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Teaching is both an art and science. As instructional leaders, principals are the lead teachers of their buildings. Serving as lead teachers, principals must be diligent in shaping the climate and culture of the school, supporting the teaching staff, and moving their school academically. Accomplishing this task dally can be exhausting and send some educational leaders to a tipping point. Gladwell (2000) defines a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” As principals, the tipping point can vary day-to-day, sometimes hour-by-hour. Principals are constantly juggling their time between instructional leadership, managerial task, and the realties of the daily life that occur at our sites. Principals can benefit from applying Gladwell’s Law of the Few.
The Law of the Few: Defined
Gladwell (2000) states that the success of any kind of social epidemic (I am not insinuating that schools or education are social epidemics) is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts, thus the term “Law of the Few”. According to Gladwell, economists call this the 80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the 'work' will be done by 20 percent of the participants. These gifts are described below, accompanied by how they look when carried out in the role of the principal.
Connectors are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions -- essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. They usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles. They are people who link us up with the world, people with a special gift for bringing the world together. Gladwell characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over 100 people. Gladwell attributes the social success of connectors to the fact that their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.
School principals have to be connectors of many groups of stakeholders: 1) teachers; 2) students, parents; 3) community groups; 4) colleagues; and even 5) supervisors. The goal behind the principal carrying out this social gift is to foster relationships and build trust. As the relationships grow and trust increases, the principal will see an enriching school climate and an increase in support from the stakeholders.
Mavens are information specialists, or people whom we rely upon to connect us with new information. They accumulate knowledge and know how to share it with others. A maven is someone who wants to solve other people's problems, generally, by solving their own. According to Gladwell, mavens start word-of-mouth epidemics due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. As Gladwell states it, mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know.
This social gift affords the principal the ability to increase the knowledge base of teachers and parents. As the knowledge is increased and shared, an opportunity for rich dialogue exists that can lead to even more sharing of knowledge, that can result in informed, inquisitive communities. These communities resonate a love of learning and stimulate academic growth. The impact on the school culture is an increase in knowledge and metacognition, which lead to better teaching and learning.
Salesmen are persuaders -- charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, that makes others want to agree with them. Principals have to sell their school to prospective parents, curriculum to teachers, school academics to students, ideas to the community, and progress to their supervisors. They sometimes have to use charisma to motivate staff and students. In addition, principals also have to negotiate schedules and school events. Operating in this social gift affords the principal the opportunity to market their school and program. Perhaps the greatest advantage of a principal operating in this gift is selling education to children, which encompasses self-esteem, self-concept and self-worth.
Being salesmen, mavens and connectors helps principals shape the climate and culture of their school, support the teaching of all stakeholders, and move their schools academically, socially and emotionally. Not only do principals have to use these social gifts in the correct context, they have to know which gift to apply and at what time along along the professional maturation level of each individual to apply it. Demonstrating these social gifts, as defined by Gladwell, will assist principals in supporting positive tipping points and preventing negative ones.
Works Cited(Published in the MESPA Advocate, December 2013)
Gladwell, M. (2000). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. New York. Little, Brown and Company.
Dr. Tyrone Brookins
"Salesmen are persuaders -- charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills...Principals have to sell their school to prospective parents, curriculum to teachers, school academics to students, ideas to the community, and progress to their supervisors."