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Relational Leadership: A Key in the Framework of School Leadership for the Children’s Sake by Nicolle Hutchinson

As a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, I’m currently earning both a masters degree and principal certification for Pennsylvania, and my quest is to develop a framework of school leadership based on Mason’s ideas. Not only do I love learning about educational leadership and training to be a principal, but I’m also thrilled to read the plethora of current work and research in education and leadership that concurs with Charlotte Mason’s ideas. As she presaged, educators are moving away from behaviorism toward human-centered pedagogy because research shows that humans learn best in ways that respect the whole person. Without a doubt, Carroll Smith was correct when he said that Mason was way ahead of her time. As I read (and read and read and read), I feel as though the world of education is finally catching up to her, and it instills in me much hope for the future of education.

Most of my hope lies in the direction in which educational leadership is heading.
Thus far in my studies, I have garnished research-based ideas from numerous educational leaders and philosophers that concur with Mason’s core principles. The current trends in professional development provide an excellent example.

Not until recently has the education world realized what the business world and philosophers such as Peter Senge and Mason have known for quite some time. Effective organizations are learning organizations. Schools are not places where children learn, but they are places where children and adults learn. If schools really are to leave no child left behind, then, as Jack Beckman so insightfully and cleverly put it in his blog, no teacher can be left behind.

When surveyed, most parents rank teacher competency as the most important factor for student learning. Research concurs. Effective schools show evidence of teacher learning and distributed leadership. So, to be competent and to share the responsibility of leadership, teachers need to keep learning. They learn important content. They master best practices for teaching. And finally, they model learning for children. Mason’s preservice teachers were immersed in a learning atmosphere. Regretfully, I find little immersion in my own story. I do not remember formally learning about history while teaching history to middle-schoolers for seven years in public and private schools. I was required to attend workshops on pedagogy but not on content. Principals, then, should provide opportunities and the funds for content learning and mastery because teachers must know what they are offering to children on that banquet table for their feast of learning.

Principals create a “professional learning community” to respect teachers as learners and leaders. Below is an excerpt from my capstone paper on effective leadership that addresses ways educational leaders build such communities:

A school principal is not a manager but a relational leader. Since “schools are in the person-shaping business” (Rawid, 2002, p.434), effective principals understand that in the school, all leaders and followers- teachers and students, principals and faculty persons- are in relationship and daily relate to many persons and things- themselves, others, nature, things and ideas; therefore, they create and foster a healthy atmosphere of relating in which all in the school community reach high levels of learning (Hallett, 2007; Mason, 1925). If the leader wants teachers to respectfully relate with children as persons rather than brains, then she must walk the talk and respectfully relate with her staff as persons “rather than as pawns to be manipulated” (Tschannen-Moran, 2004, p.24).
Creating a professional learning community is a respectful relational practice a leader engages in that honors the professional brilliance of teachers which in turn empowers them to increase student achievement since they increase their own sense of achievement and personal responsibility for student achievement (York-Barr, Sommers, Ghere & Montie, 2006).  To create a professional learning community or team, effective relational principals “exhibit task oriented behaviors, relationship oriented behaviors and participative leadership” (Chance & Chance, 2002, p.93).
Task- oriented behaviors include linking colleagues while structuring “mentoring, coaching and entering into dialogue and asking questions” (Goalman, 1998, p.101), providing interdependent work, space, time, schedules and systems for communication, reflective practice and informal meetings (Donaldson, 2001; York-Barr, Sommers, Ghere & Montie, 2006).
Relational behaviors involve affirming, supporting and challenging individuals; relating in authenticity, honesty and integrity; respecting emotional intelligence in others; using empathy and emotional intelligence to read needs (Cooper & Sawaf, 1996); maintaining confidentiality; speaking patiently and kindly; managing impulsivity; and thinking flexibly.
Principals demonstrate participative leadership by respecting time; attending workshops themselves; providing meaningful workshops; sharing positive, constructive, supportive feedback; developing trust through egalitarian culture and structures not highly formalized and hierarchical; distributing leadership with staff; attending to people’s feelings and behaviors toward one another; and talking about roles and responsibilities while seeking agreements as much as possible (Donaldson, 2001). These behaviors foster trust, group identity and effectiveness, which in turn foster ardent engagement and teamwork.

