Article Review: Why We Should Seek Substitutes for Leadership by Thomas J. Sergiovanni

An important purpose of leadership is to establish the professional ideal and community norms as conditions that make leadership no longer heed (Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 43).

Thomas J. Sergiovanni (1992) believes that in order to improve, schools must adopt the metaphor of school as community rather than school as organization. Currently, education relies on direct leadership and little time is left for leaders to focus on issues of substance that can make real changes in the ways we are teaching and learning (Sergiovanni, 1992). The author makes a clear argument for the value of changing this paradigm of schools for the benefit of the students. Sergiovanni (1992) believes that it is important to find substitutes for the traditional leadership roles.

Organization is the belief that to perform adequately, schools must follow certain rules and regulations which function to communicate to teachers their expectations and requirements. To maintain control, leaders are required to use evaluation and monitoring systems; it is a hierarchical system because principals and supervisors are presumed to know more than teachers (Sergiovanni, 1992). "Organization is an idea that is imposed from without" (Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 41) and leadership is based on control. Unfortunately too many of our schools are formal organisational structure where teachers become little factory workers under control from above.

Instead, Sergiovanni (1992) encourages leaders to consider the school as a community where the responsibility of maintaining control is with those who are most affected. In the community metaphor:

Communities are defined by their centres . . . repositories of values, sentiments, and beliefs that provide the needed cement for uniting people in a common cause. Centres govern the school values and provide norms that guide behaviour and give meaning to school community life. (Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 41)

These community norms serve as substitutes for the type of leadership required in the organization metaphor; this allows principals to concentrate on quality and professional development rather than trying to control people (Sergiovanni, 1992).

As the school begins to view itself as more as a community, the practice of teaching becomes more collective and less individual. What is important is that teachers help construct the centre of shared values by being committed "to do one’s best and to make the community work and work well" (Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 42). Shared leadership which stresses following the vision rather than the person is recommended as a way to enhance internal motivation of teachers to work hard; teachers work hard because they feel ownership in the success of the community (Sergiovanni, 1992).

But can such a model work when staff turnover is so high, especially in remote communities like Taloyoak where I am Vice Principal? I have seen may good intentions fail simply because people have moved on. Will "the norms and core values of the community centre continue to act as substitutes for leadership even after the leader leaves [?]" (Sergiovanni, 1992). Sergiovanni (1992) believes that it will but the author does not give suggestions on how to make sure this happens. The reader can infer that because the beliefs and values have become a core for the school, it becomes the responsibility of all those left behind to regulate community norms.

Sergiovanni (1992) discusses the relationship between professional idealism and leadership: "The more professionalism is emphasized, the less leadership is needed. The more leadership is emphasized, the less likely it is that professionalism will develop" (Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 42). When the ideals of professionalism begin to take hold in a school, principals can spend more quality time dealing with support for the school in issues of teaching and learning (Sergiovanni, 1992).

When considering professionalism, schools often turn to issues of competence. However Sergiovanni (1992) believes that professionalism is more than competence; it is competence and virtue. Professional virtue is more fitting in the metaphor of school as community than as organization (Sergiovanni, 1992). One of the most valuable sections of the article by Sergiovanni (1992) is the explanation of the four dimensions of professional virtue.

The author describes profession virtue as being made up as four dimensions. The first is a commitment to instruct in an exemplary way. This requires that the teacher stay knowledgeable about latest research, reflect on own practice, try new approaches and share one’s learning with others (Sergiovanni, 1992). Teachers who commit to this virtue gain a sense of ownership in their professional growth which reduces the need for the principal to plan and implement programs for them (Sergiovanni, 1992). Upon reflection, I can see that my interest in my own professional growth has allowed me to plan learning experiences to match my interests; I learn because I want to not because my principal is demanding that participation in an inservice. To go further, what I learn during my own professional learning experiences helps me to share with others and encourages them to take more ownership in their own professional growth.

The second dimension is a commitment to work towards agreed-upon school values and purposes (Sergiovanni, 1992). The author believes that once these goals are considered norms for the school, teaching becomes stewardship and stewardship becomes self-management. Teachers have a responsibility in making sure that the values and purposes are central to the practice; if someone on staff is not working in such a way, it is the responsibility of others to bring awareness.

Sergiovanni (1992) describes the third dimension as a commitment to one's own practice and to the practice itself. This "requires that teaching be transformed from individual to collective practice" (Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 43); teachers help one another because they are committed and feel internally obligated to work together. Helping one another is a feedback loop because everyone benefits, the helped find success and the helper becomes stronger in their communication of insights.

Finally, the author defines the fourth dimension as the commitment to the ethnic of caring which emphasises a concern for the whole person instead of concentrating solely on professional technique (Sergiovanni, 1992). Sergiovanni (1992) forces the educator to consider the student as a person to be served rather than as a case to be treated. It is interesting to note that there is no reference to formal code of ethics at any point in the discussion of professionalism by Sergiovanni (1992). Sergiovanni (1992) is far more interested in a sense of professionalism that comes from within rather than one that is forced on by teacher federations. Viewing school as community requires that educators internalise professional ideals.

The author uses these four dimensions of professionalism to support a case for another substitute for leadership, collegiality. Collegiality is a form of professional virtue where true colleagues work together to increase the quality of each other’s work; "collegiality requires that it come from within" (Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 43). Teachers must be able to access help and support from other teachers and have the responsibility to do the same for others (Sergiovanni, 1992). Collegiality becomes a proper professional attitude towards working with others.

Sergiovanni (1992) believes that the key for getting teachers involved is intrinsic motivation; "they are motivated in response to what they believe is right, good, and just and their sense of obligation" (Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 44). Teachers who have a sense of ownership in the community internalize the goals of the school and are motivated to participate in the ongoing support for collegiality and the professional ideals.

The author concludes the discussion of substitutes for leadership by stating that shared values, the professional ideal and collegiality become the norms when schools are understood as communities, (Sergiovanni, 1992). The emphasis on direct leadership is less because teachers have intrinsic motivation to be involved in the self-management of what is seen as valuable.

Sergiovanni (1992) offers invaluable insights about educational change. His focus on providing substitutes for leadership gets to the heart of school improvement. In restructuring schools for improvement, it is critical to understand that schools are communities and all must become involved in the leadership of such schools. Being involved means internalizing shared goals, being committed to professionalism and professional virtue and behaving in a collegial manner. Sergiovanni (1992) has much to share with all that wish to make improvements for students.


Sergiovanni, T. J. (1992). Why we should seek substitutes for leadership. Educational Leadership. 5 .41 - 45.