Leadership Library in Education


Andy Hargreaves

Consulting Editor

THE JOSSEY-BASS LEADERSHIP LIBRARY IN EDUCATION is a distinctive series of original, accessible, and concise books designed to address some of the most important challenges facing educational leaders. The authors are respected thinkers in the field who bring practical wisdom and fresh insight to emerging and enduring issues in educational leadership. Packed with significant research, rich examples, and cutting-edge ideas, these books will help both novice and veteran leaders understand their practice more deeply and make schools better places to learn and work.

ANDY HARGREAVES is the Thomas More Brennan Chair in Education in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and the author of numerous books on culture, change, and leadership in education.

For current titles in the series, please see the last pages of this book.

Women and Educational Leadership

Margaret Grogan

Charol Shakeshaft

Beverly Hall

Title Page

For the next generation of women leaders,
we dedicate this book to our wonderful daughters,
Klara and Emma


I am honored to have this opportunity to introduce Women and Educational Leadership. Finally, a work that acknowledges what I've known all along: when I think of myself and other women who are leading districts and schools that are making dramatic gains, I don't see effective educational leaders who happen to be women; I see leaders who are effective in part because we are women.

For years, Margaret Grogan and Charol Shakeshaft have been studying and documenting women's ways of leading; how women's leadership styles tend to differ from the traditional “command and control” paradigm; and how gender plays out in educational leadership. In this important book, they team up to lay out the lessons that all leaders should learn from women's distinctive leadership styles—not just how it is different to “lead like a woman” but also how it is advantageous to do so.

Page after page of this book ring so true to my experience. I have felt the impact of women's historical status as “outsiders” in leadership circles. When I delivered my first “vision for education” speech before an audience of Atlanta's CEO-level leaders, there was only one other woman in the room. As a superintendent, I've had to do without much peer-to-peer mentoring because not many other female superintendents serving large urban districts have existed—particularly women of color. I spend a great deal of my time mentoring new and aspiring superintendents now, in hopes that I can make it a little easier for women who come after me.

My personal drive to do what is best for children and to prove without a doubt that all children, regardless of who their parents are or where they grow up, can achieve at high levels is absolutely tied up with my history as a young girl in Jamaica. I grew up in a time before, as then-Senator Hillary Clinton put it in 2008, the glass ceiling “got about 18 million cracks in it.” But my personal ambitions have also always been balanced, as they are for so many women, by a deep commitment to my family. I chose not to step into a superintendency until my son was in high school, and I did not move to Atlanta until he was out of college.

Grogan and Shakeshaft capture not just these common experiences of women leaders, which shape our worldview—growing up female; motherhood; leaving our female peers behind as we move up through the ranks—but also how women lead with new methods and in new directions as a result.

The authors' concept of collaborative leadership is not just what comes naturally to me; collective decision making produces superior results. It's the only way to turn a large, dysfunctional bureaucracy into one that works for our children. Top-down mandates will move the organization only so far. We must get everyone “on the bus” to transform a static institution into one that is more dynamic.

One of the qualities that drew me to Atlanta in the first place was the public engagement of a coalition of corporate and community leaders in creating a vision for public education in Atlanta. Getting these leaders on the bus with total district reform was simple compared with the monumental task of changing the culture of the system, all the way down to the classroom teacher, where the real power lies in the education system. I knew I couldn't accomplish this alone, so I focused on human capital, building a highly competent team of individuals—some recruited from outside and some developed from within. I had confidence in my own judgment, yes, but I also worked hard to empower my team members to have confidence in their own judgment and in their abilities to be collaborative leaders as well.

I think the most important thing that Grogan and Shakeshaft's work can teach is that my own situation need not be seen as unique. It doesn't take magic, or some God-given birthright, to be an effective leader in education. What it takes is a sense of perspective, a belief that all children can achieve at high levels, a focus on team building, dedicated hard work to follow through, and a commitment to keeping oneself sane. These are lessons drawn from women's ways of leading, as presented in Women and Educational Leadership, lessons that all leaders—male and female—should take to heart in reaching toward our common goal of providing an excellent education for every child.

Beverly Hall
Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools
2009 National Superintendent of the Year


Women Leaders Redefine Leadership

Two years ago we accepted an invitation from Jossey-Bass to write a new book about women's leadership. We were asked to contribute to the Leadership Library in Education series, so we challenged ourselves to think about a new approach to leadership. The series editor, Andy Hargreaves, wanted a work that would draw upon our knowledge of the ways women lead and that would enrich the general understanding of educational leadership. The series takes a broad, eclectic view of leadership. Other titles in the series have included Teacher Leadership, Sustainable Leadership, Ethical Leadership, Inclusive Leadership, and Distributed Leadership.

