Leadership skills, important for a supervisor or director of Special Education Essay


American society has become institutionalized in the past seventy years. Social tasks previously done by the family unit are now accomplished by organizations or institutions. With the development of institutions or organizations which perform functions in a variety of domains-commerce, industry, health care, Education, and government–there has developed a need for management.

There is a controversy between theorists and scientists on the question of whether or not management is a discipline with its own organized body of knowledge. The debate has advanced beyond this matter of art vs. science, and management is considered generally as something to be learned, and thus a discipline. As a discipline, it is more than an array of traits and talents which ensure success to those so endowed.

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In the early years of the twentieth century, the approach to the study of management was functional rather than theoretical. Writers of that time spoke more of principles than of theories. The emphasis in management was first a task-oriented one, progressing to a manager-oriented one, and then to one concerned with the worker. Effectiveness had to do with achieving goals and getting the job done. Efficiency was person-oriented and had much to do with the satisfaction of the worker within the organization.

Leadership Skills

A major component of administration is leadership. From the viewpoint of systems theory, leadership might be considered as a subsystem of systems administration. It could also be considered as a concept which becomes a part of the conceptual framework of administration theory. Leadership styles are definitely an important part of administrative theory.

Traditionally, the dimensions of leadership theory have been two in number, authoritarian and democratic. A third has been called laissez-faire. Authoritarian leadership is that which is associated with the bureaucratic organizational structure. Authority comes downward from the leader. He initiates decisions. He is the super ordinate and does not consult with the subordinates. The exact opposite dimension is the laissez-faire, or free-rein, type. This type is one in which the individual member is independent of the group and the leader. He makes his own decisions. He acts outside of the organizational structure.

Leadership theories may or may not be theories, but are attempts to gain an increasingly more sophisticated understanding of the nature of leadership. It is believed that characteristics of the individual and demands of the situation interact in such a manner as to permit one, or perhaps a few, person(s) to rise to leadership status. Groups become structured in terms of positions and roles during the course of member interaction. A group is organized to the extent that it acquires differentiated positions and roles. Leadership represents one or more of the differentiated positions in a group. The occupant of a leadership position is expected to play a role that differs from the roles of other group members. The expectancy reinforcement models seem best designed to explain the emergence and persistence of leadership in initially unstructured groups. They attempt to explain what leadership is and how it comes into existence. They do not explain who will emerge as a leader in any particular kind of situation. 48

The theories discussed can be viewed from the aspect of administration in higher Education as well as from the aspect of management in industry. Second, there is no one unified theory of administration at this time. Theories have been proposed from a variety of perspectives and, certainly, some are more scientific than others. At least theories are being suggested to provide a framework for the discipline of administration, thereby providing a research orientation.

Review the literature and identify leadership skills that are important for a supervisor or director of special Education to possess.

Literature Review

Prior to 1985, research on the principal ship included efforts to clarify principals’ roles, beginning from two quite different premises. One premise was that the role could be viewed as predominantly one-dimensional and the research objective was to discover the dimension which best captured the role. Principals, for example, were claimed to play a largely ‘manager’ role or a largely ‘leadership’ role: they were concerned mostly with administration or with instructional leadership. Results of this research usually found typical practice consumed by managerial or administrative tasks, but desired practice best captured in leadership roles focused on such substantive Educational decisions in the school as instruction.

Leadership style A is characterized by a focus on interpersonal relationships, on establishing a cooperative and congenial ‘climate’ in the school, and effective, collaborative relationships with various community and central office groups. Principals adopting this style seem to believe that such relationships are critical to their overall success and provide a necessary springboard for more task-oriented activities in their schools.

Student achievement and well-being is the central focus of leadership style B. Descriptions of this class of practices suggest that while such achievement and well-being is the goal, principals use a variety of means to accomplish it. These include many of the interpersonal, administrative, and managerial behaviors that provide the central focus of other styles.

Compared with styles A and B, there is less consistency, across the four studies reviewed, in the practices classified as style C (program focus). Principals adopting this style, nevertheless, share a concern for ensuring effective programs, improving the overall competence of their staff, and developing procedures for carrying out tasks central to program success. Compared with style A, the orientation is to the task, and developing good interpersonal relations is viewed as a means to better task achievement. Compared with style B, there is a greater tendency to view as a goal the adoption and implementation of apparently effective procedures for improving student outcomes, rather than the student outcomes themselves.

