What characteristics are essential for educational leadership in these times? John Roberto suggests six key ones from all of the available research on leadership. A paper by Mary Hess first introduced me to the notion of adaptive vs technical leadership (see my post on Ronald Heifetz) - it's the difference between applying known solutions to known problems and new solutions to new problms, the latter requiring not only inovative solutions, but changed behaviour and attitudes to reach them.
My example of this is through the great film, Pieces of April, starring Katie Holmes (let's not mention hubby, shall we?). It's the story of April, the outcast oldest child from a difficult family situation. Actually the difficulty is her mother dying from cancer, and a set of sad family relationships. The family decide to visit April and her (unknown to them) African-American partner in their inner city apartment (ie. dodgy) for Thanskgiving. Of course, everything goes wrong, April has to adapt, and in so doing shows remarkable resilience and adaptability. The themes of US Thanksgiving are re-presented as human community rather than close-knit family reunion as various people in the apartment building get involved in the unfolding tale.
I love the film, unpleasant though it is at times. April's journey is unplanned and unpredictable, but she invests her whole being in the prospect of a Thanksgiving meal that might reunite her family. Her own vulnerability and need requires her to rely on others who both betray and welcome her. Both an African-American couple and an Asian family with little English welcome her in. The narrative nicely reminds the US audience that they are giving thanks for the gift of community, diverse and strange though it may be, rather than simply sugar-coating a mythical happy nuclear household.
What does all of this say to the minister as teacher/educator? I suspect that teaching can easily be seen as a technical exercise - expert delivery of a great message (aka 'preaching) to a known audience. Either that or it can mean recruiting others to educate (lead programs) and then standing back to let them do their job.
April is acting a host, in fact a very vulnerable host. Her apartment is nothing flash, she can't cook, her family don't know about her boyfriend, and apparently they all think she's a loser. Her gift is one of hospitality, of making a space for the possibility of a reconciling reunion. When even her best plans crash, she has to call out to others for help, earning her embarrassment, ridicule and unlikely friendship.
The movie speaks to me of an educator as someone who 'hosts', who seeks to craft an experience of reconciliation and renewal, of transformation, and in so doing allows (by design or default) 'stuff' to happen, such that the experience itself brings its own possibility of transformation. I'm not making a case here for 'alternative worship', I'm making a case for 'curating' being about how one hosts the life of a community.
Is this the only way to teach? No. Is there a place for well-crafted, doctrinal or expository 'teaching'. Actually, I think there is. And technical leadership keeps things ticking along.
The issue for me here is that technical leadership can assumes that nothing has changed and that we know what we're doing (or more specifically, that I know)... In an organisation going through change, technical and adaptive leadership crash into each other all the time. Both kinds of leadership are always being exercised in any organisation. The question is who is offering the adaptive leadership, when is it needed, how is it nurtured, how is it valued?
Of course, you can pretty easily argue that the whole thing is a train wreck. April has good intentions, no skill, and ends up desperately seeking any kind of help. Not much leadership of any kind, just serendipity or grace to pull things through. All true in this case. But you can't help wondering that if April had been technically excellent (nice apartment, nice food), they would have had a nice time and the underbelly of family life would have remained hidden.
Anyone seen this film?