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
  • Start on 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 some learners 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 (Week 1) – Initial Ranking

Think of leaders you have admired. What do you consider to be the most important attributes that these leaders exhibit? Using this worksheet, (also available in Moodle if you have trouble downloading it here) rank the order of the listed attributes from most important to least important (do this step individually). Post your initial ranking with a short explanation in your team forum on Moodle. Try to complete this part of the activity before you get started on the readings.

Part 2 (Weeks 1 and 2) – Readings

  1. Once you have completed the first part of your team activity, get started on the readings. First read Workman and Cleveland-Innes, who try to capture what leadership is (vs management) and what we might need from our leaders to help transform and innovate our educational spaces. They also provide an overview of different leadership approaches and conclude with a transformative view of leadership.

Workman, T., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2012). Leadership, personal transformation, and management. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(4), 313-323. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v13i4.1383

  1. The next three readings provide a few different approaches to leadership – you do not need to read all three, so focus on one or two that you think best reflects your own values and approaches to leadership.

In this brief paper,  Khan 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.

This next reading contains research specific to school principals, but this paper by 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).

The final reading focuses on reflective leadership. Castelli 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 performanceJournal of Management Development35(2), 217-236.

  1. So far, the readings have covered a western perspective of leadership. What might leadership look like from different viewpoints? The following readings consider leadership from different lenses. Choose at least one, or find another that might resonate with you. You will consider these different perspectives in the final part of this activity.

Batliwala, S. (2010). Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation: Clearing the Conceptual Cloud.

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

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]

Part 3 (Team Consensus)

By early in week 2 you should have completed your readings. You will revisit your initial rankings of the attributes of leaders and in your teams work to come to consensus on a team ranking. You can do this process in the team forum, or in another venue (chat or a synchronous meet often work well for this). Are there attributes that you felt were missing from the initial list, particularly considering different perspectives of leadership you have read about? Once you have reached consensus, post your ranking and a short team reflection either to one of your blogs or into the team discussion area. Let me know when you have completed this and I will then share the research results.

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 consider the following prompts as you outline what you think are the most important attributes of a leader when working in digital learning environments.

“Digital leadership takes into account recent changes such as ubiquitous connectivity, open-source technology, mobile devices, and personalization. It represents a dramatic shift from how schools have been run and structured for over a century. What started out as a personal use of technology has become systemic to every facet of leadership. Digital leadership can thus be defined as establishing direction, influencing others, and initiating sustainable change through the access of information, and establishing relationships in order to anticipate changes pivotal to school success in the future.” (para 6.).

As technology informs all of our processes, what do you think it means to be a “digital” leader? What major ideas about technology and its implementation do you encounter in your own settings that needs particular attention?

  • What do the alternative perspectives or lenses that were offered in the readings offer to your thoughts on leadership? What does leadership look like from different viewpoints? How does this align or not from your interpretation of leadership rankings or the findings of other leadership researchers?

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.