Sustainable Leadership

Sustainable Leadership

by Andy Hargreaves, Dean Fink

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In Sustainable Leadership, Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink address one of the most important and often neglected aspects of leadership: sustainability. The authors set out a compelling and original framework of seven principles for sustainable leadership characterized by Depth of learning and real achievement rather than superficially tested performance;


In Sustainable Leadership, Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink address one of the most important and often neglected aspects of leadership: sustainability. The authors set out a compelling and original framework of seven principles for sustainable leadership characterized by Depth of learning and real achievement rather than superficially tested performance; Length of impact over the long haul, beyond individual leaders, through effectively managed succession; Breadth of influence, where leadership becomes a distributed responsibility; Justice in ensuring that leadership actions do no harm to and actively benefit students in other schools; Diversity that replaces standardization and alignment with diversity and cohesion; Resourcefulness that conserves and renews leaders' energy and doesn't burn them out; and Conservation that builds on the best of the past to create an even better future.

This book is a volume in the Jossey-Bass Leadership Library in Education—a series designed to meet the demand for new ideas and insights about leadership in schools.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“highly recommended” (Times Educational Supplement, 6th January 2006)

"...a must read for educational leaders and for scholars of educational change..." (Journal of Educational Change, June 2006)

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Jossey-Bass Leadership Library in Education , #6
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Read an Excerpt

Sustainable Leadership

By Andy Hargreaves

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-6838-2

Chapter One


Learning and Integrity

Seek truth, create, and live up to the title of teacher.

Motto of East China Normal University, Shanghai

PRINCIPLE 1 Sustainable leadership matters. It preserves, protects, and promotes deep and broad learning for all in relationships of care for others.

A Sense of Purpose

For Winston Churchill, it was the defeat of Hitler and Nazi Germany; for Emmeline Pankhurst and Susan B. Anthony, it was votes for women; for Nelson Mandela, it was ending apartheid in South Africa; and for Martin Luther King, Jr., it was civil rights for all. Throughout history, leaders who made worthwhile and lasting contributions to society have been passionately, persistently, and courageously committed to compelling ideals and just causes that were meaningful in their time.

Sustainable leadership, like sustainable improvement, begins with a strong and unswerving sense of moral purpose. The core meaning of sustain is "to hold up; bear the weight of; be able to bear (strain, suffering, and the like) without collapse." Inner conviction, unshakable faith, and a driving, hopeful sense of purpose that stretches far beyond the self-these are the inalienable elements of moral character that truly sustain people during times of overwhelming difficulty and almost unbearable suffering. Reflecting on his long imprisonment on Robben Island, where he was deprived of company, exercise, and even food during long periods of solitary confinement, Nelson Mandela put it like this: "The human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep one's spirits strong even when one's body is being tested. Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation: your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty."

In the corporate world, a strong and shared sense of purpose also sustains businesses, holds them together, and enables them to persist even in the face of apparently insurmountable odds. The most long-lasting and successful businesses are driven and defined by enduring purposes and timeless values, not quarterly profits. In Built to Last, Collins and Porras reported that when they studied companies that had maintained profitability over long periods of time, they "saw a core ideology that transcended pure economic considerations." Jackson and Nelson's research in Profits with Principles confirms this finding: Explicitly linking profits with principles is a prerequisite for helping to restore trust and confidence while delivering long-term value to shareholders."

Developing and renewing a compelling sense of purpose is central to sustainable leadership. Yet a disturbing finding of Collins and Porras's foundational study of companies that are built to last was that the nature of that purpose didn't always matter! "The critical issue is not whether a company has the "right" core ideology or a "likable" core ideology but whether it has a core ideology-likable or not-that gives guidance and inspiration to people inside that company." It makes no difference whether you produce titanium parts that give people new knees or tobacco products that corrupt their lungs; any purpose that motivates people internally seems to be enough to keep companies going. However, in the aftermath of widespread corporate scandals, more businesses are now pushing for a sense of purpose that is bigger and better than this, a moral purpose that is embedded in the essence of their products and that extends into the community and society beyond.

A growing number of companies are addressing the deeper purposes of sustainable corporate development by attending to the human value of what they produce, not just how they produce it. Product integrity matters; it is a qualifying criterion for companies included in responsible corporate development investment portfolios, for example.

