Unit 1 | Leadership today


In this unit, we will briefly examine many of the theories of leadership and discuss the unique challenges faced when leading in an educational context across a variety of sectors and roles. You will then reflect on your own leadership approaches and consider their appropriateness within a digital learning environment.

Learning Activities and Assignments

  • Review and analyze scholarly literature pertaining to theories of leadership.
  • Complete Activity 1 | Introductions
  • Complete Activity 2 | Admired Leaders Worksheet
  • Complete Activity 3 | Blog Post – Leadership Reflections
  • Complete and submit Assignment 1

Leadership theories abound. They pop up in every discipline, renamed or slightly re-defined every few years. Within the corporate world, good leadership has become synonymous with effective organizational change. We often hear the phrase “unprecedented rate of change” applied to our current era of digital technology and social media. Yet leaders have existed throughout human history as have periods of explosive social change. To begin this course, we will review some basic leadership concepts and explore in more depth some of the leadership theories currently in vogue in our learning institutions. If you are unfamiliar with traditional leadership theories or need a refresher on these concepts, begin your reading with O’Toole. He provides a handy list of ten major theories of leadership and describes an eleventh – his own theory of values-based leadership. O’Toole, J. (2008). Notes Toward a Definition of Values-Based Leadership. The Journal of Values-Based Leadership, 1(1).

Activity 1 |  Introductions

Before we get started on the more formal learning process let’s first take the opportunity to get to know one another. Though many of you have taken courses together before, we will have somelearners from other programs or cohorts joining us. To get a sense of where we all are participating from in the course, go to the following link on the map in this Padlet page, click on your location, upload a photo that represents where you are and write or record a short introduction. Add something about yourself and your space (something you love about where you live and work) as well as one initial idea you may have about what you value in a leader.

Activity 2 |  Admired Leaders Worksheet, Team Consensus and Readings

Part 1

Think of leaders you have admired. What do you consider to be the most important attributes that these leaders exhibit? Using this worksheet, rank the order of the listed attributes from most important to least important (start individually). In your team forum on Moodle, work to reach a consensus on the rankings. Once you have completed this activity, post your consensus rankings in the team discussion forum and notify the instructor who will then join you briefly in your team discussion to discuss the rankings.Try to complete this activity before you get started on the readings.

Part 2

Once you have completed your team activity, get started on the readings. First read Sheninger, who takes a stab at defining digital leadership (in education) and then outlines seven “pillars”, which provide a framework for leading in a digital age. Sheninger, E. (2014). Pillars of digital leadership. International Centre for Leadership in Education. Read the brief paper by Khan. She writes about two similar approaches to leadership: adaptive and transactional, and their applicability within a university environment. Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or Transactional Leadership in Current Higher Education: A Brief Comparison. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(3), 178-183. The fourth reading contains research specific to school principals. Huggins et al, has applicability across disciplines as it explores the ability of a leader in name (in this case, a principal) to foster leadership in others, which is a foundational tenet of distributed leadership theory.

Huggins, K. (2017). Developing Leadership Capacity in Others: An Examination of High School Principals’ Personal Capacities for Fostering Leadership. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 12(1).

Conclude your readings for this unit with Castelli and her review of reflective leadership. She categorizes her findings under six key practices. Observe how they align with or disregard some of the recommendations in the earlier readings. Castelli, P. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217-236.

Activity 3 |  Blog Post – Leadership Reflections

Now that you have completed Activity 2 and your readings for this unit, reflect on your personal leadership perspective. In a short blog post (no more than 750 words) outline what you think are the most important attributes of a leader working in digital learning environments. When considering leadership values and attributes consider the readings, but also how these relate to the values you outlined in activity 2, your own perspectives on leadership, and what your values are. When focusing your writing you could consider one of the following prompts (note you do not need to address all of them) as you outline what you think are the most important attributes of a leader when working in digital learning environments. Note that the final prompt considers that the readings we have already explored provide a western perspective of leadership. I have added a few articles in the optional readings list below for you to consider which might provide different perspectives.

  • If you have experience leading a team, how would you describe your approach to leadership? Has the introduction of digital technologies made an impact on how you lead? Which theories of leadership do you think work best in leading change within digital learning environments?
  • If you have never held an official leadership position, what is the approach of a leader who you admire? Which theories of leadership do you think work best in leading change within digital learning environments?
  • What are your thoughts on how the leadership ranking results do or do not align with your interpretation of leadership or the findings of other leadership researchers?
  • What do you think may be missing from the leadership literature provided in the course? Are there alternative perspectives or lenses that might be considered? What might leadership look like from different viewpoints? If you are interested in exploring these ideas, see a few links in the optional readings/resources below.

Note that this blog post will be considered as part of your Contribution to the Learning Community and it is hoped that you will read and respond thoughtfully to a variety of posts from your fellow learners. It will also be an opportunity for me to provide some formative feedback on your writing that you can then take into completing your first assignment which is due at the end of week 4.

Optional Readings/Resources

Although not specifically about leadership, Peter Senge’s 1990 book, The Fifth Discipline, has been highly influential in both business and education circles. It describes the “learning organization” from a systems perspective and emphasizes the importance of personal mastery, shared vision and team learning. In this video, Senge talks about his understanding of leadership. The Fifth Discipline is available from the RRU library.

Fitzgerald, T. (2003), “Changing the deafening silence of indigenous women’s voices in educational leadership”, Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 41 No. 1, pp. 9-23. https://doi.org/10.1108/09578230310457402

Batliwala, S. (2010). Feminist leadership for social transformation: Clearing the conceptual cloud. Retrieved from https://justassociates.org/sites/justassociates.org/files/feminist-leadership-clearing-conceptual-cloud-srilatha-batliwala.pdf

Julien, M., Wright, B., & Zinni, D. M. (2010). Stories from the circle: Leadership lessons learned from aboriginal leaders. The Leadership Quarterly, 21(1), 114–126. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.LEAQUA.2009.10.009 [Note you need access this reading from Moodle]