Leadership is arguably the central concept of interest in contemporary scholarship on educational administration. Within these scholarly discourses, there is an explicit assumption that leadership is a ‘real’ phenomenon that is not only important, but necessary for educational institutions. Few educational administration scholars engage with issues surrounding the confusion of a socially constructed label with an assumed empirical reality. However, in a paper entitled ‘Leadership’ and the social: time, space and the epistemic published in the most recent International Journal of Educational Management Scott Eacott directly engages with the mobilisation of ‘leadership’ as a label. In doing so, rather than developing another explanation of what constitutes leadership, Dr Eacott engages with the abstraction of ‘leadership’ as an educational administration concept. The question that this arises is whether leadership is a particularly useful concept for thinking through the administration of organisations.
Years of teaching is frequently put forward as a key to teacher quality. However, Kimbalee Hodges’ recently completed honours project has troubled this very idea. Through an analysis of university practicum handbooks and related policies Kimbalee has outlined how ‘experience’ is used to establish a distinction that is then reinforced through a whole range of practices within the profession.
The examiners of Kimbalee’s thesis wrote glowing reports on the intellectual quality of her work and its potential for further study. This positive reception was also noted in the interest that Kimbalee’s work generated following her presentation at the AARE-APERA Conference earlier this month.
To continue advancing this work, Kimbalee has been awarded a highly competitive Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) to undertake doctoral study under the supervision of Dr Scott Eacott.
This is an excellent outcome for Kimbalee – and by virtue the Eacott Group – and a great way to end the academic year.
Next week Dr Scott Eacott and a number of group researchers (Gladys Asuga, Kimbalee Hodges and Jan Morrison) will be presenting papers at the 2012 Joint Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) and Asia-Pacific Educational Research Association (APERA) Conference in Sydney. This is arguably the leading education research conference annual in the region and such strong representation of Eacott group members is a sign of the quality of the work being undertaken by the group.
Scott will be Chairing and presenting a paper in the Educational Leadership Special Interest Group’s flagship symposium ‘New frontiers in Educational Administration Theory‘ which will form the basis of a special issue to be published by Journal of Educational Administration. He will also be presenting a paper on his work on school leadership preparation and development (following Gladys’ paper).
Gladys, Kimbalee and Jan will be presenting papers based on their doctoral and honours projects.
Scott is also a member of a larger writing team working on a leadership paper that sits within a symposium drawn from an ARC funded project on pedagogical reform.
It is anticipated that the group will work on converting these papers into journal articles and submitting for publication over the summer break.
The Eacott Group has expanded again – this time we welcome to the team Meggin Williams as the 2012 Summer Taste of Research Summer Scholarship awardee and Chelle Heath as a short term research assistant. Meggin is currently a candidate in the Master of Education Studies program and the Leadership Co-ordinator at Woodridge State High School (Queensland). She will be working Dr Scott Eacott investigating the roll out of the Empowering Local Schools reforms, and specifically the New South Wales Local Schools Local Decisions initiative. Chelle will be working with Dr Eacott on a project investing Australian based educational leadership research.
An enduring question in education, especially school based, is the irrelevance of education research. This is of course combined with discourses around the need for impact – usually social and/or economic – from research, especially that which is funded. There are plenty of reasons mobilised for this lack of impact, much of which is limited to constructing and legitimising a theory and practice divide. In addition to this irrelevance, it is also frequently cited that no profession overlooks its own research as much as education.
One of the central feature of these discourses is who does education research and under what conditions. For the most part, the most likely group to undertake education research are university based faculty. This is primarily because research is one of three key areas of academic work (the other two being ‘teaching’ and ‘service’). While in the past, it has been argued that it is doctoral students that do the bulk of education research in Australia, I believe it is fair to say that universities are the primary location of education research.
But lets think for a minute regarding the conditions under which education faculty in universities conduct their research. Unlike what may be thought of as the ideal of university research, that is, the chasing of ideas, the reality for many faculty, but especially early career researchers it is all about chasing money. That is, the way to establish yourself is to attract external funds for your research. At least from my experience and that of my close colleagues, rarely have we been encouraged to chase ideas, or asked what is our current big idea. Instead, we are asked what grant are you going for next, and how can you design a project that matches externally set priorities or funding schemes.
