Educational Leadership Mindsets:

Understanding self and how to engage the other the pursuit
of a human capacity paradigm

by Leonard Burrello,
LaSonja Roberts,
and Dena R.Cushenberry

This book is at once ambitious in its intent and grounded in its authors’ own experiences as district and school leaders and consultants as well as noted researchers and organizational development specialists from inside and outside of education.  It is ambitious in its attempt to capture the height of the tension in public education and the pending risks to our nation’s schools and school districts control over their own destiny. 

America educational systems are largely loosely and tightly coupled.  Karl Weick famous 1976 paper helped us understand that the discretion of practitioners at the classroom level are highly resistance to tight organizational controls, therefore more loosely coupled to state and district control let alone the onslaught of recent community stakeholder threats to school boards and superintendents over what is taught and when it is taught to young child who might be shamed by the historical racists actions of their ancestors or influenced by their classmates sexual orientation. The state to school district relationship is also now highly contentious and more subject to the threat of reduced state funding if districts failed to compile with state mandates over masking and remaining open during the last days of the pandemic form 2021-2022 school year.

It is grounded in both the research and the experiences of theorists and practitioners from 1954 to today. Starting with the research of Julian Rotter in 1954 on locus of control through the more recent work of organizational development specialists like Carol Sanford, the authors have taken the thinking of Neil Postman on the value of education itself and what future grand narratives might increase the relationship between teacher and student searching for what is mutually relevant to each party to their relationship that inspires the student to take responsibility for their own learning guide by their teachers, parents, and mentors. 

Michael Fullan’s focus on the moral purposes of education is our starting point for the translation of those grand narratives from Postman into purposes, principles, policies, pathways, and actual classrooms practices, stitching a loose mosaic of patches from grand narratives to purpose and principles to guide all the actors and their interests into a coherence statement of why we are here and who do we serve in ways that maximize student and family choice. Using an Appreciative Inquiry orientation from David Cooperrider,  Burrello, Beitz, and Mann in 2014 through 2016 working with school principals and district leadership teams, created an Appreciative Organizing framework for educators, they labelled Appreciative Organizing in their 2016 volume, The Positive Manifesto. The AOE framework contains all the organizational elements that leads to coherence, a tightly coupled principle, that gets all actors from school boards to students on the same page without prescribing how to achieve personal goals and aspirations of both teacher and student. In this book, we have updated that framework as we worked with districts and principals in our consultation work in districts and preparation program at University of South Florida with John Mann and Sonja Roberts, both contributors to this volume. 

The third leg of our work brings the five practitioners we invited to join us collaboration along with our co-author, Superintendent Dena Cushenberry. Before we found Carol Sanford’s work which forms the foundation of this book, we worked with Dr. Cushenberry for ten years and over her last six years as superintendent of Warren Township in Indianapolis, Indiana to observe and interview over twenty-five district staff and two principals. We learned there how a district created its own mosaic linking all of its talent together in pursuit of personalizing learning for all students and teachers. Dena and her team gave us a model of how to achieve coherence in practice using the Wallace district support structure to guide district resources to classroom teachers and student learning share.   

Finally, we found Carol Sanford. We read three of her books from 2017 through 2020 and attended a seventeen session remote seminar on understanding self before trying to influence others. She gathered over 400 people from around the world to discuss how to re-imagine organizational leadership starting with the leaders mindset. Our time with her let us to invite four leader practitioners in addition to co-author Dr. Cushenberry, current or former superintendents to discuss Sanford’s human capacity framework – locus of control – personal agency – and consideration of others as the foundation of organizational improvement. 

In this book, we summarize Sanford’s paradigm for educational transformation and how five superintendents interpret her work as a means to move school districts planning and talent recruitment and retention from a central district planning top-down processes to a bottom-up-one. Applying Sanford thinking requires a belief that only the individual can determine and set their own expectations for personal growth and improvement. District direction and scope of control limit the potential and essential work of schooling – that is teaching and learning – if they compromise the expectations and initiative of teachers, students, and school level leaders to take the grand narratives that inspire the pursuit of mutual relevant knowledge and skills to levels of development and accomplishment that we cannot imagine. Organizational transformation starts with transforming teaching and learning and listening to teachers and students who within a positive strengths based inquiry process examine who and what they want to become and be able to choice their own pathway to the future. From those dual sources, district leaders and local school boards inform their structures and processes within their communities of stakeholders that preserve and renew public education, and just possibly, save our national treasure.