Why Disruptive Leadership?

I remember walking into my former primary school in the mid 1980’s for a second year teacher education practicum and noticing that nothing had changed. This is despite leaving the school almost 8 years ago. The school’s learning environment looked the same, my former teachers were in the same rooms and most of them were using the same textbooks and resources, and the culture felt like a time warp despite the world moving on. I passed my practicum but little did I realise at the time that the experience would be invaluable in making change at my current school.

Too often, we believe that a situation is difficult to change due to inertia or some form of policy that has lost its currency. Disruptive leadership is about looking at an authentic problem from outside in. Instead of tinkering around the edges, we reconceptualise problems, obtain different perspectives from both within and outside the field and design strategic solutions.

Merrylands East Public School required disruptive leadership to make a shift from conventional wisdom to a new reality. The school’s Parents and Citizens Association asked a simple question as to why schools cannot start earlier and finish earlier to capture the peak hours of learning for primary students and to avoid the fatigue factor in the afternoon. Many of these parents have very little deep grounding in industrial relations, government policies and procedures, or how schools worked but presented an authentic pragmatic solution without any preconceived ideas. We could have easily tinkered with the school hours by shifting our recess and lunch periods but still ended with a hybrid version of the existing paradigm.

Disruptive leadership is not about the norm but creating new products and procedures and having a sudden change on the values, beliefs and assumptions of a society. School hours for the majority of Australian primary schools are 9am to 3pm model with some slight variations. The Merrylands East change (8am to 1:15pm) has resulted in teachers having optional afternoon time to collaborate, program, assess and evaluate student learning without the added conflict of other activities. Most recently when Sydney sweltered above 30 degree Celsius temperatures in the afternoon, our students had a range of alternatives rather than being fatigued at school.

In any organisation disruptive leadership is about making long term change with sudden impact. The Merrylands East school hours had to change overnight rather than gradually. People involved in our school had to make the necessary personal adaptation to align with the organisational change. With any disruption, there is always some form of insecurity, uncertainty and emotional change that cheap viagra in uk needs to be addressed. However, collective community solutions have inevitably resulted in our school being placed in a position to meet buy viagra in us the needs of our local community.

Disruptive leadership is evident all around us. Who would canadian pharmacy cialis have imagine that banks could be automated and funds withdrawn or deposited globally, phones become multifunction, and enterprises operate in  alternative work designed environments? Who would have imagined that students could self-regulate their learning, share their learning globally in a range of multimodal texts and collaborate with other students anytime anywhere? At a classroom level, disruptive leadership may involve the change of pedagogy and the creation of a better learning environment for students.

I must caution that disruptive leadership is not about being militant or making change for the sake of change. Instead, disruptive leadership is about being solution driven with a totally fresh approach and challenging the current norm. Sometimes, this may involve starting with a blank canvas and designing from scratch with all possible solutions on the table for discussion. It’s also about letting go our prejudices and stepping back from within, and withdrawing emotionally from ownership – not easy to do, especially if schools have long standing traditions and a culture of conservatism.

Disruptive leadership has resulted in Merrylands East changing pedagogy, learning spaces and the way we operate in the 21st century.

John Goh

21 comments for “Why Disruptive Leadership?

  1. Margo Isabel
    November 5, 2013 at 12:30 am

    How do you decide what type of challenges should be solved through “disruption” and those through other means? What percentage of decisions are maid or problems are solved in this manner? Or is it that the lens of DL would be used in the thinking process, but possibly the solution will addressed in another way. Sounds very interesting. Forces you to think outside the box.

    • Leigh Farrington
      December 4, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      I think you do what makes sense for children. If it works for children, then the adults have to find a way to make it work for them.

  2. Ken Neil
    November 5, 2013 at 3:25 am

    Seems a bit Macchiavellian. Why disrupt? Why not evolve? I work at a school with an 8:25 AM start and a 3:25 PM end. Many students are habitually late to the morning class. This was true when we had an 8:15 AM start, so we moved the time to 8:25 to accommodate. Teen agers don’t get enough sleep and are overly programmed or too unstructured. Does the new Schedule only solve problems, or does it also créate them for some. Maybe it is a simple example, but still…

    • November 6, 2013 at 12:07 am

      The change in school hours works for our community. NSW Public Education has over 2700 sites with a diversity of communities. Rather than having a one size fits all, we needed to disrupt to change a long standing tradition for primary (elementary) schools.

      We’ve solved so many issues with the change of school hours rather than creating new issues.

  3. November 6, 2013 at 4:39 am

    I like the term disruptive leadership. One of my favorite professors used to say, “Education always begins with disequilibrium!” In other words, without a shift in thinking or a disruptiion to our normal way of doing things, we will never learn new ideas.

  4. Amy Lee Parker
    November 6, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    A long-standing, often misinterpreted concept in educational leadership applies here – “Leading on a Broken Front”. A group of likeminded individuals can, by breaking ceilings…barriers…and bending policy achieve what’s needed for student success in a particular situation or circumstance. A one-size-fits-all approach to public education isn’t working for ‘all’. Carpe Diem!!

  5. Craig Schwsinger
    November 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Appreciated your article. Lack of change in schools is often in close company with a high degree of (staff) comfort. Because things have become easy (comfortable) some assume that things are being done “right”. It should be realized that the “right way” and the “easy way” to do things often are not the “same way”.

  6. Tim Weston
    November 6, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    You deserve a congratulation John!

  7. Scott Paulin
    November 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Time has probably been the greatest constraint on education since the advent of mass schooling which came about slowly but continuously after about 1890. We look at and redefine program after program, curriculum after curriculum, but continually force whatever we are doing into the same old frame of the traditional school day and school year. In my small, rural school district in Northern California, we had slowly lost programs in music, drama, arts, and vocational education such as automotives, etc. due to budget constraints and the inability to attract quality teachers who would be willing to commute to our school to teach one or two courses a day.
    In order to solve the problem, we redesigned the whole time schedule, which eventually required legislative waiver to allow us to move to a four-day school week. In doing this, we re-distributed the core academics for more minutes each day Monday through Thursday, and then partnered with our community center to secure grant funding to operate a rich slate of courses in the arts and music and vocational ed on the Friday. It was not easy, and required about two years of planning and research, but it resulted in bringing back valuable educational programs and actually strengthening the core academics through longer periods of study, and decreased absenteeism, etc.

  8. Judith Newman
    November 9, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Disruptive leadership is about 1st order changes.

  9. November 10, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Disruptive leadership is many things… most importantly, whether we are evolving or not is key. Evolution, I would offer, is about increasing communication and increasing interdependence. Ultimately, this conversation must lead to empowering youth to be the U-Turn Generation to get us off the carbon-economy. And now my plug for http://www.thejellyfishproject empowering youth and community outreach through the power of music and live presentation.
    Perhaps disrutpive is about transformational leadership, instead of a more, better or different future… let’s create a new future, one that works for everyone and by definiton, this means a sustainable future. I believe this commentary in not about if, but when… when will be see who we are “being” in additon to what we are “doing”.

  10. Alan Harrison
    November 11, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Ian,
    Although the term, “Disruptive Leadership,” sounds harsh, sometimes I think it is necessary. However, to make it effective, we (Principal), must have relationship with teachers, staff and parents. In my mind that trust is essential to ensure the change is implemented positively. The second thing is we have to pick carefully, where we disrupt. The bottom line always needs to be, “Is this good for kids.”

  11. Monica Campoverde
    August 1, 2014 at 3:50 am

    I agree with your comments, the feedback is necesary for choices.

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