School leaders operate in a fluid and disruptive environment constantly adapting to changes in their school communities.
They also need to be disruptive themselves leaders.
Disruption here is taken to mean a force for good – a force for change that makes things better; either by displacing or overthrowing the old, or by creating new ways, things, thinking or methods.
To disrupt is to change the way people think or change the way things are done. Leaders see disruption and disruptive thinking as a force for positive change (Murray-Webster and Winton, 2021).
This is Snow Globe leadership where leaders consciously shake things up and keep shaking in order to find new information, insights, and inspiration.
The value of disruption is that it allows leaders to break free of conventional thinking and processes.
Nischwitz (2021) argues that we should shake our snow globes in order to get fresh perspectives about people, situations, problems and challenges. Disrupting our own frames of reference and stagnant mindsets is key.
He urges us to ‘keep shaking’ but also commit to shifting our perspectives and actions otherwise things soon settle and return to the way they were.
But do we really need to keep shaking?
Being disruptive is a question of balance and does not mean shaking the snow globe continually.
Pearson and Eastes (2022) remind us that it is important to remember that when we stop shaking the globe we get clarity and we are able to decide what to do next. Without clarity, it’s hard to be effective (Freed, 2013).
Snow Globe leaders understand that disrupting an existing eco-system can cause unease but they aren’t afraid to shake things up periodically and challenge the status quo.
Disruptive school leaders are people that embrace change and drive innovation by experimenting and learning.
They set out to support new values, policies, and ideas – not to cause trouble!
They are an asset to any school because they support new thinking, bring about transformative change and act as a source of organisational resilience.
Disruptive leaders are curious, they look at problems from novel angles and are able to unlock the potential for creative solutions and spot hidden possibilities.
Some school leaders make disruption their goal and they pivot easily between challenges and opportunities.
Li (2019) says that disruptive leaders display hardiness by setting a direction and sticking with it, through thick and thin.
Snow Globe leaders aren’t gung-ho. Shaking things up can be done with care and caution. As Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
But they don’t disrupt alone. They do this by promoting dialogue, engendering respect, sparking collaboration and inspiring initiative.
They have the power to ADAPT, that is, have the ability to anticipate, drive, accelerate, partner, and trust and they do this through humility and collaboration.
Disruptive leadership isn’t about change for the sake of change but about integrating change into the modus operandi of a school. They create trust, make strong connections and stretch thinking; disruption becomes the way things are done.
They create followers and fellow disruptors by promoting an openness to change mindset and nurture a healthy scepticism of best practices. It avoids complacency by stretching people and challenging their perceptions and assumptions so they too crack eggs to make omelettes.
They build a coalition of support and help others to take risks so they become unafraid to try new things. They create a school culture where staff thrive on the edge of disruption.
Through openness, agency and action, school leaders are able to transform their schools from ‘stuck cultures’ into ‘flux cultures’ that can achieve organisational ambidexterity.
School leaders of the future will need to adopt new identities, create new meanings and retain a self-disruptive outlook as a central feature of their leadership style to prosper.
This is not maverick leadership running wild, without direction or discipline. It requires planning and careful decision-making. Disruptive leaders are counter-intuitive, see the possibilities before them, acknowledge uncertainty and risk but push behavioural and cultural boundaries.
Disruptive leadership is a way of solving problems and focusing on new approaches that are different from the past. It is a management style which constantly seeks better solutions and new ways to improve processes and outcomes, and which is not afraid of shaking the herd mentality and established systems to reach necessary goals.
Teachers might crave stability but school systems have to continually adapt and that requires disruption and someone to shake the snow globe.
As Brian McCann says, “If we’re not going to be risk-takers, how can we expect our students to be?”
The most effective schools are the ones that are embracing disruptive leadership and changing their paradigm from seeing ‘problems’ and redefining them as opportunities to change their educational practices for the better.
Schools shouldn’t be afraid of disruption, they should embrace it and we need leaders that will disrupt our day and challenge our thinking.
As Eric Sheninger (2021) says, “Disruption is here to stay.”
We need leaders that can shake things off and shake things up too. Change is what leaders do and to do that involves agitating the system and getting things moving.
Shake, but allow things to settle.