Longing for dialogue

Last week I received an email from a prospective doctoral candidate (or someone wanting to switch supervisors). I was working through my usual questioning when recruiting, not just taking on, doctoral researchers and ensuring that the candidate had done their homework (see Pat Thomson on this here).

Something that jumped out for me was that after going away and reading some of my work, the potential mentee wrote me an email that said:

I have actually taken the time to read your perspectives on ‘leadership’. Don’t agree but fascinating insights.

Apart from the frustrations of not knowing exactly what she disagreed with, and missing the opportunity to engage around that (despite asking I got no reply), this raised an interesting point for me. Unlike other fields, educational leadership, management and administration does not generate much dialogue among researchers.

Sure there are some tricky questions at conferences, but often these opportunities are more an experience of talking to those already on your side. As I have argued previously, there is a well identified lack of meaningful engagement across research traditions (Blackmore, 2010), and a state of tacit agreement where those with whom we disagree, we treat with benign neglect (Donmoyer, 2001; Thrupp & Willmott, 2003).

Journals, and maybe this is the result of substantial delays in the publication process, rarely feature responses to articles. This removes that core business of scholarship built of argument, refutation and logic.

I feel that we are seeing less and less research programmes – those which articulate and defend a position – in educational leadership, management and administration. Instead we are seeing the rise of ‘activity’. More and more projects and papers, but less dialogue. The resulting parallel monologues do contribute to the body of knowledge, and this is not a slight on their quality. However, as a disciplinary space, we are losing an opportunity to seriously engage with contemporary thought and analysis.

There are no simple or easy solutions to this – and this makes some assumptions that what I long for is desired at scale. Arguably it calls for some new models of journals or communication of research in the field. But I believe that if we are to meaningfully engage with one another’s research then we benefit both individually and as a collective. I am not suggesting some form of group think, rather a concerted effort to engage with one another and ask questions. Every scholar I know seeks rigour and robust work, what better way to do that then to put our work out there and defend it. We keep what is defensible, modify that which is not. In doing so we accept that scholarship is dynamic and building a research programme is an enduring endeavour.

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Award winning research

Associate Professor Scott Eacott has been awarded the Outstanding Paper of the Year (International Journal of Educational Management) prize by the Emerald Publishing Group for his ground-breaking theoretical work challenging the use of ‘leadership’ in educational administration.

The paper, ‘Leadership’ and the social: time, space and the epistemic, is part of an ongoing generative research program led by Associate Professor Eacott developing a relational approach to the study of educational leadership, management and administration.

In the context of globalising education policy, changes in school governance and increasing political intervention in schooling, Associate Professor Eacott’s work is about strengthening our understanding of administration in time and space. This is particularly important when ‘leadership’ as a concept lacks any meaningful ties to time and space. In the contemporary world where social media and various other globalised technologies are both reducing geographic boundaries yet also reinforcing ties to the local, the limitations of a concept that is devoid of time and space has arguably reached its limits.

The Outstanding Paper award is the backbone of the Emerald awards programme. Papers are judged on their contribution to the body of knowledge, rigor of argument and analysis, relevance to practice and/or further research and overall excellence.

As one reviewer noted:

This was a very interesting and challenging article, introducing me to new ground in terms of the nature of leadership itself and how it should be conceived. There is much more that could be developed [for the  field] in future writings as a result of the issues raised.

The intellectual quality of Associate Professor Eacott’s work has enabled him to establish connections with many of the field’s leading thinkers and build an international reputation as a key figure in the use of critical social theory in educational administration.

The next step for this research program is the 2nd Educational Leadership Management and Administration (ELMA) Theory Workshop – Administrative theory without the ‘L’ word – being hosted at ACU North Sydney in July.

For further information about the award winning paper, or the ongoing work of the research program, contact Associate Professor Eacott (Scott.Eacott@acu.edu.au).

* This post is an extract from the Institutional marketing release.

