21st Century Educational Leadership

21st Century Educational Leadership

Edward E. Leonard (University of South Alabama, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1968-3.ch015
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The future awaits and is a virtual unknown except for what can be predicted based on what is now known and speculation about potential changes based on that knowledge. This chapter puts forth predictions about major issues educational leaders may face as the 21st century unfolds. Those issues include: the rapidly burgeoning and ever expanding inclusion of technology in education and modern life; balancing the demands of various educational constituencies, the imperatives concomitant with managing soft interpersonal skills; dealing with diversity and plurality; giving credence to equity and social justice; developing and incorporating new modes of instruction and instructional delivery; defining and incorporating new basic skills; globalization of knowledge, communication and education; and managing change. The 21st century will be about educating individuals and the world as a whole. Educational leaders who grasp that concept and act on it will succeed.
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Education can be conceived as a people enterprise unlike any other. This is especially true of American education with its commitment to universal free public education. As the 21st century unfolds educational leaders will need to recognize the full weight of the importance of the concept of education as a people enterprise. Leaders will need to find the ways and means to give people, as individual human beings, the best available opportunity to learn/become educated. The challenges will be great. The circumstances in which learning opportunities/education is offered and where/how leadership must be provided will be vastly different than today. What follows are predictions about the major issues educational leaders may face as the 21st century unfolds, the challenges those issues pose to leaders, and how leaders may meet those challenges.

People are all fascinated by what the future holds. The future is that unknown number of a person’s days, holding promise. That future, those days, hold the promise of good things to come, like the wonders displayed in the Futurama at 1964 World’s Fair in New York. And, it is fascinating to see those wonders unfold. So fascinating that one might very well remark as Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz when she awakened in a strange new land, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” (Mervyn & Fleming, 1939).

The generations of people who will experience the 21st century may not mark as many firsts as the generations of people in the 20th century:

  • Flight,

  • Automobiles,

  • The atomic age,

  • Exploration of space,

  • Organ transplants, and

  • The dawn of the digital age;

but there will surely be as many changes, and there may be as many or more firsts. And, there are certain to be some surprises both good and bad. But in looking ahead one must be wary of overreaching.

While some of the wonders from the Futurama at that 1964 World’s Fair have become reality, others (especially in the undersea realm) have yet to materialize 50 plus years later. Undersea resorts still do not exist. Many of the practices/nightmares described in Orwell’s 1984 came to be but only well after 1984 (Orwell, 1949). Isaac Asimov speculated extensively about robots in his book I, Robot, but he had the wisdom not to place them in the near future as did the director of the movie based on his work (Asimov, 1950). The movie I, Robot had the world awash in functional, intelligent robots by 2035 (Mark & Proyas, 2004). We are less than twenty years from 2035 and robots of the kind depicted in the movie are nowhere to be found.

The problem for futurists is that they can almost never predict precisely, or sometimes even in a general time frame, when events will unfold. At best they can base their projections on current knowledge and practice and extrapolate from there. Speculation about what the future holds for educational leaders is no less problematic.

Educational leaders are responsible for the selection, facilitation, implementation, and delivery of instruction and for providing the resources (human and material) needed for instruction and learning. As the 21st century reveals the clues to the terrain of the new world, educational leaders will confront new challenges in fulfilling their responsibilities. One of those challenges is overcoming complacency or satisfaction with the status quo, both individually and collectively within an organization. A second challenge is maintaining a balance between what is realistic to expect and what is not.

Chapter Objectives

The chapter 21st Century Educational Leadership addresses the following objectives:

  • 1.

    To provide predictions about the major issues educational leaders may face as the 21st century unfolds;

  • 2.

    To provide an overview the challenges those issues pose to leaders; and,

  • 3.

    To provide strategies that leaders may employ to meet those challenges.

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