An Interview with Roger Shouse
“A common hurdle that students in an educational leadership program face is letting go of their misconception about what leadership entails. Some students perceive the job of a leader to be the simple task of telling others what to do, and that is simply not the case. Real leaders work hard to be part of a solution. But there is a difference between a leader and a boss.”
Roger Shouse is a professor of education at Pennsylvania State University. He works in the department of education policy studies and specializes in educational leadership, international education and school culture. Roger earned a PhD in Administrative, Institutional and Policy Studies from the University of Chicago in 1994.
Roger has taught courses in educational leadership for 17 years, including a year spent as a visiting Associate Professor at National Pingtung University of Education in Taiwan. Before he decided to earn his doctorate degree, Roger was a high school math teacher.
In your own words, what is educational leadership?
Leadership is a social phenomenon that can best be described as the ability to persuade people to do things that they didn’t think they wanted to do. In education, teachers persuade students to work and to learn while principals persuade teachers to run their classrooms in a certain way.
What classes do you teach in educational leadership?
I teach Introduction to Educational Leadership and Leadership in Popular Film. The introductory class illustrates the basic principles of leadership in the educational setting. And I personally developed the film class, which I like very much. In that course, we examine and discuss leadership concepts in different movies as a way to help us think about leadership theory.
How long have you been a professor of educational leadership?
I have been teaching educational leadership at the collegiate level for 17 years.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in studying educational leadership,” what would your response be?
I would begin that conversation by asking that student what they planned to be doing in the next 5 to 10 years and how they saw the field of educational leadership fitting into those future plans. A student can only go into educational leadership at the graduate level, and so I would remind the student that one should not go into graduate school without due excitement. I would discuss that student’s perception of leadership in a school setting and I imagine that by the end of our conversation he or she would either feel very strongly about continuing this path or decide that it isn’t quite right for them.
In your opinion, what are the biggest hurdles or difficulties that students entering an educational leadership program have?
A common hurdle that students in an educational leadership program face is letting go of their misconception about what leadership entails. Some students perceive the job of a leader to be the simple task of telling others what to do, and that is simply not the case. Real leaders work hard to be part of a solution. But there is a difference between a leader and a boss.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as an educational leader and what traits would hinder success?
A personality trait that is particularly valuable is a sense of humor. Humor is very important to educational leadership because when you deal with people you have to be able to laugh. In addition, you should be empathetic. The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and to see things from their perspective will help you immensely when you are developing policy. If you are single-minded in your approach to problems, you will not succeed.
What courses in educational leadership are most important for a student to take?
I would recommend that students of educational leadership take courses in organizational theory and philosophy of education. Organizational theory will help you to understand why people within an organization act the way that they do. And philosophy of education will get students to examine the purpose of schooling and what the different ways are to satisfy that purpose.
Outside of educational leadership, what courses would you recommend to a student?
Outside of educational leadership, I recommend that students take courses that explore sociology because it will help them to understand the diverse populations that they will be working with as leaders of schools and educational facilities. Education courses should not just consist of “how-to” classes but should provide students with a well-rounded view of the field.
What skills can students expect to gain while studying educational leadership?
An important skill that students ought to develop while studying educational leadership is how to look with a critical eye. Students will learn not to accept organizations or policies at face value. In doing so, they will develop an ability to spot flaws in a plan of action in order to improve it.
Can you give a few study tips that would help an educational leadership student succeed?
One study tip that I would give is to question everything that you read. Rather than assuming that the way things have been done in the past is the way they should continue to be done, think critically about whether it is the best process. Be prepared to engage in the reading and engage in productive discussion with your professor and the other students in your class.
For a student who is not interested in an academic career, what is the optimal level of education needed for a job in the field of educational leadership?
The optimal level of education to obtain depends on the career you choose to pursue. For example, most people go into educational leadership to learn how to be a principal, which requires that you obtain principal certification. That typically amounts to about 30 credit hours beyond a bachelors degree. But if you want to become the superintendent of a school district, you may have to go through more schooling.
How can undergraduate students prepare themselves if they are interested in studying educational leadership at the graduate level?
I do not recommend that undergraduates apply to a masters in educational leadership program immediately after they earn a bachelors degree. The best way to prepare to study educational leadership at the graduate level is to become a teacher and work in the field of education for a few years. In fact, many graduate programs actually require that students work as teachers for at least 3 years before they are eligible to apply. So I advise that undergraduates get used to the idea of teaching for some time in order to get a realistic view about educational leadership before diving into it.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying educational leadership?
My advice for those who want to study educational leadership is to be prepared to be disobedient. You must be ready to question and to challenge the status quo, rather than accepting it as the way things have to be. You need to be strong, critical, independent and active. Do not passively absorb everything that people tell you and everything that you read because that attitude will not affect change.