Leadership style D is characterized by almost exclusive attention to what is often labeled ‘administrivia’: the nuts and bolts of daily school organization and maintenance. Principals adopting this style, according to all four studies, are preoccupied with budgets, timetables, personnel administration, and requests for information from others. They appear to have little time for instructional and curriculum decision-making in their schools and tend to become involved only in response to a crisis or a request.

It is argued that their three styles (responder, manager, initiator) have different effects on the process of school improvement. Initiators are more successful in their school-improvement efforts, responders are least successful. Paragraph-length descriptions are provided for each of these styles.

In order to better understand the specific practices associated with each of the styles, Stevens and Marsh (1987) inquired about principals’ vision and strategies for achieving their vision. Results suggested that more effective styles were associated with better integrated visions more directly focused on program-related matters and with a greater number of them. More effective styles also were associated with a greater range of strategies and more effort in their strategies to focus on a combination of daily, small-scale, and comprehensive large-scale changes.

Descriptions of ‘typical’ practice, while sometimes quite detailed, are consistent with the pattern of practice described above as leadership style D, with some elements of A. All but one of the seven recent studies provided information about at least one of the four dimensions: goals, factors, strategies, and decision-making. Kingdon (1985) compared expectations for the role of the full-time teaching principal, on the part of such principals, with expectations normally held for the role; other aspects of their activity were also examined. Few differences in expectations were found but teaching principals did give first priority to their teaching assignments and did most of their administrative work outside regular school hours.

The relatively large number of studies identifying strategies used by effective principals generated twenty-two such strategies. Ten of these strategies were identified in just one study and are not reported here. Those strategies identified in three or more studies included: monitoring student progress; teacher evaluation and supervision; establishing and communicating clear, high expectations for students and staff; establishing and enforcing an equitable discipline code; and maintaining a positive school climate. Strategies associated with effective principals in two studies included: goal setting; planning and program development; mobilizing and allocating resources; modeling; being actively involved in staff development for teachers and self; and developing good working relationships with staff, community, and central office staff.

Available research on patterns or styles of practice supports the claim that school-leaders carry out the job in distinctly different ways. Most of these differences are well represented by four focuses: a student achievement focus, a program focus, an interpersonal focus, and a focus on routine maintenance activities. Furthermore, these focuses appear to constitute levels of effectiveness in which the main concerns defining lower levels (e.g., a focus on routine maintenance) are incorporated into, and subsumed by, the concerns defining higher levels (e.g., a student achievement focus). Additional empirical tests of the claim that the four patterns of practice represent a hierarchy of effectiveness are needed, as is a more detailed description of how school-leaders come to adopt certain patterns of practice.

Recent studies of typical practices reinforce but do not extend prior knowledge about such practices. Such studies paint a surprisingly uniform picture of such practive across many national contexts. Heads in Great Britain were somewhat unique in their orientation to classroom factors. With empowerment and school improvement as goals, more research simply describing typical practice does not seem likely to be of much use in the development of future leaders.

Results of research on effective current practice appear to be quite useful in describing in more detail the qualities valued in future school-leaders. This research confirms the central role that principals’ goals play in understanding the source of effective practice. These goals form a central part of the vision principals use to bring consistency to an otherwise unmanageably diverse set of demands.

Important Leadership Skills for coping with problems in Special Education School

Effective principals use participatory decision-making, selectively but frequently, depending on their assessment of the context. Nevertheless, as Pfeifer (1986) has noted, much of the data on effective practice has been generated in the context of turbulent, urban schools. Further studies of effective practice in diverse contexts are essential if results are to be used with confidence as guides to practice, in a broad array of settings, in the future.

