Leadership for democracy, general education and the common good

Lejf Moos and Romuald Normand - 29 March 2022

Moos Normand Ideas LAB

How to direct and lead education? This question seems relevant for country leaders as well as for children who begin to explore and learn about their immediate environment. Directing others, directing objects around us, directing ourselves. Moving beyond an instrumental and managerial vision that makes us believe that people can be led more as objects than as subjects, leadership needs to raise the issue of culture and ethics involved in leading others in their own education. Any discussion on the future of education systems must consider the issue of establishing proper structures and cultures for local school leadership and for training tomorrow's leaders. This piece expands on UNESCO’s Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education report by focusing on those who will have to lead members of school communities to face challenges imposed by technological innovations, societal transformations, new modes of knowledge, economic and ecological changes. What role can school leadership play in transforming our futures together?

Leadership that empowers people
through negotiation and a shared vision

We are currently seeing that where schools are being granted greater autonomy, competition is not the necessary result. Several studies underline the virtues of social cooperation and altruism in teaching and management practices, which strengthen student self-esteem and well-being as required conditions for better learning. Taking responsibility appears as a strong motivation for personal and professional development, as is joining a group or a project. Intrinsic motivation, as shown by the psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, is more important than extrinsic motivation to explain individual and collective commitment in educative tasks and activities. The feeling of recognition also drives the development of professional communities whose members learn together and share their experience and knowledge in an open manner.

Educative leadership is educational leadership that activates social and professional dynamics in searching for common goods shared with students, parents, and local communities through regular school meetings as well as in spaces beyond the school. It is leadership that recognizes differences without abandoning equity, encourages mutual respect without contempt, and allows individual autonomy while ensuring social cohesion, promoting creativity while respecting collective norms. All of these tensions are best dealt with by school leaders through negotiation and by empowering people through a shared vision.

This empowerment cannot be instrumentally achieved. Three decades of research provides evidence about the aporias of performance modelling that impose professional and curricular standards and are coupled with accountability mechanisms in efforts to improve student outcomes and reduce inequalities. From teaching to the test to narrowing the curriculum, from teachers’ stress to principals’ burnout, top-down efforts have reached their human and ethical limitations. The approach taken in the Singapore education system of "teaching less, learning more" while managing student social and emotional skills seems more promising for both social and economic ends than a focus on mastering basic skills with the use of standardized tests. Unfortunately, “what works" toolkits only add to the deviation created by neo-Taylorian prescriptions that lock people into alienation and social pathologies and prevent meaningful experiences that support a good life.

We need human beings who lead schools
with an ethical sense and a vision of the future
that allow a large community to be involved

This good life, and related common goods, must be sought in the diversity of social and human experiences shared by educators, based on multiple commitments to serve social justice and equal opportunities. For too long, the development of student social and civic skills has been neglected by educational leaders, even though they are essential for living together in respecting ethnic and cultural differences. Why isn’t more space given to interculturality in schools and more attention paid to global human history to fight against the rise of nationalism, xenophobia and racism? – especially since the threat of war has reemerged. How can we pursue global and humanistic aims in child development through education that has been opened to our common humanity and respect for the natural world? For this, we need human beings who lead schools with an ethical sense and a vision of the future that allow a large community to be involved in the recognition and affirmation of fundamental and democratic rights.

School leadership must be at the service of societal responsibility, not instrumental accountability. To achieve this, policymakers must be more aware of new needs in educating and training tomorrow's leaders. These leaders will not be bureaucrats or entrepreneurs. They will be first and foremost educators concerned with giving moral meaning to democracy. Their leadership will not be an authoritarian leadership embodied in one person. It will be a leadership that allows everyone, based on their experience, to participate in educational life in exchange relationships and creative interactions. As John Dewey wrote, the school must be an association, a place of experience, which allows an alert and active trade with the world, an interaction between the living being and its environment. And school leadership is one condition for this practical achievement of reimagining our futures together.


Romuald Normand is a Fulbright Alumnus and professor at the University of Strasbourg, honorary professor at Aarhus University, and associate professor at Beijing Normal University. He develops comparative research on education policies, school management and leadership and has served as expert for the European Commission, the OECD and the French Ministry of Education.

Lejf Moos is Associate Professor Emeritus at Aarhus University. He is past president of the International Congress of School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) and the European Education Research Association (EERA).

Cite this article (APA format)
Moos, L and Normand, R. (29 March 2022) Leadership for democracy, general education and the common good. UNESCO Futures of Education Ideas LAB. Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/futuresofeducation/ideas-lab/normand-moos-school-leadership.

Cite this article (MLA format)
Moos, Lejf and Normand, Romuald. "Leadership for democracy, general education and the common good". UNESCO Futures of Education Ideas LAB. 29 March 2022, https://en.unesco.org/futuresofeducation/ideas-lab/normand-moos-school-leadership.


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