The school curriculum and university courses evidently do not generally teach those in power how to lead or demonstrate vision. The announcement of the banning of Year 12 formals by an educational ‘leader’ in a time when student stress and the need for social inclusion has increased was, in my view, lacking in both leadership and vision.
That the announcement was completed and juxtaposed with, a ‘need to focus on exams’ demonstrates a smallness of understanding. I have indicated earlier that youth suicide has increased and students feel afraid and uncertain. Under such circumstances, exams need to be seen in a context.
Do educational ‘leaders’ not understand this? Surely they are across this data? Surely, a pandemic requires something more than a focus on exams? It is as if the assessment of ‘stuff’ prevails over an understanding of the times. Whilst the announcement may have been well meaning, an understanding of emotion and its impact on student learning needs to be understood. Why cause angst amongst students and distract them from the study so evidently valued? Why create distress amongst parents?
In a year when physical and social distancing has created discontinuity, a message of how year 12 formals, as a necessary transition between school to autonomous life, would be made to work rather than be cancelled would have reflected the education system as a learning system.
This smallness evident in some aspects of educational leadership is pervasive in society. At a time when individuals and communities need hope and a clear vision, reassurance and calmness, the political dialogue swings from reactive to aggressive.
It should be obvious to those in power that, though unexpected and unwelcome, the coronavirus pandemic was perfectly predictable. It should also be perfectly obvious that when a world ‘leader’ undermines the legitimate press through a self-interested characterisation of ‘fake news’ then people will lose trust in authority. If those charged with carrying out the law subvert the law, then the trust will further erode. Students see police officers shooting unarmed civilians in the back. Students do not say, “that was there, but this is here”. Everything feels close and nothing can be trusted.
At a time when some of the largest governments are also the most controlling it should be obvious that there will be international tensions and even the possibility of war. Be it economic or armed, war is characterised by propaganda – a divided world of us versus them or right and wrong.
Faced with these circumstances authentic leaders need vision and need to ‘lead’. Leadership is different from management. Leadership requires that those in power follow a vision that incorporates a clear understanding of history, human behaviour and what brings out the worst in people. Invoking angst, enmity, division or fear are the antithesis of leadership. Creating hysteria might pander to some but most simply lose hope.
Leaders need to understand and live with the idea of loneliness. Decisions made should be made for the greater good, not a system, an ideology or an administrative set of boxes to tick. Great leaders understand loneliness for their connection is with an ideal, not the polls or popularity.
However, whilst embracing loneliness for the self, leaders encourage community, understand how message of hope uplift and find a way to help people know there are better times ahead. Today’s discipline is tomorrow’s celebration. Today’s discipline is also today’s celebration for discipline never restricts when lived in the context of a better life.
It would be great to see more joy. A focus on kindness, community and finding things to celebrate (like the year 12 formals). Since thinking can be shaped by what we choose to see, leaders need to see how happiness can engender hope at this time – when the circumstances will be bleak for a while.
Messages of importance are not undermined by warmth. Finding humour and lifting spirits when there may not be much to smile about is the beginning of leadership.