasks in inspired ways that also serve the needs of individuals, the society, and the planet.

They look for the opportunities to achieve an artful balance between the individual and the organizational imperatives that drive action.

This website is focused on educational policy so that leadership in education can be shaped in a heroic mold.

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Leadership in Education Resource Links

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Leadership in Education References:

**

"... abundance of data shows many children are harmed... "

The following 10 studies completed over the course of over 30 years all document declines in intrinsic motivation in traditional mainstream schools.

Declines in intrinsic motivation imply the thwarting of primary psychological needs. The thwarting of primary psychological needs causes increases in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other forms of psychological distress, which constitutes harm.

Prawat, Grissom & Parish, 1979; Harter, 1981; Wigfield, Eccles & Rodriguez, 1998; Gottfried, Fleming & Gottfried, 2001; Bouffard, Marcoux, Vezeau & Bordeleau, 2003; Hunter & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003; Pintrich, 2003; Lepper, Corpus & Iyengar, 2005; Otis, Grouzet & Pelletier, 2005; Corpus, McClintic- Gilbert & Hayenga, 2009.

See my thesis for complete references.

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***

"... growing body of data also shows that children are nurtured..."
Berg, D.A., Corpus, J.H. (2013). Enthusiastic Students: A Study of Motivation in Two Alternatives to Mandatory Instruction. Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives, 2(2), 42-66
Vedder-Weiss, D., & Fortus, D. (2011). Adolescents’ declining motivation to learn science: Inevitable or not?. Journal Of Research In Science Teaching, 48(2), 199-216. DOI: 10.1002/tea.20398
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