Firstly, the purpose of educational leadership and the pipeline of leaders must be revisited, dismantled, and newly created to encompass a vision of possibilities, prioritizing learners locally and globally. The metaphor of a trap door, a door that leads to another hidden room, reflects the current stoppage. The future lies behind that door, and we are asked to prepare for a future we cannot see. Staying with the metaphor, gatekeepers will be needed to open the trap door, and the next generation of educational leaders needs to be prepared to deal with the unknown. Innovation and flexibility will be critical, as well as thinking inside and outside the box.
Senge (2017) defines leadership as the capacity of a human community to shape the future. Educational leaders are shaping the future through the pathway of education, an enterprise that shapes the planet and its people. As a professor in leadership studies, my job is to raise the next generation of global leaders. Engaging in a multi-year experience with university learners, the paradox of the learning experience has been exposed by students. While students benefit from a learning environment with promising teaching strategies, including active learning and social-emotional learning — the disconnect between vision, theory, and practice is a reality. Piecemeal approaches to transformative education represent the tip of an iceberg: exposed and seen but hiding all the possibilities deep within.
Students want to be engaged learners and yet are held hostage by leadership approaches in education, including teaching practices that are discouraging, disregarding, and diminishing. Too often, students feel pressed into roles as passive learners, discouraged from critical thinking and inquiry. In raising the next generation of educational leaders, the purpose of leadership in education must be redefined, and a pipeline of emerging leaders must be intentionally fostered.
The UNESCO Futures Report (2021) presents the case for a new social contract for education that addresses future needs . A future radically disrupted by a pandemic. The report is promising as it describes the shift in focus at various levels of the educational enterprise, assuring the right to education and designing education as a collaborative endeavor for the common good. The Futures Report presents itself as a North Star for transforming education. Future educational leaders must participate in this new social contract’s design, launch, and practice. Freire (1970) suggested critical pedagogy as an approach to learning spaces to question, probe, and reflect. Future educational leaders need such learning spaces to relearn, unlearn, and co-create a new version of educational leadership. We must make room for leadership that emerges as an embodiment of practice, shape-shifting into a new way of being and leading. Transformed, rewired, and re-engineered, educational leadership is on the cusp of a renaissance.
Educational leadership development needs three foundational pillars to disrupt the trajectory of current leadership development and align it with this new future. First, leadership development must be mutually inclusive of one’s lived narrative. Leaders are influenced by their past and present. This includes a cultural worldview that emerges from one’s values and experiences. The complexity of worldviews is to be embraced, not feared or discouraged. Our job is to heighten our level of comfort with this complexity.
Secondly, leadership approaches are needed to bring justice, equity, dignity, and belonging. As emerging leaders redefine the purpose of leadership, power, and education, they must work to uncover their voices and not be silenced. This work requires deep listening. Validation of a new perspective of educational leadership can then emerge as an embodiment of practice, aligning vision, theory, and action.
Thirdly, innovation and incubation. Giving birth to new ways of knowing and doing will require risk-taking. Freire (1970) recognized that conflict gives birth to new knowledge and new ways of thinking. Leadership development that is messy, challenging, and questioning of the status quo sets the stage for this new beginning. Supporting educational leaders to step into the unknown and incubating approaches that align with a new future reflects a willingness to discover new answers.
Their vision and hope for the future are palpable in working with future educational leaders . Their belief in the vital role of education is front and center. Unfortunately, they are experiencing the cognitive dissonance of a ‘call for transformative education’ that falls short. Reimagining the role of educational leaders for social transformation will require uncloaking the current process of confinement that many young leaders feel is imposed on them. Now is the time to correct course by opening the trap door.