We were very excited about this opportunity, believing that we could offer something distinctive to the conversation about leadership from ours and others' considerable research on women leaders over the past twenty years. We had already worked together with several coauthors on a comprehensive review of the literature on women principals and superintendents for the second edition of the Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity Through Education, edited by Sue Klein and colleagues (Shakeshaft et al., 2007). The breadth and depth of research that we all collected for that chapter made us realize how much U.S. women in educational leadership have been studied—qualitatively and quantitatively.

We felt very strongly that Andy's invitation was our opportunity to move away from what had become the major focus of research on women leaders in education—the barriers or obstacles women faced when aspiring to the principalship or the superintendency. A fairly robust body of literature documents these concerns, and many hurdles are disappearing as more women enter the field. Despite the fact that the numbers of women in the secondary principalship and the superintendency are still surprisingly low, the problems are quite well articulated if not alleviated. So we did not want to write at length about these problems.

Instead, encouraged by research findings about ways many women lead when given the chance, and by the conviction that these ways held promise for a redefinition of educational leadership, we decided to document the positive and to imagine the value of everyone leading like women. Our premise that traditional approaches to leadership have left millions of children behind in our schools leads to the conclusion that a new definition of leadership is urgently needed. Simply put, far too many young people have not been served well by conventional organizational structures and educational practices.

First we reviewed the literature to identify recurring themes that described women's leadership. Then we read widely for an understanding of current social science theories to see whether women's approaches to leadership could capitalize on some of the newer social trends. According to the literature, women lead schools and districts purposefully. Five approaches characterize women's educational leadership: leadership for learning, leadership for social justice, relational leadership, spiritual leadership, and balanced leadership. Not all women value these approaches. But enough women draw upon some or all of them to make us comfortable in identifying them as the five most common approaches among women to date. Of course, many men value them as well; as yet, though, educational leadership textbooks rarely discuss these approaches and values. The closest we get are references to shared decision-making and collaborative decision-making.

After further study, we concluded that these approaches and values, generally speaking, represented a shift away from conceiving of organizational leadership as residing primarily in an individual. Most of the women leaders emphasized the ways they worked with and through others—teachers, staff, community members, and so on. Few thought of leadership as a top-down endeavor. Many accepted the responsibilities of leadership in order to make a difference in the opportunities for student learning, to reform the system, or at least to change the practices in a particular school. By attending to the ways women leaders get things done, we saw the power of collective leadership. Further, since women are essentially outsiders in the realm of leadership, and women of color are even more powerless than white women, we realized that this approach to leadership was embedded primarily in the value of diverse perspectives.

Thus, women's leadership of schools and districts in the United States suggested a new leadership emphasis that relies on diverse perspectives to craft new solutions to problems. This is more than merely asking for advice or widening the inner circle. The new work of organizational leadership is to form a diverse collective. This includes hearing ideas from across the globe. The more diverse the ideas, the more likely innovative approaches will result—and usually from cognitive shifts. We facilitate a cognitive shift in how issues are framed and addressed by deliberately tapping into diverse perspectives and assumptions that have not been included in the past. A shift results from the critical appraisal of norms and practices now deemed legitimate. Principals and superintendents who grasp the value of working this way learn to listen carefully, critique options, and meaningfully integrate the variety of opinions to encourage change. New directions emerge as outsiders—voices from the margins—make decisions.

How to Use This Book

Our intention is that this work will catalyze discussions of the ways in which readers, both women and men, lead. To encourage reflective discussion, we have included vignettes of administrators talking about their work, and questions for readers to ponder. The purpose of both devices is to compare our theoretical and research frame to the reader's experiential frame. We encourage critique of the two ways of knowing with the expectation that a close reading of our work alongside deep descriptions of practice will move the field forward to an understanding of collective leadership grounded in diversity.

We imagine this book will be read by school administrators and others who lead or study leadership. We see it as a text for preparation programs in leadership and as a resource for thinking about leadership.

We would like to give sincere thanks to Jossey-Bass editor, Kate Gagnon, for her patience and encouragement throughout the project.

Margaret Grogan
Charol Shakeshaft
August 2010