Application of Servant-Leadership Theory in Inclusive Education
Nasir Sulman, Ph.D
Department of Special Education
University of Karachi
The concept of inclusive education is common to the recent educational system and involves service to our students. Bloom, Perlmutter & Burnell (cited in Salend, 2005)1 define inclusion as “a philosophy that brings diverse students, families, educators, and community members together to create schools and other social institutions based on acceptance, belonging, and community”. This suggests that all children, regardless of their ability level or special needs, could be included and accommodated in the regular school classroom.
How does one approach the service to our exceptional students and to all students? Teacher training and an understanding of exceptional learners are critical, of course. Strategies for differentiation are also necessary to meet the needs of individual learners. It seems logical that a positive mindset toward service in education could be the starting point in making any program work.
The concept of servant-leadership, as introduced by Robert Greenleaf (1904-1990) may provide the seeds for developing effective, supportive, learning environments for all learners. What is a servant-leader? Greenleaf (1970/1991)2 states:
A servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant- first, to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test is: do those served grow as persons; do they while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what of the least privileged in society: will they benefit, or at least, not be further deprived?
The term “servant-leadership” was introduced by Robert Kiefner Greenleaf in his first essay entitled, The Servant as Leader. He tells of discovering the concept of servant-leadership through reading Journey to the East, by Herman Hesse, the story of a band of men who set out on a long journey. Accompanying the men was a fellow named Leo whose job was to care for the band of men by doing all of the menial chores and providing for their comfort. The journey progressed well until Leo disappeared. At this point, the men fell into disarray and the journey was aborted. Many years later, the narrator of the story encountered Leo and discovered that Leo was, in fact, the titular head of the religious order that had sponsored the journey many years ago. He was the leader, but his nature was that of a servant. His leadership was bestowed upon him, and could be taken away, by the band of men. His desire to serve the group came from his heart. Greenleaf (2002)3 saw in this story the message that one must first serve society, and through that service, regardless of position, a person will be recognized as a leader. “Effective servant-leaders can be so subtle about it that all anybody is likely to see is the result. They don’t see the cause”.
Working with educational, business and industrial organizations, Greenleaf’s goal was to develop strong, effective, caring communities in all segments of society – a goal that is consistent with a commitment to inclusive schools, but one that requires time to develop the necessary qualities of servant-leadership.
• Is one metaphor for collaborative or inclusive leadership? Robert Greenleaf was known as a convener. He co-founded the Center for Applied Ethics in 1964 (renamed the Robert K. Greenleaf Center in 1985) as a think tank for those with a passion for exploring how large institutions could operate ethically.
• Sets an ethical benchmark. Our actions, while moving an individual, group, or organization towards its goals (bottom line), should also result in the growth of people and a more caring society (top line). Different situations may require different actions to meet this ethic, but the ethic remains constant. Greenleaf’s “Best Test” provides us with criteria for measuring the outcomes of our actions against this benchmark.
• Provides a holistic model for examining our actions in relationship to the effect we have on other individuals, groups, organizations, and society. It was Greenleaf’s thesis that more servants should emerge as leaders, or should follow only servant-leaders. He wrote a series of essays on the theme of “Servant as Leader” to stimulate thought and action for building a better, more caring society.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SERVANT-LEADERSHIP
Larry Spears (1998)4 describes ten characteristics of servant-leadership.
1) Listening: Effective educational leaders are great communicators and must be good listeners, to themselves (through their inner voice), as well as to others. This refers to a deep commitment to listening to others. Proponents of the servant-leadership model emphasize the need for silence, reflection, meditation, active listening, and actually “hearing” both what is said and what is unsaid. The best communication forces you to listen. It is critical that teachers listen and hear carefully when interacting with students and during parent meetings or telephone conversations.
2) Empathy: A good servant-leader strives to understand and empathizes with others. But this understanding should be supportive as opposed to patronizing; Block (1993/1996)5 states, “It is a misuse of our power (as leaders) to take responsibility for solving problems that belong to others” (Personally, I have always found that parents of students with special needs appreciate a caring and sensitive attitude from the school or resource teacher. The parental responsibilities for a special needs child are often considerable, and any compassion and empathy from school personnel can develop a positive home-school relationship.
3) Healing: Servant-leaders have the potential to heal both themselves and others. While healthy leaders cannot always find followers, “sick organizations really do contaminate” (Sturnick sited in Spears, 1998). Greenleaf, a lifelong meditator, views meditation as a service because one is taking time to think about things, to reflect: “I prefer to meditate; I have come to view my meditating as serving” (Spears, 1998). A happy, positive school environment, where staff, students, and parents feel welcome, creates a sense of wellness.
4) Awareness: Servant-leaders develop general awareness, especially self-awareness, through self-reflection, by listening to what others say about them, by being continually open to learning, and by making the connection between what they know and believe and what they say or do. Opportunities for reflection and dialogue on educational practice are critical in dealing with the needs of students. Effective and supportive programs require ongoing checks that provide opportunities for revisions or redirection for our learners. The IEP is one major vehicle to ensure appropriate action for special needs children is documented.
