George Lucas Educational Foundation

Leadership in the 21st Century

Leadership in the 21st Century

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I have recently begun to ponder necessary skills sets that administrators should possess in order increase student achievement through innovation. What skills do you feel leaders in the 21st Century should possess in order to meet this objective? Are administrators adequately prepared to meet this challenge? If not how do we ensure that these skills are developed?

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Dwight Carter's picture
Dwight Carter
Principal, Gahanna Lincoln High School/Gahanna Jefferson Public Schools

The role of the administrator in the 21st Century is twofold: leader and manager.

By leader, I mean that the admininstrator has to have a clear vision of where the school or district needs to go, communicate with stakeholders to see the vision through their own eyes, and then provide the necessary resources to help the school get there. This takes a great deal of time, service of others, and study.

By manager, I am referring to the necessary minutiae of the day to day operation of the school. If you don't take care of the little things, they easily become big things, which takes away valuable time to lead. Trust me, I have not mastered either way!

Our district just recently completed a Graduate Profile which includes 5 21st Century Skills that we believe all of our graduates (k-12) need to develop. Administrators and teachers have to model these skills, as stated in one of the previous comments, in order to let our students know what we expect.

At the same time, however, the role of the administrator also has to continue to be a developer of people. As Jim Collins refers to in his book, Good to Great, we have to get the right people on the right bus in the right seat.

Finally, the administrator has to take care of oneself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, spiritually being first. Just remember the Serenity Prayer!

Be Great,


Mr. N's picture
Mr. N
Teacher in Michigan

One who can envision a success story and share that vision with everyone.

One who can make people feel valued.

A true leader brings out the best.

Robert Ryshke's picture
Robert Ryshke
Executive Director of Center for Teaching

I recently attended the NSDC conference in St. Louis and heard Michael Fullan's keynote on his new book, Motion Leadership: The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy. While he does not promote "specific skills" as we typically think of them, he does promote a model for leadership that is interesting and compelling. He discusses his eight elements of motion leadership:

1. change problems
2. change itself
3. connecting peers with purpose
4. capacity building trumps judgmentalism
5. learning is the work
6. transparency rules
7. love, trust, and resistance
8. leadership for all

In the book, he discusses each of his eight principles and weaves in relevant stories of leaders doing the work. The whole context of the book is how to get motion out of effective leadership--what are the elements of effective leadership.

So while the typical qualities, good listener, good problem-solver, good communicator, etc., are important, I think Fullan weaves a more complete story about what 21st century leadership requires.

I really enjoyed his book. It is succinct and easy to grasp the message.

Bob Ryshke

shamila syed's picture

I am not a Principal but I have worked under many.I believe that a person who is confident and emotionally secure about his person, cares deeply about the students and teachers both ,is able to take people on board when he starts something new, is aware of the times he lives in and the problems of the youth,is both innovative and creative and can inspire and be firm at the same time is a person i'd like to work with.

brian cleary's picture
brian cleary
Library/media specialist in Camas Washington

I finished my masters in Ed. leadership a year ago and am just now looking for a posting...but i do have a thought on this one.
I have made it my personal quest over the last three years to define and articulate the qualities that make a person an amazing principal. In its largest sense the answer is fairly clear; an amazing principal makes the staff eager to teach and develop professionally, the students eager to learn and grow, and the community eager to support and participate in their school. The defining of the characteristics that lead to this conclusion must be more detailed, data driven and clearly articulated. The gold standard for this research has been done by Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium; their work is definitive and data driven however, The cottage industry surrounding educational leadership continues to grow aggressively with strong research and well presented theories and beliefs.
What I have found missing in this growth is a universal terminology. There are clear trends that come up repeatedly in both the research and the most promising theories. I have synthesized these ideas into six clear and concise qualities that should be an active part of the leadership of successful school; learning, caring, connecting, communicating, empowering, and growing.
* Learning: This is the foundation of what we do. It must therefore be seen, shared, demonstrated and celebrated. A commitment to learning must start at the top. School leaders need to be and show a passion for their own learning as much as they do their students.
o During our schools morning announcement I share new trivial facts I have found. As a result I now have students helping research those facts and sharing their work.
* Caring: The research is clear on this as well, Caring is a powerful tool, it motivates, instill loyalty, empowers everyone and even pardons minor sins. This quality is the cornerstone of Positive Behavior Intervention and support systems.
o In February of 2006 a second grade teacher and I started a chess club at lunch. Neither of us play but the students wanted the opportunity and we wanted to listen to them
* Connecting: The more connections you make the strong the school you create. A staff that feels connected performs better, students that have a connection to their school score higher, communities that connect to schools are more supportive.
o In March of 2010 we had a student being teased on the playground because of his long hair. The parents were willing to help did not have the resources. After a quick phone call I had a mother that works as a hairdresser come up and resolve the issue. Everyone walked away feeling they had a connection to the school.
* Communicating: Without this quality the rest are meaningless, as school leaders it is imperative that we listen actively, speak clearly and write carefully so that all stake holders understand the goals as well as the process.
o In the spring of 2009 we replaced many of the student computer systems with an open source system. That was embraced and expanded once I was able to explain the substantial cost savings to our staff.
* Empowering: The role of the teacher is to empower their students to use their skills and build their knowledge. The role of school principals should be no less.
o In the fall of 2008 I lead a group of teachers within our building in peer coaching as we looked for meaningful way to use technology in the classrooms.
* Growing: The management of change has become its own industry As an institution that fosters this it is imperative that we understand and manage it well.
o In the fall of 2009 our staff moved into a new building. We managed this change by preparing for it, and participating in the design, planning, and scheduling of the change.

shamila syed's picture

Good to have your ideas collaborated!I especially agree with `an amazing principal makes the staff eager to teach and develop professionally, the students eager to learn and grow, and the community eager to support and participate in their school.'I am going to forward it to my principal, I hope he feels inspired.

Eric Sheninger's picture
Eric Sheninger
Senior Fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education

Brian: Fantastic thoughts! I couldn't agree with you more!

Robert L. Murphy's picture
Robert L. Murphy
Principal at Brookhaven High School


I agree with your two fold model of the 21st century leader; we need to be both leader and manager. The danger in this however, is the tendency to let the mangerial take precedence over the leadership component. We must ensure that we have a healthy balance between these two facets.

The difficulties of our job, as leaders, are compounded when we struggle to foster an environment where the adults are not honest with themselves or each other. Relationships become strained and collaboration stops. We must make correcting this issue a top priority or we fail as leaders. The following quote from Parker Palmer says it best.

"When we do come together in schools, we do so with fear of being judged because we are in the business of fixing, advising, and setting each other straight. So we find ourselves in these false forms of community in which the things we need to do to generate knowledge together simply aren't done. They are too risky in school settings where there is so much fear that we don't tell each other the truth. Instead, we posture or play roles or withdraw into silence in order to stay safe. If we want to create viable alternatives to researchers lobbing information at us we have to come together in community to engage in difficult forms of discourse out of which shared knowledge is generated."

Continue to lead well my brother. I am hearing great things about you and your work at Gahanna. Also, congrats to your boys team on their outstanding season.


Coutsomitelli Anna's picture
Coutsomitelli Anna
Founder of American and British English Tuition - EFL Tutor

Above all well educated, knowledgeable, open-minded, inspirational, caring and with a vision.
A person who understands the importance of unity, collaboration, and the great value of education that brings not only results but also contributes in the creation of individuals ( stuff and students) who are confident, enthusiastic and ethical.


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