This is combined with promotion being linked with external funding. Despite the core capital, and legacy, of academics being publications (at least for now), it seems funded research is almost as important, and dare I say more important, than the actual outcomes of research. This would have become a much larger issue had the Australian Research Council (ARC) and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) budgets not been released, or at least partially unfrozen, recently. Furthermore, the internal grant drafting cycle frequently is based around an external submission deadline of Feb / March, but then needing to have the next project draft ready for the following year by June / July so that you can spend 6-7 months working on it. A cycle where applicants you found out they were unsuccessful yesterday begin the process again with drafts due by the end of this week. As a result, much of the year is spent writing and revising grants. All of this for schemes with 20% or less success rates.
So much time writing grants rather than actually writing for publication and/or researching. What this creates is a flawed logic where people begin to equate research with funding. At a recent conference a colleague said to me ‘without funding I cannot do research, if I cannot do research I cannot write (except apparently for the same thing again and again using different words)’. Are you kidding me! Have we seriously reduced education research to that which is given money. Especially when we all know examples of colleagues who have reduced what they label as research to what is really little more consultancy. This is why faculty who spend the bulk of their time doing such work publish so little (and this is not to mention the fact that in some cases this involves making personal income thanks to institutional resources – including time – but that is another discussion). If we limit our thinking about research to that which is funded by external agencies, or stakeholders, many – if not most – of the innovative and novel solutions would never see the light of day.
The question that this leaves for me is, where are our new ideas coming from? If social media, and particularly twitter, has demonstrated anything it is that there is substantial innovation taking place in educational thinking and practice and what is more, it is happening at scale. These innovations do not need money to make them happen, gosh in many cases, they do not even permission.
So what does this mean? At its most simple, I call for a revision of what it means to conduct research – including its dissemination (high quality teaching is dependent on high quality research underpinning it). In times of fiscal contraction, yet increased competition for research funds, the single-mindedness of equating research with external funds is highly problematic. What is more, it takes some of our most innovative and productive minds (as you need a good track record to be competitive, so the pressure to apply is most intense on those most capable of producing research) away from thinking creatively.
Don’t mistake my message here, I completely understand why universities chase external funding, and why that is privileged so much in the life of the contemporary academy. What I am calling for is a broadening of opinion of what we count as research. Innovative ideas come from everywhere, and most often, from the ground up. It is difficult to change practice at scale, but as the Chinese philosopher Laozi states: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Great ideas do not need money. For the most part, education research does not need expensive equipment and one of its key dissemination points is teaching. Therefore, unlike other areas, it does not make a lot of sense to have leading education researchers not teaching. I do not have any definitive answers around the questions I have raised, but one thing I am clear on is that
if education research is to remain a viable part of Australian higher education then we need to re-engage with how we think of research at an institutional level and especially the pressures we apply to early career researchers.
For many weeks, especially for those on twitter, the tale of the Queensland School for Travelling Show Children (search for the hashtag #QSTSC) has been the focus of substantive media attention. For those unfamiliar with the story, see here. Thanks to a number of colleagues in the twitterverse, notably @corisel, @effectsofNAPLAN, @lasic, and for the initial find – @jadeevans1983, a fascinating piece of dialogue in Queensland parliament was brought to my attention (see here). What was most significant about the exchange between the Minister for Education, Training and Employment John Langbroek and the member for Inala, Annastacia Palaszczuk in relation to the QSTSC was the mobilisation of ‘quality’ education as a criteria for judgement of the worth of a school.
Early on in the proceedings, Langbroek declares:
… we have circumstances in Queensland that are different to other states in Australia. We have the most decentralised state of course, and in fact we make sure that students all over the state do get access to that high-quality education, even though on many occasions we have to spend a lot more money to do it.
Key things come to life as the discussion continues however. Closing the QSTSC would save $1.5 million for the Queensland government. In a time of state, national, and global fiscal contraction, financial decisions are always tough and arguably during these times, more frequent than many would like. Where it takes an interesting turn is from the following statement:
… we are committed to providing a quality education for all Queenslanders, when we look at the statistics of the travelling show school they really do not stand up to the scrutiny and analysis that shows that they are getting as quality an education as they might be.