Product integrity is the core of sustainability. Sustenance is nourishment. And if our souls sustain our bodies, then learning sustains our souls. Nelson Mandela and his fellow political prisoners-the future leaders of South Africa-understood this very well in their darkest days on Robben Island when they agitated for the right to study, stole forbidden newspaper fragments from the sandwich wrappings discarded by their jailers, and conducted secret classes among the urine and feces of the Africans' toilets, where the white guards were too repelled to tread. If the moral purpose of what we produce is important for corporate sustainability, it is even more important in education and public life. Schools, school systems, and educational change advocates cannot be indifferent to or evasive about just what the moral purpose of education should be. From the standpoint of sustainability, the heart of that purpose ought to be learning-something that is itself sustaining-and not just any learning, but learning that matters, spreads, and lasts a lifetime.

Like an excellent meal, deep, sustaining learning requires wholesome ingredients, a rich and varied menu, caring preparation, and pleasing presentation. The primary responsibility of all educational leaders is to sustain this kind of learning. It is this, not delivering the curriculum, implementing the government's or district's mandates, or giving a gloss to how the institution appears, that is at the center of sustainable leadership.

Not anything or everything needs sustaining or maintaining. There is no point in sustaining learning that is trivial or that disappears once it has been tested. Sustainable leadership fully understands the nature and process of student learning, engages directly and regularly with learning and teaching in classrooms, and promotes learning among other adults in order to find continuing ways to improve and expand the learning of students.

Sustainable leadership doesn't equivocate. It puts learning at the center of everything leaders do. Students' learning comes first, then everyone else's in support of it. Michael Knapp and his associates explain that leadership for learning means "creating powerful, equitable learning opportunities for students, professionals and the system," in which leaders "persistently and publicly focus ... their own attention and that of others on learning and teaching." To this end, Knapp and his colleagues argue, educational leaders who practice sustainable leadership establish a focus on learning by doing the following:

Making it central to their own work

Consistently communicating that student learning is a shared mission of students, teachers, administrators, and the community

Articulating core values that support a focus on powerful, equitable learning

Paying public attention to teaching

It is easy to advocate for more instructional leadership, to insist that all educational leaders should become leaders of learning. It is harder to make leadership for learning a practical reality. And it is hardest of all to do this in policy and reform climates that repeatedly pull the plug on leaders' efforts to achieve depth and breadth of learning in their systems and their schools. In his review of the present state of educational administration, Joe Murphy concludes that "we have responded to the challenges of purpose and development largely by ignoring them, or at least failing to grapple with them thoughtfully." The courage to be a leader of learning is most called for in uncongenial conditions dominated by school rankings, test scores, and short-term achievement targets. Sustainable leadership demands firm convictions about and unwavering commitments to enhancing deep and broad learning, not merely tested achievement, for all students.

In the face of test-driven performance demands, Charmaine Watson and her colleagues refused to cave in, to trade their core values for unquestioning compliance, or to abandon authentic achievement for cynical attempts to boost test score gains. By building professional collaboration, creating opportunities for teacher leadership, and providing forums for teacher dialogue, Watson ensured that teachers never lost sight of their purpose of improving learning for all students. All teachers, not just those in the English Department, took responsibility for being teachers of literacy. Rather than treating the literacy test as a problem to be finessed with the least amount of upset for teachers, the principal and her staff used it as a catalyst to develop deep and sustainable learning for everyone, students and adults alike.

Sustainable leadership doesn't improve standards by thinking first about how to improve test scores. The price of overemphasizing the tested basics has become very evident in the United States, where social studies are increasingly being eclipsed by reading and mathematics. Schools and systems that deal with the pressure to make annual literacy test gains (to meet, for example, the adequate yearly progress requirements of the United States' No Child Left Behind legislation or the yearly targets set by the United Kingdom's National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy) by pretesting students and then applying intensive coaching to a percentile of students that fall just below the passing mark are not creating sustainable improvement that matters. They are concentrating calculatively on the measured results instead of on the learning the results are supposed to measure. They are valuing what they measure, not measuring what they value. Sustainable leadership, however, improves literacy scores by focusing first on the deep need for literacy skills for all students, even those with little chance of getting above the passing mark in the first year.

For too long, a number of government reform strategies have put the cart before the horse, expending effort on testing, then achievement and achievement gaps, and leaving learning till last or omitting it altogether. This has led governments and educational leaders to neglect or gloss over what exactly students are achieving. A more sustainable strategy is to focus on learning first, then achievement, then testing, so we never lose sight of the learning that truly matters as we strive to increase students' achievement in it (Figure 1.1.).

Sometimes the biggest impediment to understanding learning is not people's fixation with testing but their excitement about teaching. After spending time sitting in the classrooms of underperforming schools, Harvard professor Richard Elmore discovered that teachers are sometimes so excited about and committed to their teaching they don't really notice how or whether their students are learning. Teachers, he says, actually teach too hard! They give themselves no time or opportunity to step back, watch, and then respond to how their students are actually learning.

