How Social Media Can Help Increase Social Capital For Students and Their Families

When we talk about building relationships in education – among students, teachers, administration, parents, families, and the community – what we are really talking about is social capital. At its essence, social capital is about networks of relationships that provide value, or benefits, such as enhanced social and emotional support, mutual trust, increased knowledge, and greater access to information and resources. These social ties help to create an infrastructure where people can develop their social participation, or engagement, along with the knowledge, experience and skills necessary to successfully navigate our diverse communities, and our world.

Economically disadvantaged and immigrant families often do not have the financial, social or cultural skills and experience to navigate our education system, or to access information about school structures and policies. Families with low social capital are less likely to communicate with their child’s teachers and school. They are also less likely to know how to advocate for their child, make educational decisions on behalf of their child, and to know how they can best support their child’s learning at home that reinforces what their child is learning at school.

Not surprisingly, increasing social capital has frequently been cited in educational research and reform initiatives as a way to help narrow the achievement gap among students and schools. Because as we know, effective home-school communication that facilitates a parent’s involvement, emotional support and reinforcement of their child’s learning at home, strongly influences a child’s academic success and overall wellbeing. For at-risk children, schools that establish strong connections to health, social and community organizations, demonstrate the importance of such partnerships and relationships to a student’s educational success, behaviour and socio-emotional development. Family Resource Centres, embracing a whole-child approach, creating community schools, providing social services to poor kids in school, and establishing parent, family, and community engagement frameworks – to name just a few – are all fundamentally based upon building or increasing social capital. It’s all about relationships, and connecting students and their families with the resources, tools, and supports they need to help students achieve their academic potential.

There is now emerging research and evidence to suggest that social media and onlineSocial-Media networking may contribute to the building and preservation of social capital; that is, our networks of relationships. Today, more than ever, the use of the internet is strongly related to being connected to social media sites. Over 70% of Canadian internet users are plugged into social media, with facebook and twitter being the most popular sites. In addition, mobile usage is surging, with just over 3 out of 5 social media users using Smartphones to read or post material.

“It allows me to organize people a lot faster, to check people out for things I might want them to do. It allows people to find me, or if I want to get advice from people, the fastest way is to get them through facebook or twitter. There’s a lot of convenience involved in interacting with people over social media.” ~ Aimee Morrison, Associate Professor of English Language and Literature (Digital Culture), University of Waterloo

Without a doubt, social media is revolutionizing our social participation and how we manage our relationships. And there’s a definite link between social media and social capital. Social media is a powerful resource educators can use to help build and preserve not only their students’ social capital, but that of their parents and families as well. Here are just some of the beneficial ways I think social media can increase social capital:

Social media helps overcome time and distance barriers

socialmediademo One of the most distinct features of social media and online interactions – be it a blog, a facebook comment, a twitter post, or an instagram photo – is that it is asynchronous. This means that social media enables people to network on a global basis and manage their relationships anywhere there is internet access, at any time, when they have the time to do so. Social media interactions can help overcome the barriers of time constraints, diverse working hours such as shift-work, geography, distance, and even anxiety for those who may lack the confidence or self-esteem to initiate communication. When opportunities are limited for busy families to participate or attend school events, or as time and distance constraints increase, the ease of using social media can help maintain home-school communications and relationships. Social media plays a key role in meeting parents and families where they are and this, in turn, helps build social capital. Chris Wejr and Chris Casal & Lisa Nielsen have written excellent posts recently on the important role technology plays in meeting parents where there are. It would be amiss for me to not include Joe Mazza here as one of the pioneer educators to promote the use of technology to bridge home and school (eFACE) while creating and maintaining relationships – Joe did his dissertation on this very topic.

Social media builds upon existing ties and relationships

Social media is not a tool to replace or a way to hide from in-real-life relationships. Rather, it’s a beneficial resource that can help build and enhance relationships. (It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it!) Face-to-face interactions are always preferable, but when teachers and families cannot meet regularly, social media can help maintain home-school communications and relationships. It can expand the conversation and provide opportunities for ongoing dialogue about a child’s learning throughout the school year. Essentially, social media can help keep the conversation going until you meet again.