5) Persuasion: The servant-leader seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance. Ongoing and consistent dialogue with parents, support people, and school leaders are necessary to the wellbeing of individual learners.
6) Conceptualization: Servant-leaders seek to nurture their own abilities to dream great dreams. Greenleaf in Frick & Spears (1996)6 describes conceptual talent as “The ability to see the whole in the perspective of history – past and future – to state and adjust goals, to evaluate, to analyze, and to foresee contingencies a long way ahead. Leadership, in the sense of going out ahead to show the way, is more conceptual than operating. The conceptualizer, at his or her best, is a persuader and a relation builder”.
7) Foresight: Greenleaf refers to this ability to foresee or know the likely outcome of a situation as a better than average guess about “what’ is going to happen “when” in the future. Experience plays the greatest part in the development of foresight when working with students and answering questions such as: How can each student be accommodated in a sensible and realistic way? What necessary supports must be in place?
Greenleaf (1991)7 says foresight is “the lead that a leader has” and goes on to state “Foresight means regarding the events of the instant moment and constantly comparing them with a series of projections made in the past and at the same time projecting future events- with diminishing certainty as projected time runs out into the indefinite future.”
8) Stewardship: Greenleaf believed all members of an institution or organization play significant roles in caring for the wellbeing of the institution and serving the needs of others in the institution, for the greater good of society. Sergiovanni (1992)8 explains that stewardship, “involves the leader’s personal responsibility to manage her or his life and affairs with proper regard for the rights of other people and for the common welfare”. Inclusive and serving schools provide an environment for “the common good of all students”, regardless of their particular needs.
9) Commitment to the growth of people: Servant-leaders are committed to the individual growth of human beings and will do everything they can to nurture others. DePree (1989)9 says, “The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Simply put, the purpose of our schools is the promotion of the growth of others.
10) Building community: The servant-leader seeks to identify some means for building community. Sergiovanni (1994)10 reminds us that caring is an integral part of shared community. Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers (sited in Hesselbein, Goldsmith, Beckhard & Schubert, 1998)11 emphasize the sense of belonging defined by a shared sense of purpose that does not eliminate individuality, but focuses all energies into a resilient community. We want all our children to feel wanted and treated as valuable, capable, and responsible within the inclusive school community.
How can learning communities incorporate the servant-leader concept? Educational organizations may integrate servant-leadership into the schools in various ways:
(1) A school could begin with a reading and discussion of Greenleaf’s writing, through the use of staff study groups, beginning with The Servant as Leader.
(2) The ten characteristics of servant-leadership could be used as a framework by staff while developing school plans.
(3) The concept of volunteering or “giving back” in the community and the rationale for such service could become an underpinning in the school culture.
(4) Servant leadership is more easily provided if the leader understands that serving others is important, but that the most important thing is to serve the values and ideas that shape the school.
(5) The philosophy of servant-leadership could be introduced as professional development for teacher candidates going into the field. The belief that it is an honour and privilege to serve as a teacher is critical to creating a positive approach when dealing with the many challenges in the classroom today.
(6) Servant-leadership may provide a foundation for responsive and caring action that is particularly needed by special education resource teachers. The concepts of inclusivity, empathy, acceptance, and foresight fit nicely into a servant-leadership model and provide a positive, proactive mindset when dealing with special needs students and their parents.
(7) The servant-leader philosophy for building shared and distributive leadership within schools and committees through primus inter pares enhances the growth of the learning community by including and involving parents, students, staff and support staff.
(8) The topic of servant leadership could be included as a component of university educational administration courses for study and discussion.
Genuine junctures for learning are possible through a combination of service (servant-leadership) and inclusivity in our schools. In-service to educational stakeholders could provide a constructive mindset and build a positive foundation for serving student needs and ultimately benefit the learning for all students in Pakistan.
1. As quoted in S. Salend, Creating Inclusive Classrooms, 5th ed. (Toronto: Pearson Education Canada, Ltd., 2005).
2. Greenleaf, R. (1970/1991). The Servant as Leader. Indianapolis: The Robert K. Greenleaf Center, 1-37.
3. Greenleaf, R. (2002). Teacher as servant: A parable. Indianapolis: The Robert K. Greenleaf Center, 151.
4. Spears. L. (Ed.). (1998). Insights on leadership: Service, stewardship, spirit, and servant leadership. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., x, 3-16, 81.
5. Block, P. (1993/1996). Stewardship: Choosing service over self-interest. San Francisco: Berrett Koehler Publishers, 7-25, 72, 193.
6. Frick, D. and Spears, L. (Eds.). (1996). The private writings of Robert K. Greenleaf: On becoming a servant leader. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 139-140, 211-217, 290.
7. Greenleaf, R. (1991). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press, 5.
8. Sergiovanni, T. (1992). Moral leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 68-72, 125-139.
9. De Pree, M. (1989). Leadership is an art. New York: Dell Publishing Group, 12-13, 102, 145.
10. Sergiovanni, T. (1994). Building community in schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 146.
11. Hesselbein, F., Goldsmith, M., Beckhard, R. and Schubert, R. (Eds.). (1998). The community for the future. New York: The Peter F. Drucker Foundation, 30, 94, 126.