Shared Leadership: Games lead by example.

One of the most significant themes emerging from learning space design research is that teacher belief about their own practice is a critical factor in success. Teaching doesn’t occur in a vacuum however, but inside complex organisations. In this post I want to talk a bit about this, and to argue that many video games model shared-leadership in ways other online media and corporeal experiences don’t. To me, this is another reason kids enjoy games — it’s the best place to learn to be a leader — and to find leaders.

Simkins (2005) examines models of leadership found at various level of the education community from schools to higher education. He sets out two models of leadership, one he terms ‘traditional’ leadership that focuses on the individual and another that he terms ‘emerging’  leadership that focuses on the context of leadership. He argues that making sense of leadership is as important as seeking what works in leadership in education. He further argues in terms of leadership development, the work of Crochran-Smith and Lytle (1999), around the idea of

  • knowledge-for-practice
  • knowledge-in-practice
  • knowledge-of-practice

Now, think about games and the media that surrounds them — they are driven by a social desire to create this knowledge in these domains — and to create clarity over confusion. I’m not sure that is what happens in EduOnline to the same degree. Persistent ambiguity is the hallmark of EduOnline discourses … where resolution rarely happens — mostly as EduChats are conducted for an hour at set time with set questions … moderated by a teacher! – Seriously? What is the point? — other than to reinforce power and the patterns of the past. I can’t imagine gamers doing this. It would be the most munted way to gain or transmit knowledge digitally – and yet, teachers think hashtag edchatter is the post-modern lightning rod. Sorry, not sorry to say so.

Back to Simkins who outlines six ways it might be possible to make sense of leadership: i) the way leadership is conceived; ii) the role and purpose of organisations; iii) the changing role of leadership; iv) the way power and authority are shared; v) across inter-professional and organisation boundaries; vi) using leadership development (Simkins, 2005).

One concerns I have with emerging online leadership culture, is the discourse which appears fascinated by the concept of ‘leadership’ itself. This orbits  Simkins idea of shared power and authority.

The immediacy of digital communication makes it easy to create a ‘leadership’ culture where  influencers (with authority) are replacing overt control with subtle manipulation. For example: Principals actively grow their corporeal agency by developing their ‘digital self’ persona and profile. True or not true? Is a Tweeting principal there to help or to impress? Well I think a bit of both. They gain social-capital by appearing to be being in the ‘in-group’ of the “leadership nouveau” online, which often claims to support distributed leadership in the workplace but this isn’t the same as shared leadership – the kind you get in video games such as Warcraft.

Schools are not flat-management structures and ‘control’ is central to their design — so I think the question becomes — is online EduLeader Culture useful or not useful? – and that’s a PhD right there for someone. ie “How does the virtual representation of school leaders manifest in the classroom experiences of teachers”. If the principal loves apps, then you better start loving apps. If they are Google-heads, then you’re a Google Head. If you don’t agree — then here’s Boo’s door.

It’s difficult to make sense of leadership around learning spaces currently. There are numerous factions who promote solutions, technologies and methods variously. For a lucky few, learning space design, pedagogical approaches and funding appear to come more easily if they have crafted a digital-self image. My hypothesis is that developing a digital-persona which engages in online discourses about ‘distributed leadership’ is a subtle manipulation directed towards overt control of the corporeal day-to-day learning space – and organizational arrangements that surround it. What online teachers then believe is ‘best leadership’ resulting in ‘best learning spaces’ may then lead to false conceptions – and attempting to copy this fantasy (with little definition) results in both a lack of success, growing frustration and further empowerment of the emerging oligarchy which now dominates so called “EduChat”.

What teachers believe matters and is influenced by their interpretations of leadership efforts to reform/control learning spaces in which they work. For most teachers today, their learning space is surrounded by invisible whispering – voices that line managers listen to via social media – but as I’ve said are likely to be subtle manipulation, rather than any real change or re-distribution of power.

Personally, I am interested in the concept of shared leadership: distributed but interdependent, embedded in social interaction and leadership seen as a learning process. This seems difficult to achieve in cultures using ‘formal leadership’ or ones where the distribution of power is difficult to understand or inconsistently used to control. I do see it in video-games all the time. Recently my ten year old has got into playing “Dark RPG” (not as scary as it appears) and shared-leadership appears to underpin the game-play and design of the game-space. This isn’t what I see in Minecraft Edu or whatever it’s branded today – although numerous efforts have been made to represent it as such – in that subtle manipulation by the faction-ed online oligarchy.

When teachers believe they are part of shared leadership, amazing things happen. When they falsely believe it, there is a lasting hangover. It’s this state of unresolved frustration that seems to be persistent in the ‘online leadership’ discourse – and one that online-leaders have failed to resolve in almost a decade of Twitter-chatting.

Meanwhile, the changing nature of technology, communication and the potential that lies within requires knowledge for-practice, in-practice and of-practice as Simkins suggests. The problem with online discussion is that this knowledge is infused with fallacies, consumerism and ‘digital self’ halo-effect.

What I or any other teacher believes is good practice has to resolve in the classroom and be supported by the locus-leadership – which is a fragile set of unstable inter-dependencies requiring a common understanding of complex terms and methods. I still don’t believe online chats have done much more than attempted to create homogeneity from complexity because they are constantly manipulated. It’s why I remain resolute that teachers need to access quality research and spend time evaluating it within the context of ‘peer review of teaching’ rather than some blunt deterministic judgement of ‘performance. The biggest reason for this is that the best teachers are creating VERY complex learning spaces and giving students levels of agency in their own learning which bear little relation to the content-driven modernist curriculum or the technological determinism of Tapscott and the EdTech Faithful. Shared leadership isn’t something that needs to be Tweeted. We don’t need to make it un-real by subjecting it to social-media debate. There are no leaders that matter to your students on EdTechChat and I think that Simkins three-points about knowledge is a good way to try an evaluate ‘leadership’ discussions online — and to reflect on the local manifestations of it in our learning spaces.