Redefining leadership in education

By: Ron Canuel

Education leaders participate in the Ontario Supervisory Officer Executive Leadership program, held at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Over the past couple of decades, the theme of leadership has taken on greater significance and attention. Even the definition of leadership continues to morph into a variety of interpretations and contexts, so it is not surprising that leadership in education has taken on such importance in our society. But with the ever-increasing rise in accountability and expectations, leadership positions are also increasingly difficult to fill, with multiple postings being more the norm than the exception.

In education, the notion of leadership is too often confined to that of an administrative position yet teachers are exceptional leaders in classrooms: managing large number of students, inspiring students to learn, handling stress and conflict, and working collegially with colleagues, are all but a few examples. So, when we actually take a closer look at leadership in education, it begins in the classroom and extends itself into other non-teaching positions.

But over the past decade, in particular, as resources continue to decline and expectations increase on educators, the resultant environment of increased stress is becoming more and more apparent. As a former Director of Human Resources, I was aware of the increased usage of Employee Assistance Programs by educators, teachers and administrators alike. This pattern of high usage has not abated and evidence mounts to indicate that it is increasing. These straightforward indicators should be seen by the ministries of education across Canada and the public alike, as warning signs. Canada’s public education system ranks amongst the finest in the world and much depends on how those working in our schools and centres are perceived and treated.

One of the keys to successful leadership in education is in the personal abilities of the individual to handle situations that require reflection, deep analysis and excellent listening skills. In my professional past, as being a vice-principal, principal, coordinator, director and finally Director General, I found the previously mentioned traits were essential to success and growth. Yet, for any person in a leadership position, admitting to mistakes leads to much stronger growth and satisfaction. Society’s expectations that our education leaders, including teachers, should be immune to making mistakes only adds to the challenge of both retaining and honouring successful leadership.

So, in the month of October when educators such as principals and teachers are honoured, let’s take this important time to recognize the role of educators and the leadership roles that they assume and provide with such rigour and diligence, since the beneficiaries are the students that are being served.

Ron Canuel is the President & CEO of The Learning Partnership. Ron has previously served as President and CEO of the Canadian Education Association, and has over 37 years of experience in the public education sector. He has been a teacher, coordinator, vice-principal, principal, Assistant Director and Director of Human Resources. He was the Director General of the Eastern Townships School Board in Quebec from 1999 until his retirement in 2010. Among his many successes, Ron was the principal architect of Canada’s first and only district-wide one-to-one computing environment for students and teachers.

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