Seven principles

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The Seven Principles of Sustainable Leadership


Andy Hargreaves
Thomas More Brennan Chair in Lynch School of Education Boston College and

Dean Fink
International Centre for Educational Change Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto


Educational Leadership

December 2003

The Seven Principles of Sustainable Leadership

A school district puts anheroic principal into an underperforming school - then sees all his work unravel within months of his subsequent promotion. A charismatic leader accepts a principalship in a nearby school and takes all his teacher-leader disciples with him. A principal of a magnet school boosts her institution's reputation by attracting top students from all around the city, but robs the nearby neighborhoodschool of its best talent which sees its own performance then plummet. Teachers in a high school watch four principals pass through their school in five years and conclude they can easily wait out all other principals and their change agendas in the future. A school district confronts a highly unionized school by assigning a succession of increasingly authoritarian principals to it, only to see theunion's resistance to change become even more entrenched. These examples of unsustainable leadership and improvement efforts are not hypothetical. They emerged in a Spencer Foundation-funded study of educational change over three decades in eight high schools in the US and Canada, as seen through the eyes of over 200 teachers and administrators who worked there in the 1970s, 80s and 90s (Hargreaves &Goodson 2004). This study has shown that one of the key forces influencing change or continuity in the long term is leadership, leadership sustainability and leadership succession. Most processes and practices of school leadership, our study shows, create temporary, localized flurries of change but little lasting or widespread improvement. There are exceptions, though. From the first day of theirappointment, some leaders thought hard about how they would identify and groom their successors. One founding leader of an innovative school was careful not to raid the best teachers from surrounding institutions, and avoided inflicting injustice or fuelling jealousy by doing so. One or two courageous leaders responded to high stakes testing by improving learning for all in the belief that raisedscores would follow, rather than letting an obsession with results stifle the learning process. These leaders did more than manage change or implement reform. They pursued and modeled sustainable leadership. Sustainable leadership and improvement are more than matters of mere endurance, of making things last. We define sustainable leadership, in line with the environmental field, in the followingway.

Andy Hargreaves & Dean Fink (2003)


Sustainable leadership matters, spreads and lasts. It is a shared responsibility, that does not unduly deplete human or financial resources, and that cares for and avoids exerting negative damage on the surrounding educational and community environment. Sustainable leadership has an activist engagement with the forces that affect it, and buildsan educational environment of organizational diversity that promotes cross-fertilization of good ideas and successful practices in communities of shared learning and development. This definition suggests seven principles of sustainable leadership that we will illustrate from the Spencer study. 1. Sustainable leadership creates and preserves sustaining learning. In education, the first principle ofsustainability is to develop something that is itself sustaining. To sustain means to nourish. Sustaining learning is therefore learning that matters, that lasts and that engages students intellectually, socially and emotionally. It is not achievement results, but the learning behind them that matters most. The prime responsibility of all educational leaders is to sustain learning (Glickman...
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