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Taste of Research Winter Scholarship 2014

It is that time of year again. Applications are now open for the Taste of Research Winter Scholarship. There will be one competitive scholarship offered to a high achieving under-graduate student to work on two projects: i) the upcoming 2nd ELMA Theory Workshop – Administrative Theory without the ‘L’ word to be hosted in July; and ii) an ongoing interdisciplinary research program developing a relational approach to scholarship in educational leadership, management and administration.

The Summer/Winter Taste of Research Scholarships are an exceptional research opportunity for under-graduate students to work with an established researcher providing insights into what studying for an Honours or Research Higher Degree is all about.

The Taste of Research Scholarships aim to provide scholarship awardees with:

  • Experience in educational leadership, management and administration research;
  • An insight into future opportunities in the area of educational research; and
  • Encourage and attract high quality students interested in pursuing a career in research or academia.

For further details about the program, contact Associate Professor Scott Eacott (Scott.Eacott@acu.edu.au).

The closing date for applications is  5:00pm 28 April 2014. Late applications will not be assessed.

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2014 ELMA Conference

The preparation for the 2014 ELMA Theory Workshop are fast coming together. We are pleased to announce that the programme is now available (click here). The line up of speakers is impressive spanning a diverse range of theoretical and methodological perspectives.

The theme for this year’s event come from the work of Gabriele Lakomski (UoMelb) and Colin Evers (UNSW), in particular, Professor Lakomski’s book Managing without Leadership where she asks questions of the concept of ‘leadership’ in advancing our understanding of organisations.

Taking up the challenge of administrative theory without the ‘L’ word are a group of Australasian scholars ranging from: established scholars such as Richard Niesche (UNSW), Chris Branson (Waikato), David Gurr and Lawrie Drysdale (UoMelb), Howard Youngs (AUT); newer researchers such as Bev Rogers (Flinders), Brad Gobby (Curtin), and Christine Edwards (Flinders); regular visitors to Australia and New Zealand Lauren Stephenson (moving to ACU) and Barbara Harold (Zayed); and something that is promising, is the contribution of scholars not usually directly associated with educational leadership, management and administration such as Terri Seddon (ACU) and Christina Gowlett (UQ).

The diversity of this set of scholars is reflective of the broad basis of educational leadership, management and administration as a scholarly territory. This workshop will be of interested to established and emerging (including doctoral and honours) scholars in the field and especially to those whose contribution frequently lies of the periphery of mainstream discourses.

Taking place at the North Sydney campus of ACU, with spectacular views of Sydney harbour and skyline, this promises to be an intellectually stimulating event with plenty of networking opportunities. Numbers are strictly limited due to room capacity, but more importantly, to ensure meaningful dialogue and debate between those in attendance. If interested in attending, contact Associate Professor Scott Eacott (Scott.Eacott@acu.edu.au).

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Beyond ‘leadership’

Since arguably the 1990s there has been a distinct turn in research, scholarship and professional discourses towards ‘leadership’. This turn has been so successful that we no longer talk of ‘educational administration’ or ‘educational management’ and anyone aspiring to just about anything aims to be a ‘leader’. It has become somewhat of a negative comment to be labelled a ‘manager’ or ‘administrator’. The goal is ‘leadership’ and being a ‘leader’.

This is the context that I take up in a recently published piece Beyond the hype of ‘leadership’ published in Perspectives on Educational Leadership. This is the latest in an argument that I began to tease out here. In the most recent paper, I argue that:

  • ‘Leadership’ was proposed as a means of getting beyond the bureaucracy. Despite the proliferation of adjectives such as ‘distributed’, ‘participatory’ etc, I contend that many ‘leadership’ discourses actually reinforces organisational roles.
  • If ‘leadership’ equals change, as is often argued, and change is everywhere, then why do we need ‘leadership’? Also, if we accept the argument that change is everywhere then ‘leadership’ is everywhere and arguably of very little use.
  • While we have an acceptance of ‘leadership’ existing up front, we tend to identify where it took place after events. This raises some questions about what it is we talk about when we use ‘leadership’.