Relating to teachers as persons is the key to respectful educational leadership just as relating to children as persons is the key to respectful education. Principals who lead with this principle in the forefront lead schools where authentic, life-changing learning happens in the lives of the persons in the school. Everyone is a learner for life.

We know that Mason offered opportunities for her teachers to learn content, pedagogy and habits for life, but how else did she lead her teachers? It seems to me that the bulk of Mason’s work provides a framework for teaching and learning, but not one for school leadership. As I demonstrated above, her principals can definitely be relied upon. But I wonder if any of you know of some excerpts on school leadership from her body of work. Furthermore, what other elements must be considered and integrated into a framework for Respectful Leadership for the Children’s Sake? Any ideas?

This entry was posted in: Philosophy


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. Nicolle, as you know I am working on a book in which I am trying to lay out the foundation of education based on the fact that we are created in the image of God, or what is commonly referred to as the Imago Dei. In light of what you are saying in your blog, I thought you and all the readers might enjoy this quote from a book entitled The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei, by Dr. Stanley Grenz (2001, WJK).

    The social model, especially insofar as it speaks of God as subsisting in three subjective centers of action, has met not only remarkable applause but also rigorous critique. Yet its revival, together with the critical response it has generated, has sparked a rethinking of the idea of person. The most innovative result of this conversation not only for theology proper but also for anthropology has been the coalescing of theology with the widely accepted philosophical conclusion that “person” has more to do with relationality than with substantiality and that the term stands closer to the idea of communion or community than to the conception of the individual in isolation or abstracted from communal embeddedness. (p. 4)

  2. willowspring says

    What Dr. Grenz said makes sense. I am who I am because of the relationships I have had in the past with various people, from teachers I admired who gripped me with their ability to enliven the subject matter to teachers who sat at their desks and spoke in monotone. (I’m thinking of high school Biology — I don’t think she ever got up from her chair the entire year!)

    When I taught ninth grade at the school I had attended just a few short years earlier, the headmistress did not show me a whole lot of respect. I can certainly understand why. I had been her history student just eight years earlier, and she was spooked by my change in status. But the way she watched my every move, expected me to fail, and spoke to me in a more casual way than she spoke to the other teachers left a negative impression on me. Imagine if she had supported me, encouraged me, mentored me, yes, because I was a new teacher, but also trusted me. What a different outcome there may have been! I ended up quitting that job after only a year, and I don’t really fault her. She was not sure how to interact with me and made some mistakes.

    Regarding teacher training in content areas, I say, “Here, here!” We learn fresh methods of classroom management, disciplinary strategies, etc. at these meetings. But how about conferences on subject matter and how to make it come alive? I would like to go to a seminar entitled, “How to Fascinate Students,” wouldn’t you?

    Very interesting topic. I don’t have any answers, though…


  3. rebekahbrown says

    Mason talked about engaging with ideas as meeting “mind to mind.” That phrase came to mind with regard to ongoing content learning for teachers. Since idea begets idea it seems to make sense that teachers must continue to delve into idea-filled content in order to inspire, to guide, and to journey together with their students. I know I feel most excited about discussion with my students when they, or I, are sharing something newly gained from study. Jack mentioned this in his blog with the teacher interview. She talks about the teachers being a part of the pattern of the curriculum. Wouldn’t it be fun to dream about ways to enrich the lives of the teachers (and families) in the school curriculum so that it naturally pours over into the study life of the school? How exciting for the children and the teachers and the parents to all be regularly learning together, truly.

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