Principals, vice principals and other administrators are mainstays of schools across the country. However, the current state of these professions owe a lot to relatively recent developments, having been born out of a need for greater leadership and direction for educational institutions. If you're interested in educational leadership and administration as a career, you'll want to know where the profession has been and where it's heading.
Defining educational leadership
What is educational leadership? The term is an interesting one, given that teachers already serve to some capacity as educational leaders, guiding students in the pursuit of knowledge. Yet, teachers by and large do not operate in a vacuum. An English class in one grade is inevitably the culmination of every grade before it, and a stepping stone to even more challenging, specialized classes. Entire fields may also have bearing on one another, with science utilizing math and literature and history relying on one another. These courses then lead into colleges and universities.
In short, an education is a culmination of years of classes, teachers and curricula that must be orchestrated if a school is to be successful in teaching large numbers of diverse students year after year.
Educational administrators are professionals who are responsible for establishing, improving and ultimately achieving the academic policies of a school. They must not only help manage students, but also organize teachers and talk with parents. Their responsibilities may also include overseeing the function of an actual school building, guaranteeing both the safety and well-being of teachers and students so as to best support an education. It's demanding work that involves lots of coordination and understanding of student and teacher needs.
The history of the field
While schools have long had some leadership in the form of a head teacher, sometimes known as a headmaster, the rise of educational leadership and administration as a field has really only come into its own in the past couple of centuries. In the first chapter of the SAGE Handbook of Educational Leadership, author Ira E. Bogotch cites the beginning of established public school leadership as having begun in the first half of the 19th century.[i] Before this time, Bogotch writes, towns and municipalities hired teachers and secured funds to build and develop schools.
It wasn't until people such as Horace Mann worked to establish systems of public schools. Mann did so in Massachusetts, and also started an institution to train teachers, called a normal school.i This work was instrumental in creating more organized school systems, and thus emphasized the importance of educational leaders. There were other figures who helped to develop the field, including Ella Flagg Young, a Chicago teacher who eventually rose to the position of superintendent for Chicago's schools.i These are just a few of the figures who have played a role in the shaping of educational history. As public schools grew in prevalence and prominence, so too did the need for administrators to guide them.
Today administrators still have their hands full with plenty of work. Apart from organization efforts, administrators must deal with issues such as crowding, curriculum development, teacher supply shortages and budgetary issues. As such, educational administration is not only an engaging field, but also a challenging one.