The data mobilised to make this case is attendance, where the QSTSC has a rate of 84% (which Langbroek adds needs to be considered in the light that the school accompanies the children), and NAPLAN results. In the case of NAPLAN results, the argument goes:
Of course we are also very concerned about the NAPLAN results when we look at the statistics of the travelling show school, and we believe we are offering much better outcomes through distance education. We have been committed to working with the people from the travelling show school to make sure that they are given a better alternative.
For those interested in seeing how QSTSC stacks up on the MySchool website, click here. To defend QSTSC in Langbroek’s eyes is to stand up for poor attendance and poor NAPLAN results. The argument is that the decision to close the school is not merely about the bottom-line, rather it is about offering a quality education. The question this raises, and this is an enduring question in relation to education, how does one argue for, and justify what is a ‘quality’ education in the face of criticism?
Theoretically, I see substantial merit in mobilising the work of Luc Boltanski, notably his books On Justification: Economies of Worth with Laurent Thevenot and On Critique. There is something about the dialogue around decisions that warrants a theoretical analysis, and arguably something that goes beyond mapping different situations using Stephen Ball’s arguments around performativity – this is not to diminish Ball’s work, just suggesting the need to think differently in the space. This being said, I feel there is also a much larger question that needs serious attention from educators. That is, if we accept that NAPLAN and attendance data are poor proxies for the value of schools and schooling, on what grounds can educators generate socially acceptable data on the value of schools and schooling?
I do not have a solution, nor do I believe there is a single solution. However, if major education policy decisions are being made on the basis of budget estimates, attendance data and NAPLAN results (those that solely mobilise the language of numbers), now more than ever educators need to produce socially recognisable evidence for the worth of schooling that is beyond the numbers. For me, this explicitly involves educators engaging in intellectual work and speaking back to policy with evidence. It is only by producing such – although I am in no way prescribing any one way to generate such data – that we educators can speak back to policy makers, and more importantly, engage in rigorous and robust discussion regarding the value of schooling. Lets get the conversation going!
Thanks to Howard Youngs (Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland) for a fair but firm review of my book, School Leadership and Strategy in Managerialist Times, which has just been published in the latest edition of Journal of Educational Administration and History. Youngs describes the book as:
a welcome departure from rational approaches that oversimplify the practice and theorising of strategy in and for schools.
If you are interested in reading the book itself, then click here.
Last week I was in Brisbane for back-to-back conferences. First was a combined effort from ACU’s Centre for Creative and Authentic Leadership and UCEA’s Centre for the Study of Leadership and Ethics, a two day event around the theme of Ethical leadership: building capacity for those moments of challenging choices (see the program here). The second event was the Australian Council for Educational Leaders’ annual conference which was themed: An inquiry mindset (see program details here).
As is always the case, attending conferences exposes you to ideas and people with whom you do not normally come into contact with. This is fantastic for those academic who undertake their craft with the mantra of chasing ideas and not money (something that is at odds with contemporary university management systems). Rather than provide a synthesis of what I heard or listing the people I met, I want to outline some key questions for educational leadership conferences, and particularly those in Australia.
The first conference was essentially an academic conference. The bulk of participants, although I do not have the data to support this claim, were academics. By their very nature, academics bring a degree of scholarly value to their presentations and more importantly, the engagement with ideas and questioning. Having spent two days listening to an array of interesting folks from a range of countries (not always an option at conferences in Australia) a couple of things continue to stand out for me: the continued use of adjectival leadership and the separation of values/morals/ethics from the individual. In the case of the latter, I believe that such concepts (values/morals/ethics) are enacted and therefore cannot be separated from the individual as they only exist in practice. This raises some considerable empirical questions around the topic. Adjectival leadership is the bread and butter of much of the educational leadership industry. There appears to be an inherent need for a ‘new’ adjective to sell the next book or product. Now values/moral/ethics are not new adjectives in the leadership literature, but at the same time given my comment earlier about the separation I am reminded of Karl Maton‘s argument regarding the use of Bourdieu’s habitus that the need for an adjective is reflective of a lack of work around context. It is the work around context that brings me to the next conference.
