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Five theses on Christian educational leadership

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

Albert BOEREMA (BOEREMA) received his PhD in leadership, policy, and organizations at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody School of Education. He is now Professor of Educational Leadership at Calvin College. His research interests include leadership development and school change, and he has published numerous articles in this area. He helps future leaders to develop frames of thinking that allow them to navigate the institutional limitations while capitalizing on collaborative opportunities to activate such institutional changes as they meet the challenges of the 21st century. 

BOEREMA outlines a framework for leadership in schools that has a biblical foundation. One of the central issues is recognizing the uniqueness of leadership in schools, and acknowledging that leadership is not a neutral activity but always advances some agenda.  For Christian leaders, the agenda is working to advance the Kingdom of God, and the suffering will come as part of that work.  One of the leadership development activities is to seek being immersed in the biblical narratives. 

Leadership has two dimensions—giving direction to group effort and coordinating that effort.  BOEREMA proposes five theses that can give a framework for the directional dimension of leadership in schools that seeks to serve the Kingdom of God.

Thesis One: Leadership in schools is different from leadership in other sectors.

In educational institutions, the function is to be educative, while in profit-seeking institutions, the function of the institution is to realize profit. The problem that school leaders face is that the business, for-profit organizational image is frequently applied to educational institutions. Leadership is also, at some level, managing the tension between the routines that make life in schools manageable and the space for individuals to grow.  Schools are, ultimately, centers for development, not centers for production.  The important difference between the developmental and production metaphors is that students are responsive agents in their own development, not just objects to be produced. To lead schools from this perspective is to provide the space for students, both individually and collectively to develop, and this is better done in settings that are more family-like than business-like. School leadership conceptualized in this way should be more focused on community building and maintenance than creating command and control structures.  

Thesis Two: Leadership is fundamentally an ethical activity. 

Leading in schools is often seen as solving problems, taking care of all the large and small tasks that need to be attended to.  However, there is more to leading schools than getting the job done. In relation to academic theories, BOEREMA points out that the spirit of both the transformational leadership theory and critical leadership theory are animated by an ethical vision. Ethical visions are often implicit, providing an interpretative and normative vision of life, giving it meaning, orienting how life should be lived. The Biblical idea and image of the Kingdom of God provides an alternative ethical vision that can shape and animate leadership.

Thesis Three: Leadership should be enacting some aspects of the Kingdom of God.

Leaders always make directional choices on a continuum between leading that promotes the status quo or advances the aims of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not about rules or behaviors, but rather the relationship and the direction of one’s heart with respect to God. The work of school leaders has to have two prongs:  first, to proclaim the coming Kingdom symbolically through challenging school practices that are oppressive or reducing people from image bearers of God to rankings and grades in our mark books; and second, to shape schools that at the very least could provide a cup of cold water to those who are struggling. 

Thesis Four: Those seeking to serve the Kingdom of God will encounter suffering.

BOEREMA expounds that in moments of struggling and suffering that causes emotional intensity, leaders are defining or defending the school’s mission and vision.  It is in those moments that leadership is taking place. He then explores and elaborates this idea of struggling and suffering from the perspective of the book of Acts. He continues to encourage us that boldness is always linked with suffering in Acts and Joy came as a result of persecution and suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Thesis Five: The primary conversation partner for Christian leaders should be biblical studies.

What is the place of the Bible in leadership studies or Christian scholarship?  Can the Bible give us guidance for the specifics of leading and growing into being a leader? BOEREMA expounds that the Bible can give a framework of reality and providing the light to understand that reality which functioning as a worldview. The Bible also provides basic themes and norms which shape scholarly work—creation, stewardship, and telling us about the nature of God, man and the world.  The key pieces for leadership come from the overall biblical themes that should be shaping how leaders are chosen and developed to carry out their tasks, and the direction that shapes their leading.  Moving the Bible to a central role in informing leadership practice will help us become stronger in implementing a vision for the Kingdom of God in schools.

BOEREMA concludes that an ethical framework is important for thinking about and enacting leadership in schools by those who claim the name of Christ. This framework is used to guide decision-making both in the daily life and activities of the school, as well as in thinking about and responding to new societal initiatives and forces that arise on the educational landscape, such as globalization, post-modernity, and the use of digital educational technology.  Finally, to prepare for this work, to continue to develop as a Christian leader, one must be immersed in biblical narratives.


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