The remainder of this chapter therefore looks more closely at two essential elements of leadership for learning:

Deep and broad learning that satisfies our greater hunger for human growth and betterment

Slow knowing that curbs our tendencies toward being fast school nations

Deep and Broad Learning

Learning is a preparation for life and also a part of life. The meaning of learning is embedded in the meaning of life. British management guru Charles Handy explains the connection between the two through the concepts of greater and lesser hunger. In Africa, he explains, "they say there are two hungers, the lesser hunger and the greater hunger. The lesser hunger is for the things that sustain life, the goods and services, and the money to pay for them, which we all need." In contrast, "the greater hunger is the answer to the question 'why?' for some understanding of what life is for." Deep and broad learning addresses our greater hunger. It engages the quest to know, to understand, to communicate, and to leave the world a better place. Deep and broad learning for all students-and for all the adults who work with them-is therefore learning for meaning, learning for understanding, learning for life. It is learning that engages students in every sense-intellectually, socially, emotionally, and spiritually.

These ideas about the basic purposes of learning have ancient roots. Five centuries before Christ, Confucius said, "Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous." More than two millennia later, John Dewey connected education to the deep purposes of human renewal and sustainability: "The most notable distinction between living and inanimate things is that the former maintain themselves by renewal.... It is the very nature of life to strive to continue in being. Since this continuance can be secured only by constant renewal, life is a self-renewing process. What nutrition and reproduction are to physiological life, education is to social life." For Dewey, the essence of education for renewal was learning for meaning and understanding-the ability "to grasp the meaning of a thing, an event or situation ... in its relations to other things; to note how it operates or functions, what consequences follow from it; what causes it, what uses it can be put to." Modern leadership scholars like Linda Lambert explain that "leadership is about learning together, and constructing meaning and knowledge collaboratively. It involves opportunities to surface and mediate perceptions, values, beliefs, information and assumptions through continuing conversations; to inquire about and generate ideas together; to seek to reflect upon and make sense of work in light of shared beliefs and new information; and to create actions that come out of these new understandings. Such is the core of leadership."

In their work on leading learning, Bob Lingard and his colleagues, along with Queensland's department of education in Australia, address the characteristics of deep and broad learning in terms of what they call productive pedagogies. These are

Intellectually demanding

Connected to students' prior knowledge and to the world beyond them

Provided within a supportive environment and learning process

Prepared so as to engage students and their learning with cultural differences

These principles are embedded in what Queensland policymakers call the New Basics, which, in addition to the old basics, they believe, are essential for students in new times. The New Basics comprise life pathways and social futures; multiliteracies (for example, print-based, oral, and visual literacy) and communications media; active citizenship; and environments and technologies. This, the policymakers say, is not a "simplistic, paint-by-numbers system, and it doesn't buy into the argument that lots of tests will solve the complex problems we face."

Despite or perhaps because of the galloping consumption that makes us into nations of shoppers and accumulators of gadgets, people still search for the greater hunger-"the answer to the question 'why' for some understanding of what life is for." There is more to living than being a good consumer and producer, and there is more to education than the lesser hunger and human capital.

Although capitalism may consume us and consumerism may distract us, moments like these remind us of the existence and the need for generosity of human spirit, for thinking about how we live together, for considering not just how we make a living but also how we live our lives. Deep and broad learning that extends beyond the coverage of content, the basics of literacy, or the driving need for human capital is an essential part of the bigger and more hopeful narrative of what schools should do.


Excerpted from Sustainable Leadership by Andy Hargreaves Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"What a pleasure it is to read a book that discusses education and schooling within the context of the natural and human environment that shapes them.  In straightforward language, the authors teach us how to sustain educational renewal without sidestepping a powerful truth:  things left ill- or unattended deteriorate."
—John I. Goodlad, president, Institute for Educational Inquiry, Seattle, Washington

"This book makes a deep impression because it is both timely and powerful. Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink write with clarity and passion about the need not only to develop leadership but to make it sustainable.  This is leadership for the long term not just the immediate, for all schools not just for some."
—Steve Munby, executive director, UK National College for School Leadership

Meet the Author

ANDY HARGREAVES is the Thomas More Brennan Chair in Education in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. He is the author of numerous books including Learning to Change from Jossey-Bass.

DEAN FINK is an independent consultant with experience in more than thirty countries. A former teacher, principal, and superintendent, he is the author or coauthor of five books on leadership and educational change.

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