Social media facilitates new connections and collaboration

Social media enables people to participate in a global and virtual collection of connections. It can improve the quality of a relationship by allowing people to solidify a connection that might have otherwise slipped away. Think about someone you have met recently and want to keep in touch with. How much easier is it for you to do so using social media? New contacts, links, and connections represent potential and opportunity. They enhance ones’ capacity for building social capital. And the collaborative and reciprocal nature of social media interactions fosters mutual trust and respect – values inherent to social capital.

Social media provides a platform for advocacy, collective practice and action

Most people know the power of a PLN to stimulate professional learning, growth, development and action. As an infrastructure, I like to think of social media as a virtual network of knowledge and practice. Social media provides a great opportunity for students, parents and families to develop their own PLN, or tap into existing networks of knowledge, with greater access to information, learning, development, and social interaction. PLNs are the ultimate social capital builder!

Social media enhances social participation and engagement

There are many educators using a variety of social media to provide a window into theirSocial media hands classroom, or school, for parents and families. Opportunities to connect bolster social capital. From virtual tours of the classroom and school, instagram photos of hands-on learning, interactive teacher and student blogs, to YouTube videos of the latest school event, twitter and facebook pages, social media provides a variety of means for students, parents and families to join the conversation. It enables parents to connect with teachers and schools, and engage in their child’s learning both at home and at school – elements critical to a child’s academic success and wellbeing.

So these are just a few examples of how I see social media contributing to enhanced social capital in education. Together, with a growing body of research and evidence suggesting increased social capital can help bridge achievement gaps and improve academic outcomes for students, perhaps that “Like us on Facebook” link is a really good idea for schools after all :)

As always, I invite and appreciate your comments and feedback.

The Intent vs. The Impact

We need to have a hard conversation about a video that has resurfaced on twitter, facebook and other social media feeds. I am talking about Jimmy Kimmel’s May 2012 National Teacher Day spoof – Remember, We Don’t Suck, You Suck. Although the intent of educators posting, sharing and liking this video is probably fun-natured, the impact is not, and the implications are potentially far-reaching. Here are just a few of my thoughts from my own perspective and personal experience.

The Potential Impact for Parents

As you watch this video, try to imagine a parent’s perspective. For a moment, put yourself in their shoes. How might watching this video make them feel? These feelings might be further exacerbated by circumstances and invisible challenges that you may not be aware of. For example, what if that parent is a single mother, who lost her job during the economic downturn and has since taken two part-time jobs to make ends meet and support her son with Autism? What if that parent recently lost their spouse to cancer and is doing the best they can to raise the children alone? What if that parent is struggling to care for their elderly father with Alzheimer’s, or perhaps because of a variety of other life stressors they are experiencing anxiety, depression, or addiction? What if that parent has recently fled a war-torn country, is harbouring the emotional and physical scars of trauma, is new to the Ontario public education system and speaks very little English? These are not made up examples. These are parents I know.

What if you, as a teacher, posted this video, even as a joke, and one of your students’ parents found out about it and watched it? What might they think about you, and your perception of parents? What message does that send about you? How do you think this might affect your next encounter with that parent?

The Potential Impact for Students

As labeled in the video, think about the fat, dumb, lazy kid who might find and watch this video. Let’s break it down with some possible explanations. Fat = potential or diagnosed medical or physical problem, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthy foods and a healthy diet perhaps due to a working adult unable to personally provide meals, lack of access to extracurricular activities and physical exercise perhaps due to financial barriers, and is an easy target for bullying. Dumb = potential or diagnosed learning disability, social-emotional challenges such as anxiety or introversion, failing or struggling to meet curriculum standards, lack of support at home perhaps due to working parents, cultural differences, language barriers, and is an easy target for bullying. Lazy = lack of motivation, low self-esteem, poor self-image, self-confidence issues, potential or diagnosed mental health problems such as depression, side effects of medication or drug use, disengaged behaviours, belief in a fixed mindset, and is an easy target for bullying.

