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Ask Dr. Lynch: Constructivist Leadership in Schools

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Shirley U. asks:

How can a leader add constructivist leadership to his/her toolkit?


Great question, as constructivism is an essential model of leadership that all principals should employ at one time or another. In educational theory, constructivism occurs when school participants create a trusting environment that awakens potential, does away with old assumptions, creates meaning, and frames actions based on new behaviors and purposeful intention.

A constructivist leader explores the way things were, by speaking to the people who were there. Then, he or she uses that knowledge to determine how things should be, and finds ways to get there. All this is done in a context to which everyone involved can relate.

Everyone in the school can perform an act of leadership, provided that s/he possesses:

  • A sense of purpose and ethics, as a basis for healthy relationship-building;
  • Facilitation skills, which are needed during conversations about teaching and learning, in order to construct meaning;
  • A solid understanding of constructivist learning in humans;
  • An understanding of the processes of change and transition;
  • An understanding of context (memories can continually be drawn and enriched in creating meaning); in addition to
  • Attitudes of courage and risk-taking, low ego, and a heightened sense of possibility.

Those who initiate acts of leadership have held tight to their purposes. Or, they may have redefined their personal ethics after experiencing a pattern of ineffective or negative relationships. Good old-fashioned logic and truth contribute to building trust in communal relationships.

An understanding of constructivist learning enables leaders to pose questions and frame actions that lead to self-construction and equal sharing of authority. These factors are important in the design of constructivist curricula, assessments and instruction. Constructivism enables the school leader to create learning environments based on:

  • Passion;
  • unique learning gifts/perceptions;
  • the community;
  • authentic work; and
  • assessment.

The main aim of the constructivist leader is to create real change fueled by intention, not prediction. The complex change process can only be understood through dialogue among co-leaders in the learning community. They must tap into the “community of memories” by exploring, analyzing and planning. Communities are important because they are constituted by their past; in order to retain their past, they are constantly involved in retelling their story.

When a new principal joins a school, he or she should assess memories, which mostly concern the men and women who had previously embodied and exemplified the community’s meaning. The new principal learns the values and intentions that drive work in the school, as well as fears and lost hopes that may impede creativity and innovation. Through the sharing of memories, it is easier to conceptualize work. These conversations help to clarify next steps.

Personal identity forms through reflective interactions with others. Constructivist leaders don’t just explain; they listen to gain understanding of others. These leaders have outgrown the need to “win,” and they understand that reciprocity and high personal regard are far more crucial for achieving a common purpose.

With growing clarity and confidence in their guiding values, these leaders are able to ask essential questions. Personal efficacy creates a trusting environment, and these leaders work with other stakeholders to create possibilities for all. Previously the opportunity for growth may have been reserved for a select few, but constructivist leadership extends this opportunity to many.

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.

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