A balancing act: examining the relationship between school leadership and political tension in education decision making

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University of Delaware
The United States has a long history of political tension around education at the federal, state, and local level. District and school leaders must balance students’ learning and social needs while working to address political tension barriers on education decisions. Political tension involves the feeling of strain or anxiety around topics aligned with political ideology. The strain and anxiety generally result in difficulty with efficiently moving forward with clear decision making, specifically in education. Education decisions are choices made by district and school leaders that affect students’ growth academically within the school setting. Examples of education decisions could include restructuring the administration team, endorsing a specific curriculum, or implementing an enrichment program. Researchers have written extensively about effective leadership approaches but there is a lack of literature on strategies for how school leaders, particularly at the district level, can address political tensions that create barriers to decision making. School leaders' abilities to address political tension would support efficacious decision making with a focus on positive outcomes for students. ☐ Overtime, as politics has become more contentious, districts’ decision making has come under attack. These attacks significantly disrupt the ways in which school districts make and implement reforms, school improvements, policy changes, and the like. District and school leaders lack strategies and resources to proactively address political tension barriers which results in sporadic and often poorly implemented or communicated decision making. These implementation and communication failures are then poorly received by the community. The constant politicization of school decisions has caused leaders to focus on responding to political tensions, rather than focusing on decision making that can positively impact students’ learning needs. Therefore, it is imperative that educational leaders are equipped and prepared to address political tensions that cause barriers so that they can remain focused on decision-making processes that result in positively supporting students’ learning and social needs. Education leaders need both the resources and the opportunity to apply decision-making strategies that simultaneously address political tensions and remove barriers in order to communicate more effectively and work harmoniously with their school community. ☐ In my educational leadership portfolio (ELP), I focus specifically on how political tensions on the national level are influencing the decision making of local district and school leaders. I evaluated the relationship between district and school leaders’ decision-making process and political tension barriers within a rural school district in the Mid-Atlantic region. I used a rural school district as a case study to explore strategies district and school leaders need to manage political tension barriers without compromising decision making aimed at supporting student growth academically, socially, and emotionally. In this ELP, I gathered data through a case study. The ELP proposes a decision-making framework that district and school leaders can proactively utilize when they predict, or encounter, political tensions that result in barriers that may impede their ability to make decisions.
School leadership, Political tension, Decision making, Students' learning, School community