Furthermore, I am going to hedge my bets here and say that fat, dumb, lazy kids are most likely at-risk kids, too. There are one in seven kids – including one in two children from immigrant families and one in four children from First Nations communities – living below the poverty line in Canada. These kids most likely come from homes of low socio-economic status, are racialized, are English language learners, or are newcomers to the country. One only has to look at the inequality in Ontario schools and EQAO standardized test results to gain a better understanding of the demographic profiling of underachieving kids.

What if one of those fat, dumb, lazy kids comes from an abusive home? What if that kid is trying to cope with a parent going through another round of chemotherapy? What if that kid is struggling to deal with the death of their sister or brother? What if that kid struggles everyday with haunting memories of having lived in a refugee camp? Do we mock these kids, or do we try to help them? Do we teach from a deficits-based approach or from a strengths-based approach in helping kids achieve their potential? Again, these are not made up examples. These are kids I know.

It’s easy to pick on fat, dumb, lazy kids. Kids do it to each other, and adults do it to kids, as is evident in this video. It’s called bullying. And where do kids learn bullying behaviours from? As a teacher, what if one of your students found out that you posted, shared, commented, liked or favourited this video on facebook or twitter? How do you think they might feel about the way you perceive, not only them, but also their parents? Remember the message kids are hearing loud and clear in this video; with middle fingers up, teachers don’t suck, their parents do. And if you’re a fat, dumb, lazy kid, your teachers think you suck, too. This is prejudice, and it goes for any target or marginalized group of people, be it parents, First Nations people, immigrants, LGBTQ persons or people of a particular culture or religion, and so forth.

The Potential Impact for Educators

Given the support of this video in the comments section, and the number of times it has been viewed on YouTube and shared through multiple social media platforms, it appears that many teachers have similar views about parents. I am sure this video has received lots of laughs in the staff lounge. But what about those teachers who do not share such sweeping generalizations and stereotypes about parents and their kids? Do they chuckle and go along with the joke for fear of standing out? Do they say something and risk being ostracized by their colleagues? As a teacher, what if you circulated this video and your department head found out, or your principal, or your superintendent? What might they think of you when they view this video? How might your next performance review go?

What you post says something about you; it can become your reputation and your brand. If someone you have never met before only has your posted content and online brand to go by, how might they judge you? Similar to the way teachers judged parents and kids in the video? Applying for a job, promotion, or a transfer to another school district? What does the content of your digital footprint say about you? Digital and media literacy goes for everyone, teachers included.

The Potential Impact on School Climate and Leadership

This type of mindset, the “Us vs.Them” mentality as illustrated in this video, has a direct and negative impact on the capacity for a school to effectively promote a welcoming, collaborative and inclusive school environment. Yet, that is precisely what is encouraged from teachers, administration, educators, staff and schools as outlined by many Provincial policies, school improvement plans, and school effectiveness frameworks. As a principal or school administrator, ask yourself, how do the messages in this video align with your school’s goals and vision? I know of one message that remains consistently clear throughout all of the following Ontario Education Policy: the importance of engaging parents, families and all stakeholders in partnership to better support student achievement and overall well-being:

Fresh from the backlash of Bill 115 last year and the subsequent deterioration of trust and respect between teachers and parents, Ontario is currently in an election year. I am not surprised that this video has resurfaced, just in time to poke the hornets’ nest and pit teachers and parents against each other once again. Playing the blame game and pointing fingers does nothing to help bridge the gap between teachers and parents so that we might build greater trust and work together in mutually respectful and positive ways for the sake of our children. The explicit and implicit messages throughout this video only serve to perpetuate stereotypes. They completely undermine efforts to build and establish the collaborative relationships needed to support students, families, schools and our communities. There is a substantial amount of evidence-based research that finds the greatest opportunity for improved student outcomes, especially for at-risk students, occurs when families, schools, and community organizations work together in partnership. Please let me know if you’d like to see some of this research and I can send it to you, as I am currently researching partnership models in education as part of my M.Ed. thesis.

