The Leader as Inventor

Written By dwalker

On March 19, 2010

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Several years ago I wrote an invited article for the Wesleyan Graduate Review.  It was entitled “Teaching and the Process of Invention,” using the metaphor of an inventor to describe what teachers do to reach all their students and help them succeed.  In revisiting that article, it seems to me that the attributes of the inventor could also be applied to those in leadership roles.

To invent something, a person needs an open mind, a commitment to inquiry, the examination of existing data or conditions, and the use of creative thinking to apply those data or conditions.  Inventors are problem solvers who see a problem through a new or different lens, enabling them to develop unique solutions.

For school principals, district office staff and others in leadership roles, acting as creative problem solvers might yield several important outcomes.  First, if leaders have an open mind to exploring root causes of problems such as under-achievement, and are willing to collaborate with colleagues as inventors often do, it is more likely they will identify viable solutions.  This means not adopting programs or approaches because they are popular or seem easy, but rather constructing original approaches based on individual school or district context.  Second, leaders taking on the role of creative problem solver could ensure that schools or districts don’t have competing initiatives that may not be congruent, and could help them make better use of limited resources, like time.  And third, applying the metaphor of inventor could support leaders in developing school capacity to identify, explore and resolve problems by creating their own solutions.

What do you think?  Does the metaphor of school leaders as inventor suggest new ways of conceptualizing school leadership?