The ACEL conference is always a challenge for academics. While it draws a large group together, the vast majority of which are school-based personnel, it is the nature of the ideas presented that can be both interesting and frustrating. Of all the educational leadership conferences in Austraia, ACEL is the most likely to be filled with tales of turnaround schools, heroic leaders, best practices, and aspirational orations. However this year, more than ever, we witnessed more of what I am going to label ‘sales pitches’ rather than sessions. Dare I say, the first two keynotes (Daniel Pink – who was not even present but rather skyped in – and Lee Crockett – who apparently delivered the exact same presentation to the GELS group on the Monday) were salespeople. In addition I can think of three other sessions that were offered by consultants who proceeded to promote their latest book, consultancy products etc. This is something that ACEL needs to address, especially if the number of tweets to the same effect are anything to go by.
However, two larger matters are of interest in relation to the ACEL conference. The move to have daily feedback (even if only from those who faclitated sessions) and provide that back to the whole group each morning was a good move. As was having Frank Crowther (ACEL patron) to chair this process. Two key issues arose for me from these sessions, first, the almost cliche notion that context matters, and second, that no other area ignores its own research more so than education. At its most simple level, the question I ask in this space is Why does ACEL continue to bring in overseas keynotes (especially those who do not have explicit education backgrounds) who speak not from a research base? Please do not confuse my intent here. I crave new ideas and love to listen to speakers from across the globe, but if that is the case, I want to listen to research informed argument not linked to the latest book on sales at the booth outside. As was the focus of my presentation, I wish to see public intellectualism at play in educational leadership, management and administration.
Conferences are a great opportunity to extend our networks, but more importantly, push our ideas in new directions through exposure to creative individuals doing innovative work. While this post may seem like a disenchanted rant, at the end of the day any conference, or experience for that matter, that makes us think, even if only about what is missing or going wrong, is a good thing and my past week sure got me thinking.
Ongoing politic debate in New South Wales is centred on major funding cuts for education. As has been well reported, significant cuts to the public education budget and a freeze on non-government school funding has brought about significant public debate and reactions from a broad sector of society. There are two levels of this dialogue that I find interesting. First, there is the outcry at fiscal contraction of education funding – something that is much appreciated. While I still feel there is much that could be harnessed through a cross-sector response, it continues to appear that historical divides are too large still, but this is interesting in the discussion of public intellectualism in education. Second, and interesting from a theoretical perspective, is the role of affiliation to the local school. This is a timely topic as Megan Crawford (Cambridge), Tim Simkins, John Coldron and Steve Jones (Sheffield Hallam University) presented a paper at ECER in Cadiz (Spain) entitled The restructuring of schooling in England: exploring the ‘local’.
For me, it is useful to think here with Roberto Esposito’s contribution on ‘community / immunity‘. Working from the Latin word munus, he argues that community, and specifically communal ties, are a reciprocal, inexhaustible, circulating gift that does not belong to anyone in particular. The opposite of community is immunity. To be immune is to be free from communal duties. For Esposito, modern society places immunity at its core, and this brings Luigi Pellizzoni to argue that immunity is central to understanding the specific condition of modernity, and by virtue assessing the social implications of the modern on forms of administration.
This is timely topic of discussion as the contemporary managerialist project replaces organisational forms, such as schools, based on community with individualistic or private models. This elevates the importance of the contract within the administration of immunity. Such a contract allows for the fulfilment of one’s desires without engaging in personal, enduring relationships with others. This is an underlying generative principle of the school choice agenda.
In doing so, the ‘school community’ – the mythical entity that combines both geographical affiliation, but also an emotional attachment to the local – becomes little more than a nostalgic imagery of a bygone era where schools, particularly the local public school, were a central feature of communal identity.
As the effects of consumer sovereignty are embedded and embodied in most, if not all, aspects of social life, I am left wondering to what extent are contemporary families, students, staff engaging with and have a sense of beloging to their local school (regardless of sector)?
Gladys Asuga, a doctoral student of mine, and I have recently been announced as the joint winners of the 2012 Emerald/ALCS African Management Research Fund Award for a project entitled Investing in leaders: evaluating school leadership preparation and development in Kenya. This is a great outcome for Gladys and myself, recognising the work we are already doing in the space, and contributing to the extension of this research programme.