If anything, this video provides opportunities for hard conversations to take place, to engage in meaningful dialogue and to learn about ourselves and each other. What if, as part of teacher PD, administrators presented this video in efforts to promote greater awareness around the assumptions, attitudes and biases that are barriers to building positive relationships with parents and families? Better yet, why not invite parents and various stakeholders, alongside teachers, to facilitated workshops on diversity, equity and inclusion, with this video as a starting point for dialogue. If ever we’re going to move beyond the blame game and the “Us vs. Them” mindset in educating our children, we need to have hard conversations, and together, with greater awareness, work to address and challenge barriers.

I am sure that there are some people out there that would like to say to me, for crying out loud, lighten up, it’s just a joke. But it’s not. While the intent of posting and sharing videos like this may be funny, I hope that I have shown that it is not, and the implications and consequences are potentially far-reaching. Because once you hit that button on your keyboard, good intentions or not, the impact becomes very real.

As always, I invite and appreciate your comments and feedback.

Resilience Builders

Child poverty in Canada and Ontario has changed very little since 1989, the year our government vowed to end child poverty by the turn of the century (Child poverty rates in Canada, Ontario remain high). In an annual report released this week by Campaign 2000, results show that although the percentage of children living in low-income families is lower in Ontario than in the rest of Canada, these numbers continue to be higher than originally reported in 1989. Alarmingly, twenty-four years later, one in seven Canadian children – including one in two children of immigrant families and one in four children in First Nations communities – still lives in poverty.

“In the face of change and crisis, the resource we need most is our resilience.” ~ Elle Allison, The Resilient Leader

The truth is heartbreaking. We may never be able to eradicate child poverty, or abuse, neglect, addiction, disability, illness, violence, trauma or any other of the myriad of risk factors some of our most vulnerable children face. But what we can do as caring adults is help foster their resilience. We can become resilience builders. And research shows that schools provide the ideal environment for helping children cultivate the resilience that resides within them (Henderson, 2013).

Resilience is often described as a personal trait; as a self-righting tendency or predisposition that enables individuals to bounce back or recover from adversity. And certainly, when we think of leadership within this context, resilience is an admirable resource for leaders to be able to draw upon in their practice. The reality, however, is that resilience is a much more complex and interactive process as individuals attempt to navigate the relationships and resources that help them thrive and move forward in the midst of adversity (Truebridge & Benard, 2013). These resources, called protective factors, help foster resilience and include caring relationships, a safe environment, supportive role models and mentors, high expectations, clear boundaries and structure. Not only do protective factors act as buffers that can help mitigate the effects of stress and trauma, they have been shown to have a greater impact in children’s lives than the specific adverse event(s) encountered (Henderson, 2013).

The Resiliency Wheel

The Resiliency Wheel

Note: The Resiliency Wheel is a visual synthesis of resiliency-building conditions documented in the body of resilience research. “Caring and Support” is highlighted because it is the single most powerful environmental protective factor. All of the other conditions are actions that grow out of providing genuine caring and support. —Nan Henderson

Many of these protective factors are already part of a school’s climate, making schools the ideal places where resilience building can flourish. But what school leaders (all leaders, not just the principal) may not realize is the additional benefit, the profound positive impact that these conditions can have on at-risk students. We can move from a perspective of risk-deficit to a perspective of strength by becoming more aware of the influence of protective factors on resilience building. And creating a caring and supportive environment is the single most powerful protective factor in fostering one’s resilience (Henderson, 2013). School leaders need to harness that knowledge by modeling protective factors in their schools and practice. Because a safe and positive school climate provides many of the key components to resilience building as illustrated in The Resiliency Wheel above.