Obstacles presented to principals by teachers included: lack of knowledge and skill about new practices; uneven professional training; and lack of motivation to change, to participate in in-service training, and to collaborate in planning. Obstacles also identified were teacher autonomy and constraints on program decision-making resulting from collective bargaining and union contracts. Several features of the principals’ role were viewed as obstacles: ambiguity (unclear expectations, conflict about responsibilities) and complexity (number of people to consider, number of tasks). Hierarchical structures and problems they created in making changes were characteristics of school systems, identified as obstacles to principals. So too were excessively rigid and time consuming policies and procedures; provision of inadequate resources; and conservative stance of central administrators toward school-initiated change.

Skills important to lead a high special Education teacher turnover, low special Education subgroup assessment scores, a high special Education dropout rate, and low special Education parental involvement.

Leaders need to ask what impact tracking has on the culture of the school. For example, does tracking bring with it an undue emphasis on differentiated learning potential? Is there a general belief in tracked schools that “some kids can learn, some can’t,” along with the behavioral norms that accompany that belief? Are the norms for teacher behavior in the tracked school based on the assumption that, since children “earn” their placement in groups, it is the students’ fault when they seem unable to learn and little can be done by the teachers to change it? Are supervisory behaviors in tracked schools focused on teaching strategies for each of the special subpopulations, rather than on principles of teaching for all children?

The perceptions and expectations of parents and other adults can be powerfully influenced by tracking. Do the processes that determine placement in a group become a central concern of parents? Will parents’ expectations of the school and their images of sound Educational practice be shaped by the philosophy and the organizational realities of the tracked school? Also, will tracking cause the local board of Education to give excessive concern to the progress of such subgroups as gifted students and slower learners, rather than to the progress of all students?

Answering these large questions is critical to understanding tracking issues. That they have not been pursued with vigor is no surprise. One part of the problem is our historically narrow, simplistic approach to serious questions in Education. As the tracking issue exemplifies, it has been the norm in Education for discussions about school improvement to proceed from a premise that there is some “one thing” that needs to be changed. For example, class size, parent involvement, and time-on? task, as well as grouping, are familiar issues that have been examined as individual problems.

However, we now are witnessing the ascendance of four important new ways of looking at change: the restructuring movement, the effective schools/school improvement movement, the school-cultures movement, and the new inquiry into Education demographics. All of these attempt to explain what goes on in schools by systems approaches, rather than by controlled-variable, cause-effect models of Education research.

The restructuring movement is concerned with tracking because of its effects on the way schools are governed and managed. Tracking mechanisms affect site-based management. The formal organization of a school into tracks can create informal teacher subsystems within the school. When principals create decision-making teams, they might use such groupings of teachers as a basis for appointment to committees in order to represent all ability levels by those who teach them. In this way, the organizational pattern becomes a major determinant of the process through which teacher empowerment takes place.

The effective schools movement has shown that, while each of the correlates of school effectiveness is critical, the successful implementation of any one factor will not produce significant improvement in pupil performance if the other correlates are not simultaneously put into place. Systemic changes are prerequisite to any real gains in the classroom (Lezotte 1981). One of the correlates of the effective schools movement is that teachers’ behaviors convey the belief that all children can learn.

Will the development of artifacts, stories, and traditions in a tracked school support collegiality among all faculty, or will they support informal subgroups based on the tracking system? Will beliefs about children and learning support a common endeavor, or will those beliefs be applicable only to subgroups of students?

A fourth major movement is concerned with the social conditions that shape the child’s experience before starting school and during the school years. External conditions have a significant impact on what happens inside schools. Education leaders need to examine the interrelations between demographic factors and tracking.

Systems theory posits that each element of a system, including schools, is interactive with the others and with certain aspects of the environment beyond the system, such as the neighborhood and the community, state and nation, employment and demography, and so on. We are able to understand events in the Education arena only by understanding the interaction among the elements of the system.

However, most school leaders rarely use systems theory as the basis for thought and action. Their earliest learning about the scientific method, their training in Education research as undergraduates, their graduate-school writing and dissertation work, and the research literature they read as practitioners have equated research and improvement strategies with carefully controlled, cause-and-effect modes of inquiry. Most professionals have not internalized a way of synthesizing this traditional research with systems theory. While administration texts today tell about systems, behavior is based on a conception of change that parallels academic training, which emphasizes controlled experiments.