I argue that ‘leadership’ is a product of its own invention. The uncritical acceptance of ‘leadership’ in mainstream literatures, research and professional discourses is highly problematic and needs to be challenged – or at least engaged with. Without such dialogue and debate, ‘leadership’, that somewhat illusive and yet hyped solution to the woes of the social world simply does not live up to the hype.

I am not the only person who has asked questions about ‘leadership’, nor will I be the last (at least I hope not). My larger concern is that while the seduction of ‘leadership’ has overtaken much of the educational discourses, contemporary research, professional learning and practices have educators so busy trying to be ‘leaders’ and demonstrating ‘leadership’ that we have forgotten to sit back and ask ourselves what does ‘leadership’ really mean and how is it connected to the purpose/s of education.

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Bourdieu, educational leadership and prophets

Over the past week I have been writing a book chapter on ‘Sociological approaches to educational administration and leadership’ for an exciting book project by Paul Newton and David Burgess.

In building my argument I pay particular attention to the trend of using the work of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in educational leadership, management and administration scholarship.

Although he never wrote on educational leadership, management and administration per se, and earlier claims that his work if minimally used in educational leadership despite his theoretical attention to the relationship between individual agency and structural determinism (Lingard & Christie, 2003), the use of Bourdieu has increased substantially since his death in 2002.

Bourdieu has been used to interrogate aspects of educational leadership such as school reform (Gunter, 2012), leadership preparation and development (Eacott, 2011), leadership standards (English, 2012), strategy (Eacott, 2010), autonomy (Thomson, 2010), questioning ‘leadership’ as a concept (Eacott, 2013), educational leadership as a field (Thomson, 2014), its application for undertaking case studies in educational leadership (Eacott, 2013), or even the intellectual field of educational leadership (Gunter, 2002).

However, I want to pick up on a relatively untouched stream of Bourdieu’s work that has potential in educational leadership, management and administration – the prophet.

Building on his study of Martin Heidegger, Bourdieu argues that a prophet is a person who expresses already existing, albeit intuitive, presumptions or values within a field. The status of the prophet, much like that of a leader, comes from acting upon latent social needs. In particular:

The strength of the prophet … who mobilises the group by announcing to them what they want to hear, rests on the dialectic relationship between authorised, authorising language and the group which authorises it and acts on its authority (Bourdieu, 1977[1972], p. 171).

I have yet to do more systematic work using Bourdieu’s notion of the prophet in relation to educational leadership, management and administration. That being said, I see this as a space that warrants intellectual attention.

For me, it raises the notion of leadership as an enacted phenomenon rather than a position on an organisation chart. It also opens up discussions around what it is that creates distinctions between ‘leaders’ and ‘non-leaders’. In doing so, it also explicitly weaves the legitimation of what is and is not possible.

As I said, I have yet to get into this space myself, but thinking that it holds potential. If anyone has played around in this space, I would be interested to hear from you.

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Australian ELMA scholarship – part two

Building from my previous post, I also want to draw attention to a current crop of Australian scholars – to which I would like to include myself – who are doing interesting work.

This goes beyond merely drawing attention to my network (or circle of academic friends), rather it is to highlight the diversity of work – of which I have capture but a sample – in a national context that is obsessed with ‘shiny things from afar’. If you do not believe me, take a look at the keynotes used at conferences and note their institution affiliations.

The key people I want to draw attention to are: Richard Niesche at UNSW who is doing interesting work around post-structuralist thinkers and thinking in ELMA; Jane Wilkinson at Griffith who is working on practice theory;  David Giles and his Flinders Leadership And Management in Education or FLAME team (which takes the award as one of the leading acronyms in the field) has some interesting work going on around ‘relational leadership’ (which is very different to the way I use ‘relational’ though), and included in that team is Bev Rogers who like Richard Niesche, is working in an interesting space with great thinkers (in her case, Hannah Arendt); David Gurr and Lawrie Drysdale (UoMelb) continue their work on successful school leadership which is now over a decades work;  Lisa Ehrich has been doing eclectic work in the space, most recently with Fenwick English; Tanya Fitzgerald (La Trobe) who is co-editor of Journal of Educational Administration and History brings a unique historically informed brand of scholarship to the performatives of contemporary ELMA; Dorothy Andrews and colleagues (building from previous work by Frank Crowther) at USQ on the IDEAS project; Simon Clarke and Helen Wildy at UWA working on a range of project, but recently on principal preparation and small schools; and Neil Cranston at UTAS who continues to play an active role.