“One person’s support can be crucial in developing another’s resilience.” ~ Truebridge and Benard, Reflections on Resilience

Ultimately, resilience is about relationships. It’s about caring and supportive relationships that demonstrate compassion, respect, trust and understanding. I’d like to share with you a story about how crucial that support can be for an at-risk child. In my Leadership in Education class we recently had the privilege of meeting a guest speaker, I’ll call her Sara. She has an intellectual disability. Her journey to becoming a leader, educator and mentor, began as a victim. From the age of 5, she was sexually abused by her father. Her physical, emotional and psychological trauma manifested itself in a variety of behaviours; through aggression, anger, cutting, suicidal thoughts, hearing voices, run-ins with the law and multiple admissions to psychiatric hospitals. The emphasis was on controlling Sara’s behaviour and there was no support to connect her behaviour to abuse. At the age of 19, Sara confided in her school’s guidance counselor about her father’s abuse. She found a caring and supportive environment in her school, and the one relationship she needed to begin her process of healing and resilience.

“I see what is right with you, despite your struggles. And I believe what is right with you is more powerful than anything that is wrong.” ~ Nan Henderson, Havens of Resilience

It was a very long journey and many more years before Sara truly received the help that she needed. Eventually, she was referred to and connected with the right supportive relationships and she began to receive counseling, education, trauma therapy and behavioural intervention that focused on skill building, not control. She began to develop a sense of safety and security. Through participation in a variety of groups she began building strong connections with her community, developing Butterfly2caring and positive relationships, and she found employment. There were no more hospitalizations and her  self-harming behaviours were significantly reduced. Using the skills she has learned, Sara teaches others. She leads support groups, is a peer mentor in the Wonders of Me program, and she has received a leadership award for people with developmental disabilities. Her story of resilience and recovery now guides a best practice model in Ontario. She travels the Province to tell her story at conferences, with clinicians in hospitals, and she’s the most active member of the Trauma and Developmental Disabilities Committee of Central West Region.

“In reality, every student, no matter how troubled, has strengths that he or she can call on, even while he or she may be exhibiting serious challenges. One of the most effective resilience-building actions educators can engage in is to dig for and reflect back to a student his or her strengths.” ~ Nan Henderson, Havens of Resilience

Everyone has the capacity for resilience. Everyone has strengths. Identifying and tapping into those strengths is how we can move from ‘risk’ to ‘resilience’. And we can do that by becoming better resilience builders…in ourselves, and in others.

As always, I invite and appreciate your comments and feedback.


Allison, E. (2011/2012). The resourceful school: The resilient leader. Educational Leadership, 69(4), 79- 82. (Online link here)

Henderson, N. (2013). Resilience and learning: Havens of resilience. Educational Leadership, 71(1), 22- 27. (Online link here)

Truebridge, S., & Benard, B. (2013) Resilience and learning: Reflections on resilience. Educational Leadership, 71(1), 66-67. (Online link here)

Special thanks to my classmate Karen Klee for her presentation on “Mentorship in Education” and for introducing us to such an incredible woman whose journey of resilience and recovery is truly remarkable and inspiring.

Courageous Conversations

I’m having a lot of uncomfortable conversations lately. They come at a time of great change, with just a dash of drama to keep the emotions elevated. These challenging conversations often pop up unexpectedly or are revisited from previous discussions. There’s no waiting for the perfect opportunity so I rarely have time to prepare an action plan. My very own thinking is being tested and I definitely have second thoughts about whether or not what I am trying to say and do is right, let alone, if I’m headed in the right direction. Such dialogue can be time-consuming, stressful and even exhausting. And with so many other things going on, truthfully, it would be much easier for me to simply avoid having these hard conversations. But I can’t. You see, in just a couple of months, I will be a mom to three teenagers! 😉

“Whenever we feel uncomfortable, or have second thoughts, or try to avoid saying what we need to say, the part we aren’t saying…that’s our hard conversation.” ~ Barry Pervin, from Leadership Matters: Supporting Open-to-Learning Conversations

This month in my Leadership in Education course, we have been exploring The Ontario Leadership Framework. We’ve been examining the five core leadership capacities (setting goals, aligning resources with priorities, promoting collaborative learning cultures, using data, and engaging in courageous conversations) and the practices at the school level that research has shown to have the greatest positive impact on student achievement.