The problem with the older model arises when a well-researched strategy does not bring about the desired result or produces results too limited to answer a need. For example, we still see enormous class and race differences in pupil achievement despite our best efforts to improve the technology of the classroom. Apparently, changing the events within the classroom or school, while helpful, is insufficient to produce noteworthy gains for students. The important implication is that, if we persevere in this model of improvement, we may be responsible for perpetuating a pattern of insufficient results.

The “new” model is characterized by strategies that are more inclusive, harder to define, and much less likely to be demonstrated by a traditional quantitative research study. If the new model becomes the norm, it will bring three major arenas for change in Education leadership: changes for the practitioner, changes for the researchers, and changes for the preparation of practitioners through higher Education and staff development.

Two implications follow from these changes. First, managing shared leadership requires improved skills of delegation, supervision, and control or follow-up. Second, the administrative leader will need to work through the issue of what decision areas he or she “keeps.” Mission, goals, strategic planning, major personnel processes and decisions, evaluating program quality, resource allocation, and school-community relations are some of the task areas that may continue to be — or come to be — handled primarily by the executive leader. Other areas may be delegated. Among these will be teaching methodology, materials selection, and working with individual student or parent problems.

The culture determinist model argues that Chicano cultural values are the primary determinant of low achievement and attainment. The model focuses on such deficient cultural values as present versus future time orientation, immediate instead of deferred gratification, an emphasis on cooperation rather than competition, and placing less value on education and upward mobility.

These models also examine deficiencies in Chicano family internal social structure, such as large, disorganized, female-headed families; Spanish or nonstandard-accented English spoken in the home; and patriarchal family structures. The deficit models argue that since Chicano parents fail to assimilate and embrace the educational values of the dominant group, and continue to transmit or socialize their children with values that inhibit educational mobility, then the low educational attainment will continue into succeeding generations.

The new model will emphasize the leader’s role as a culture builder directly responsible for creating with others an environment that encourages teaching and learning. The new model sees the elements of culture, such as those identified by Saphier and King ( 1985), as an interrelated and synergistic whole, which requires a more holistic approach to leadership than we have practiced in the past.

The new model suggests that Education leaders will serve as brokers and bridge builders between the school and other agencies that serve youth. Because the conditions of youth are powerful factors in learning, the schools must take an activist role in mitigating these influences or risk continued failure. Tomorrow’s principals and superintendents will work with health agencies concerned with prevention and treatment of communicable diseases and teen pregnancy, with social agencies to address child abuse and family dysfunction, and with welfare agencies in matters of poverty and jobs (Kirst 1991). This will be a continuing role, rather than an occasional or special-project activity. Consistent with this role will be a revival of the community-school movement and re-emphasis of parent and citizen Education.

A caveat is in order. There will be objections from those who contend, with good reason, that the school cannot and should not take on all the services to children and youth. But the point is that social and demographic factors are critical variables in the solution of school problems, and there is growing public recognition of the connection. Education leaders will work more directly with other community agencies precisely because the schools cannot take on the role as sole providers of comprehensive youth services.

Finally, it seems likely that Education leaders will come to use systems organizational theory, whether consciously or not, as a framework for action. They will become more aware of how the subsystems in Education relate to one another. For example, teacher selection will be based on the organizational mission and goals and through teacherinvolved committees. The new leader will become more aware that demands for uniform procedures and behavior may negatively affect efforts to extend creativity and experimentation. Education leaders will recognize that initiatives are sometimes “contraindicated,” to borrow the physicians’ term, and that steps may need to be taken to lessen the impact of one action or program on others. In sum, Education leaders will act more holistically and will understand that important actions, events, or processes within the system are interactive; and they will take steps to capitalize on synergy or minimize a negative outcome.

The new model suggests that research on the interrelated elements of organization or on elements affected by a single variable, such as the research of Blumberg and Greenfield ( 1986) on the work of principals, holds high promise for addressing school problems. Naturalistic research designs provide “an emergent plan for a highly interactive process of gathering data from which analysis will be developed” ( Owens 1987, p. 294).

