School Leadership Two Ways



Willem de Vlaming 

june 2023


This blog is about two perspectives on leadership, and professional roles and responsibilities, in a 'good school'. From the perspective of quality assurance and (strategic) quality policy, a good school is 'in control' of (1) the quality and effectiveness of the teaching-learning process and its outcomes, and (2) the quality and effectiveness of the school and team in itself — as an organization.

'Being in Control' is the systematic determination that set goals and standards are being met — and making appropriate adjustments if necessary.


I distinguish two organizational designs with different approaches to ‘being in control’: a functional organization, and a professional (learning) community. (In ‘real life’ schools will have a hybrid practice — consciously or unconsciously)


Functional Organization --- Professional Learning Community


A functional organization, has precisely defined and demarcated tasks, responsibilities, and authorities — often with a comprehensive system of guidelines, working methods, and procedures. A functional organization is often characterized by forms of vertical leadership and supervision. In such a functional organizational design, the school leader manages structures and processes that guarantee the leadership being ‘in control'.

The strength of a functional organization is that people are deployed (and held accountable) on clearly defined goals and results. Professionals can fully focus on a very specific task and develop the necessary knowledge and skills. A disadvantage is that specialization and individualization of accountabilities can lead to fragmentation and compartmentalisation, and loss of perspective on and responsibility for ‘the whole picture’.


Leadership and management in a functional organization is positional, hierarchical, and goal and result oriented. It is about managers being proactive and giving (detailed) instructions, guidance, and setting targets and monitoring performance. Training programs focus on skills and knowledge — collective learning is optional.

There is an individualized focus on results: Individual tasks, responsibilities and authorities — ambiguities regarding (individual) tasks are minimized as quickly as possible. 


A (professional) learning community (PLC), is based on the collective ambition of a team of professionals and their collective capacity for planned learning and performing. There is horizontal and shared leadership, peer consultation, feedback and coordination. In such an organization design, the school leader(ship) supervises that all team members participate and that the team sets up (self-managing) structures and processes that guarantee the team and team members (and thus the school) being 'in control'. 

A PLC is a group of education professionals who work together, learning and researching, to develop the quality and effectiveness of their educational practice. They focus on the quality and effectiveness of their individual and collective professional thinking and acting — and the outcomes thereof. Professionals in a PLC: (1) have a vision of their profession and professional role; (2) shape and develop the quality and effectiveness of their professional role in their specific practice; (3) walk the talk of professionalism. 


Professionalism is characterized by a combination of traits, skills and behaviors associated with a high level of competence, responsibility, integrity and ethical conduct. Some key characteristics are: 1) Professional behavior (competent, ethical and honest) in accordance with the standards and values of the profession. 2) Focus on competence and (self)development 3) Focus on customer needs and expectations. 4) Focus on results and effectiveness. 5) Analytical and judgmental skills. 6) Flexibility and creativity in ever changing circumstances surrounding complex issues.


Professional development in a (professional) learning community is about horizontal leadership, imagining the future, embracing uncertainty, employee empowerment, autonomy, and self-directed learning. Managers stimulate employees to take ownership of their work.

A PLC strives to maximize (individual and collective) professional space (autonomy and discretion) and joint responsibility for (individual and collective) result-oriented learning and performance. Everyone can contribute and exert influence. Participation, contribution, learning, and performing is reciprocal, aimed at individual and collective development.'

Collective learning and performance form the basis. Definition and demarcation of tasks, responsibilities and authorities mainly serve as temporary constructs for (individual and collective) self-management.

PLC members work in a process of shared vision and goal formulation, collective learning and development, and collective formulation and implementation of plans and goal achievement. Professional autonomy is based on individual and collective professionalism. Constructive feedback and support focuses on strengths and opportunities for development.


Selecting an 'organizational design' — Functional Organization, Learning Community, or a hybrid form — has consequences for the do's and don'ts of leaders, managers, coaches, supervisors, and employees. What is appropriate role taking, thinking and action in one concept can be counterproductive in another.

A sudden switch from a role of facilitating non directive manager or critical friend, into a performance monitoring and correcting micro-manager — will almost certainly create an unsafe working environment. And ‘letting go’ where steering and instruction is expected and required will also generate degrees of unsafety. Finding the right transparent balance is a complex puzzle.


The school leadership being 'in control' of the quality and effectiveness of any given organizational design, requires:

  • alignment with the organization’s: history, perceived meaning, norms and values, capacity, philosophy, paradigms, et cetera;
  • alignment with the maturity and professionalism of individual team members, and the team as a whole;
  • a shared vision on what organizational design is needed, and what it means to think and act in alignment with that design;
  • development of an appropriate quality culture and professionalism.


The school leadership needs to know (given the selected organizational design) what it takes to be ‘in control’:

  • of quality, efficiency, effectiveness, and compliance;
  • of the quality and effectiveness of their own individual and collective professional thinking and acting — and the outcomes thereof;
  • the quality and effectiveness of employees being in control of the quality and effectiveness of their individual and collective thinking and acting — and the outcomes thereof.



Translated and adapted from: De Vlaming (2022). Een goede school. ‘In control zijn en (bege)leiderschap. [op:] LINK