Of the five core leadership capacities, engaging in courageous conversations is the most important. In fact, effective communication is the most critical skill a leader can develop. If you are a leader dedicated to the growth and improvement of your organization or practice, then you are leading for change, and that requires learning. And the truth is, for most everyone involved, change can be difficult, feared and uncomfortable. Yet, it is essential for student and school success. One cannot be an effective leader for improvement without engaging in meaningful dialogue, and that includes having those hard conversations.

“Developing capabilities for talking together…may represent one of the single most significant investments that schools can make for student learning.” ~ Robert Garmston & Bruce Wellman, from Ontario Principal’s Council, Maintaining Momentum and Courageous Conversations


The caveat to not engaging in difficult discussions is that there is often more to lose. Conversations mark the beginning of relationships and they help develop respect and trust. There’s an old adage that goes something like this: it takes a long time to build trust, but only seconds to lose it. For any school leader, it doesn’t matter how good you are at setting goals, aligning resources with priorities, or leading the instructional program, your ability to effect change and improvement within your organization will be compromised by a lack of relational trust. And when trust, integrity and relationships suffer, it negatively impacts our school community and culture, and most importantly, our students (See why bad things can happen to good people when we withhold our truths by Dennis Sparks).

So how can we effectively engage in these difficult discussions? Can we develop these skills? Absolutely! I found the Ministry of Ontario’s Leadership Matters video series (one hour of your time and well worth it!) supporting open-to-learning conversations to be incredibly helpful. From checklists and action plans, to preparation, developing skills and creating a culture of communication, you’ll find a wealth of strategies and information, including printable resources.

But the biggest take away for me, and something I’m going to use in my own practice, is a mnemonic strategy I’m going to call, The 3 P’s of Courageous Conversations: Practice, Promote and Prepare.

  • Practice: Developing effective communication skills takes practice, and lots of it. There needs to be less time talking about the critical conversations we should be having and more time engaging in them. This includes role playing conversations, or better yet, videotaping scenarios based on the conversations we need to be having, with ample time for play back, collaborative discussion, coaching, feedback, analysis and reflection.
  • Promote: Promoting a culture of communication within a trusting and respectful environment better facilitates open, collaborative and honest dialogue. It demonstrates a personal regard for one another. More importantly, embracing a culture of communication creates a safe place to engage in difficult conversations. I know that as a parent meeting with teachers or a principal, having a welcoming school climate that makes me feel comfortable and safe to talk, is significant. Sheila Stewart writes about this and the value of building relational trust that can lead to meaningful engagement and dialogue with parents in her blog post, The Trust Factor in Schools.
  • Prepare: Although it may not always be possible, planning ahead, or having an action plan for before, during and after a conversation is a strategy that can help give clarity and focus to the discussion, especially if the conversation starts to escalate or get sidetracked. Preparing a script can help keep emotions in check by channeling the selective use of more neutral words and language; that is, the use of less defensive trigger words such as ‘never’ or ‘always’.  Because the careful use of words not only sets the tone for a more positive emotional climate, it helps to create a safe environment that inspires more open and honest dialogue.

Engaging in hard and courageous conversations may never become easy or comfortable, but as leaders, we can learn to be more effective. After all, our success – and the success of our students, teachers, parents, families, and communities with whom we work – depends on it.

As always, I invite and appreciate your comments and feedback.


Leithwood, K. (2012). The Ontario leadership framework with a discussion of the research foundations. Ontario Institute for Educational Leadership. Retrieved from

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2011). Leadership matters: Supporting open-to-learning conversations. Retrieved from

Ontario Principal’s Council. (2011). Maintaining momentum and courageous conversations. Retrieved from

Winton, S. & Pollock, K. (2013). Preparing politically savvy principals in Ontario, Canada. Journal of Educational Administration, 51(1), 40-54.

