Educational Leadership And Management: Making a Proper Distinction

Hello and welcome.

It is logical to assume that having a clear idea of the differences between educational leadership and management will enable you to be far more effective. 

But, if you take a look at enough of the distinctions folks try make between educational leadership and management today you will find that they are collectively incoherent and sometimes contradictory.

Defining the difference between leadership and management in education is confused because there is no consensus on how to make make a proper distinction.

The default approach seems to be an attempt to separate them into two distinct laundry lists.

I contend that a meaningful distinction depends on having a scientifically credible starting point for defining the nature of being human at both individual and collective levels.

This kind of holistic perspective led me to an unusual approach to understanding the relationship between educational leadership and management. 

Rather than separating them from each other, I suggest that one is entirely subsumed inside the other, but that's getting ahead of myself.

My name is Don Berg.

Holistic Perspective

To make progress on this topic we need to be clear that we are dealing with individual people, people in relationships, people in organizations, and people in society.

From this holistic perspective we can take a step towards simplifying the challenge by regarding each level to be a system and that the common denominator in all these systems are human beings.

Noticing both people and systems is the critical move that gave me the insight I will share with you shortly.

Science has found that there are eight primary needs that are crucial to human well-being: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, relatedness, autonomy, and competence. 

These are a scientifically credible basis for understanding individual human nature.

It is possible for any given behavior to simultaneously at different levels be supportive, neutral, and/or thwarting of needs.

An individual behavior could serve that individual's needs, but could also have different effects on needs for the different collectives to which that individual belongs.

Educational Management and Leadership at Bob’s School

For instance, Bob is an authoritarian school principal like his hero, Joe Clark.

Morgan Freeman played Joe Clark in the movie Lean On Me, a greatly exaggerated fantasy version of Clark’s accomplishments at Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey. 

Jack is a teacher in Bob’s school.

Jack decides one day that he is in desperate need of a bite to eat, so he goes to the staff refrigerator where he grabs an item from his colleague Sarah’s lunch, confident that, had he asked, she would have given it to him anyway. 

Turns out what he grabbed was a special treat from her teenage daughter that she was particularly looking forward to eating, so when she sees him stuffing his face with it she is enraged.

So, she storms off to lodge a complaint with Bob because she knows that a confrontation would get her into just as much trouble with Bob.

Except for that complaint, Jack and Sarah’s school would not have otherwise been affected by this falling out because Jack and Sarah work in completely different departments and, despite having lunch together once in a while, almost never work together. 

Jack fulfilled his need for food, thwarted Sarah's need for relatedness, and their falling out would have had no effect on their school-as-a-whole, if the principal, Bob had left well enough alone. 

But, Bob decides to humiliate Jack in a staff meeting because that’s what Joe Clark modeled at the beginning of Lean On Me.

Let's get a little more clarity on what’s going on.

Agency and Authority

“Agency” signifies any behavior that may meet the individual's needs, whether or not it is successful.

“Authority” signifies any behavior that may meet the needs of any or all of the collective entities to which that person belongs.

Jack’s actions are agency behaviors. 

Sarah’s complaint about Jack taking her food and Bob’s response to it both constitute authority behaviors.

Authority behaviors may be regarded as leadership when they are attempts to meet needs on multiple levels but, even if the behavior succeeds in meeting a need of the collective, it can simultaneously be a psycho-toxin for some individuals if their needs happen to be thwarted.

Bob’s harsh reprimand would thwart Jack's needs, thus Bob’s authority behaviors act as a psycho-toxin on Jack and perhaps others, regardless of whether or not the school had a need satisfied.

If Bob is the head of a school that is embedded in a state bureaucracy then he will be tempted by deep cultural patterning to take an authoritarian stance on leadership, like the infamous principal Joe Clark did. 

The “Lean On Me” Model of Educational Leadership And Management

About half an hour into Lean On Me, after the filmmakers have thoroughly established that the school is rife with violence and chaos, Principal Clark has become the Mayor’s pick to turn the school around. 

The following excerpt occurs after Clark arrives and gives the faculty and staff a lengthy and harsh dressing down which served as the model for Bob’s dressing down Jack, 

AFTER a school assembly in which he expels dozens of students without due process because they were judged to be incorrigible reprobates, 

AND AFTER a highly contentious meetings with parents outraged by the mass expulsions in which he preaches the gospel of how God almighty personally called on him to take the job.

[~3 min excerpt]

It is a testament to the fantastic power of storytelling that a principal dragging a student to the roof and encouraging him to jump to his death can be passed off as anything other than abuse of both his power and that child. 

It is, obviously, a fabrication, as was the miraculous test score turnaround that the whole plot revolves around. 

The filmmakers had to make up both worse and better scenes in order to make Joe Clark’s authoritarianism into something other than a horror show. 

The famous movie critic Roger Ebert wrote, 

“As Clark takes a baseball bat and begins to whip them into shape (at one point even physically fighting a student), the audience is cheered, not because education is begin served, but because Clark is a combination of Dirty Harry and Billy Jack, enforcing the law on his own terms.”

Lean On Me portrays a leader who was placed in a dysfunctional bureaucratic situation and creates his own flavor of authoritarianism by drawing on the American cultural trope of vigilante justice.