The new model strongly suggests that the changes that are important to school improvement are not discovered through traditional experimental and quasi-experimental, cause-and-effect research. One of the delusions of the empirical research model is that children’s learning can be understood as a series of isolated schooling events. But we know that pupil readiness and motivation are conditioned, in part, by what happens in their lives outside the school. Another delusion is that inclassroom events are unrelated to the rest of the life of the school. A third is that school improvement can be treated without any consideration of school system conditions (Katz 1987). One of the reasons that superintendents and principals have been largely untouched by much Education research is that they intuitively sense this inconsistency between the reality of the school or system and the research design on which the proposed improvement is based (Heller, Conway, and Jacobson 1988).

Changes in the Professional Preparation of Education Leaders. Three kinds of change might take place as a result of more holistic conceptions. The first is a movement toward a more integrated approach to the graduate curriculum in Education leadership. For example, Murphy ( 1990) recommends that such a program feature interdisciplinary experiences and that a significant problem of practice, not a specific discipline, be the organizing dynamic.

A second change may be the broader use of the case method and other treatments of school leadership that promote the study of situations and solutions reflecting the total reality of the specific problem being examined. This contrasts with the traditional approach of dissecting professional practice according to subdisciplines, such as school law, personnel, and supervision. We also may see a change in the kinds of problems that students choose for papers, theses, and dissertations. Our academic tradition has been to reshape the student’s proposal to fit the cause-effect model, to restrict the student’s interest, to narrow and isolate the topic, and then to inquire into the effects of the controlled variable. While such studies will continue to be essential for building the knowledge base, studies that pursue a naturalistic design will grow alongside them. Increasingly, the aim will be to discover from reality and to experiment with intervention models consisting of several elements, as in the work of Pajak and Glickman.

A third change will be the development of programs to prepare Education leaders to work with those in other fields who serve the school population, such as health care, social work, mental health, recreation, and religion. Kirst ( 1991) suggests that “universities have a major role in designing interprofessional preparation through interprofessional courses, continuing Education, and interprofessional policy analysis” (p. 617). He notes that Ohio State University has been offering such a program for more than a decade.


As a result of four major movements that were central to Education during the late 1980s and early 1990s, there has been a change in the way Education leaders think about improving schools, a new orientation to thought and action. These four movements concern: 1) restructuring, 2) effective schools and school improvement, 3) the “school as culture,” and 4) demography. These movements are causing educators to think about school problems as sets of interrelated elements, both within and beyond the schools. Although school leaders historically have been taught to see Education problems as isolated series of discrete variables and to seek solutions that reflect rationalistic research, they have been suspicious of research findings based on studies so controlled as to bear little resemblance to the realities they faced.

These four movements will affect Education leaders in three ways. First, they will see problems and solutions, such as learning deficits and tracking, as multiple and integrated, rather than as isolated and focused. They will view their role as that of an executive leader of the system, rather than as either institutional manager or instructional leader. Brokering and building bridges with other community agencies will become regular, rather than special, parts of their job. And culture building will become one of their central preoccupations.

Second, research on leadership will become more inclusive. Qualitative studies and case histories, among other types of naturalistic research, will gain respectability. Holistic approaches will be seen as potential sources of major improvement in achieving Educational outcomes. Rationalistic research will be seen as just part of the larger, naturalistic picture. Variables in the environment of the schools will become, through naturalistic research designs, legitimate topics of Education research. The results of research will become more credible to Education leaders as research designs more closely reflect the conditions of practice.

Third, the professional preparation of Education leaders will change as the curriculum and methods of instruction shift toward the integration of the disciplines, rather than their isolation. The preparation of Education leaders will include content and training that will help them to enter into their roles with other community agencies.

As the profession moves in these directions, it will become better equipped to put the pieces of the puzzle together, to integrate theory and practice, and to adopt a more holistic approach to Education leadership. In such a context, administrators facing decisions on tracking will seek out research findings and problem-solving approaches that go beyond the old model of narrowly conceived experimental designs and problem-solving strategies. They will examine criteria that go beyond test results and self-esteem measures. Holistic Education leaders will ask about the effects of tracking on the culture of the school, on practice within the school, on the formal and informal decision-making structures in the school, and on the groups outside the school that play such an important role in shaping events within it.


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