School Leadership, Parent Engagement & Change

A trail in my woods As I continue walking along the path of my MEd. journey, I find myself particularly excited to be taking a Leadership in Education course this semester. What’s even more exciting is that I have the opportunity to use a variety of alternatives to a traditional written essay (e.g. photographs, metaphors, models, blog, poetry, musical composition, etc.) in submitting my three required reflection pieces. Challenging myself outside of my comfort zone is a big part of my learning experience and a commitment I made to myself from the very beginning (please see my 3MT adventures from March 2013 for a good example of that…very scary!) And so, I have chosen to use my much neglected blog here to express my personal reflections as I learn about leadership in education. I may need my compass as I wander off the path…

My studies this semester invite me to step outside the classroom and home landscapes and view parent engagement through a different lens, that of school leadership. This directly challenges one of my biggest assumptions about parent engagement; that all schools, as part of their School Improvement Plan (SIP) goals, want to build a welcoming, inclusive school climate that supports meaningful parent engagement. Because when it comes to parent engagement, leadership is key. When a principal demonstrates a serious, consistent commitment to parent engagement, everyone gets that message; the teachers, the students, school staff, parents, families and the community. Leadership that embraces a culture of engagement facilitates the development of positive relationships and a positive school climate (Henderson, Mapp, Johnson & Davies, 2007). I see some of the best examples of this type of school leadership in practice through Kent Elementary School principal, Chris Wejr. His blogs include: What Message Are We Sending in Our First Contact with Parents? Building Trust With Parents and Parent Communication: TO vs. WITH.

Yet, management plays an important role and is a complementary function of school leadership. Without management, there would be little substance to leadership, because the essence of leadership is, after all, action (Sergiovanni, 1996). Thus, the success of any school depends upon the delicate balance between leadership and management, and therein lies the challenge for any leader.


In his article, “What Leaders Really Do”, Kotter (2001) makes a clear distinction between leadership and management.  Management is about coping with complexity, while leadership is primarily about coping with change. For example, the function of leadership is to produce change and movement. It creates a vision; a vision of building a welcoming, inclusive school climate that supports meaningful parent engagement. Leadership sets strategies, establishes direction and it also aligns people, builds teams, motivates, empowers and inspires. Leadership develops strong networks of relationships based upon mutual trust and dialogue.

Management, on the other hand, is more about producing order and consistency. For example, management would plan, budget, set agendas and allocate resources for a family social media night aimed at growing successful parent-teacher communications. Management establishes procedures, solves problems, organizes staff, and provides structure. Control is central to management.

“Understand that no one person in a school building has more control over culture and change than the school principal”

Josh Stumpenhorst, From Larry Ferlazzo’s Q & A: So, You Want to be a Principal?

So when I think about culture and change, and the difference between leadership and management, although I understand that the right combination of the two is essential, I see leadership playing a greater role in educational change. Whether it’s embracing parent engagement at the school level, implementing community-school partnership programs to assist new families, increased nutrition, mental health awareness or anti-bullying initiatives at the district level, or board-wide directives that attempt to address poverty and inequity (I’m not sure what that would look like)…change cannot occur without a change in culture, and I believe that comes from leadership, not management. It begs to question then, what’s standing in the way of change in education? If control is central to management while change is the function of leadership, I think our education system would do well by focusing more on creating a culture of leadership.

 “If control is central to management while change is the function of leadership, I think our education system would do well by focusing more on creating a culture of leadership”

As I continue to learn more about leadership in education, I’m curious to know how leadership is nurtured at various levels, and what that might look like. For example, how do schools, regions/districts and school boards foster, develop and cultivate leadership? Thinking back to Chris and other school leaders, how does the region/district and school board, in turn, support their capacity to exercise leadership?  Without that critical guidance and support for school leadership, I can’t help but think of the additional challenges school leaders must face within a system that has become politically driven by the misuse of standardized test scores and rankings and one that already makes us feel like we’re overmanaged and underled.

As always, I invite and appreciate your comments and feedback.


Henderson, A. T., Mapp, K. L., Johnson, V. R., & Davies, D. (2007). Beyond the bake sale: The essential guide to family-school partnerships. New York, NY: New Press.

Kotter, J.P. (2001). What leaders really do. Harvard Business Review, 79(11), 85-96.

Sergiovanni, T.J. (1996). The roots of school leadership in Leadership for the Schoolhouse. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.