Joe Clark created order for the benefit of some by sacrificing others, he made his high school into a zero-sum game. 

The “Hard Lessons” Model of Educational Leadership And Management

With a slight tweak, the interactions between the teachers and their principal can be completely different.

Let’s suppose that instead of being an authoritarian, Bob idolizes George McKenna from the Los Angeles Unified School District, the real life principal played by Denzel Washington in the movie Hard Lessons

McKenna is a leader who tries to be more of what is called a warm demander by expressing both high expectations and caring for all his students and teachers.

Bob expresses his McKenna-style caring and support by creating, out of a portion of his discretionary budget, an innovation fund for teachers.

When Jack decides that he is in desperate need of a bite to eat, consistent with the climate of courtesy and respect created by Bob, he quickly texts his friend Sarah to see if she could help him out. 

She offers him an item out of the staff refrigerator, but not the treat she wanted so badly.

When she sees him eating she feels good that she helped a friend in need, joyfully joins him at the lunch table to eat her special treat, and the mutual good feelings boost their creativity. 

Over that shared lunch, Jack and Sarah came up with a new approach to scheduling parent-teacher conferences.

With Bob’s blessing they pilot the idea with their own student’s families before they apply for innovation funding to implement the system across the whole school.

Their plan increases parent participation by a significant amount benefitting the whole school community. 

In this new scenario needs are satisfied at all levels and the result is a positive synergistic effect on the school. 

Analyzing The Scenarios

In the first scenario, Jack MANAGED to satisfy his need for food. 

In the second scenario, Jack also managed to satisfy his need, but better leadership was present because the needs of both his relationship with Sarah and the school were also satisfied. 

Both stories focus on how Jack exercised his agency with regard to his hunger.

There are two key differences. 

First, how the school climate affects what Jack takes to be the obvious means to exercising his agency and second, how the school climate enables Jack, Sarah, and Bob to collaborate on meeting needs for the school as a collective.

Clark & McKenna IRL Side Note

Just a quick side note: Joe Clark and George McKenna publicly opposed each other’s educational management and leadership.

McKenna wrote to Education Week and appeared on national TV with Clark to express his contempt for Clark’s sacrificing some of the children for the sake of others. 

Joe Clark left the school system soon after Lean On Me came out after having created order but only achieving marginal academic improvement, whereas McKenna actually turned his school around both socially and academically, plus he is still serving his district, now as a board member.

In a recent interview for the Los Angeles Sentinel, McKenna reiterated that schools should NEVER give up on students.

Back to my point.

Governance And The Attitutor Leadership Compass

Agency and authority together comprise “governance” which means that governance encompasses the active ingredients of human behavior.

The active ingredients of human behavior are those that meet or thwart needs at one or more levels. 

In the context of education we are centrally concerned with deep learning.

You can compromise deep learning by thwarting individual psychological needs. 

If the person involved is prevented from exercising their agency, needs that are ignored can result in shallow learning.

Deep learning is facilitated by the satisfaction of psychological needs, which is to say when the learner exercises their agency. 

An important educational function within schools is to catalyze deep learning, that is to facilitate the deep learning of others. 

When we refer to the catalytic function within schools we can talk about some people acting as learning catalysts for learning agents.

Learning catalysts and learning agents meet within a learning context.

Learning catalysts have two levels of capacity, 

as an Intimate Catalyst in which they directly serve learners, and

as an Organizational Catalyst in which they serve the organization, which can be an INdirect service to learners.

I do not refer to learning catalysts as “teachers” because the catalytic function can be served by literally anything to which the learner chooses to pay sufficient attention. 

Agents all have some capacity to meet the needs of their collectives, as well as their own individual needs.

When agents act on behalf of the context they have three levels of capacity, 

as the Intimate Context which is primarily concerned with the relationships between learners and their catalysts,

as the Organizational Context which is primarily concerned with the organization, and 

as the Societal context which is primarily concerned with the larger context within which the organization is situated.

This is the outline of my holistic model called The Attitutor Leadership Compass. 

It is presented in more detail in my upcoming book Making the Offer to Educate.

It is a compass in the sense that it can serve as a guide to point agents in the right direction as leaders, independent of their official role within the organization. 

On the Catalyst level of the compass there is a segment that refers to the role of manager. 

Management is one of the ways that agents can serve as an Organizational Catalyst.

The compass as a whole is a model of leadership.

Therefore, understanding the relationship of educational leadership to management does not involve separating them from each other, it involves seeing how one exists entirely within the other.

This model is predicated on taking each person to be an agent with a small set of goals that they each pursue. 

Human nature occurs both individually and collectively. 

Relationships, organizations, and society are collective contexts for individual agents to pursue their goals.

The behavior of the agents determines the quality of the collective contexts in which they meet, this quality is known as the climate. 


Returning to the story of Jack, Sarah, and their principal Bob, if Bob had the compass to help guide him he would steer himself in the warm demander direction.

His leadership style would be less authoritarian Joe Clark and more caring and supportive George McKenna.

Back-to-Basics 2.0 is an organizational strategy for implementing a data system that can enable leaders and managers of schools to better serve the humans they lead. 

You can read more about Catalytic Pedagogy at Holistic Equity DOT Org

Thanks for joining me.

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