Colin Evers (UNSW) and Gabriele Lakomski (UoMelb) continue to play an active role and presenting innovative work that continues contributions dating back to at least the 1990s.

What I have presented above is really little more than a listing of the diversity that is currently underway by a group of academics working in educational leadership, management and administration in contemporary Australia.

Although I have not engaged with the content of the work from this group of colleagues – although that would make for an interesting monograph and  a challenge that someone should arguably take up – it does highlight the breadth of work underway. In a disciplinary space that is increasingly facing challenges over its importance and research quality, there is much to be proud of in the Australian academy. It is an area to which I am proud to pledge my allegiances to and one that I believe has a lot to offer.

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Australian ELMA scholarship – part one

Previously (see here), I argued for the need to recognise the history of a discipline in scholarship. This has been further reinforced for me this week while sitting on a doctoral panel and reading draft literature reviews from doctoral researchers.

As an intellectual home, Australia has a rich tradition of contributing to educational leadership, management and administration scholarship, particularly from a social critical perspective (Bates, 2010; Gunter, 2010). More than just contributing, Australian scholars have a rich history in disruptive scholarship, that which challenges the hegemonic discourses, including that of fellow Australian scholars.

At the same time that Brian Caldwell was selling the virtues of the self-managing school (an endeavour he continues until this day), John Smyth and colleagues were critiquing the movement on the basis of its social impacts (again, something that he continues to do). Elsewhere Richard Bates‘ Critical Theory offered a viable alternative to the logical empiricism of the US-centric Theory Movement and the Thomas Greenfield inspired humanist movement.  Colin Evers and Gabriele Lakomski‘s natural coherentism proposed a post-positivist perspective that challenged many of the critiques of ‘science’ in educational administration and at a more specific level, Peter Gronn (then of Monash, now at Cambridge via Glasgow) engaged in a methodological debate with Ross Thomas (long time editor of Journal of Educational Administration) over the value of observational studies.

This is just a small sample of Australian contributions. I have not even engaged with the ongoing work of ex-pats like Pat Thomson and Allan Walker or others whose work sits at the edge of, or do not directly identify with, educational leadership, management and administration such as Jill Blackmore and Stephen Dinham. And the recently retired crew including Bill Mulford and Patrck Duignan.

In addition, I have not even engaged with the pioneering work of Bill Walker, who established the Journal of Educational Administration and played a major role in the Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration and Management.

Some interesting insights are provided by Peter Gronn in a concluding paper of an issue of Journal of Educational Administration and History in response to a paper by Richard Bates and myself noting:

… if a prospective post-graduate student aspired to be a school leader during much of the 1980s and well into the 1990s, and wanted to enrol in an Education Faculty programme, she or he had a varied array of options from which to choose to enrol. If that student lived in Melbourne, for example, and wanted to savour the Frankfurt School at Waun Ponds, then s/he headed south-west to Deakin University. If, by contrast, the student wanted a very small ‘L’ liberal-soft cuddly diet with a dash of cultural Marxism, the s/he went to the south-east of the city to Monash University. On the other hand, if a heavily inner urban-oriented ‘engage with the working class’-style programme was desired, then that same student probably went to the northern suburbs to Latrobe University. Finally, if the preference was for something on more conventional and mainstream lines, then it would probably have been satisfied at the University of Melbourne. In short, there was a smorgasbord of offerings.

While Gronn’s argument goes on to discuss how the ‘marketplace’ of the contemporary academy has reduced much of this diversity and homogenised research and teaching programmes, it does go part of the way to demonstrating the diversity of Australian intellectual history in the field.

In my next post, I am going to highlight some of the current crop of Australian scholars working in the area and the diversity that makes up the space.

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A new publication

Earlier this week, a paper by Judith Norris and myself entitled Management rhetoric, accountability and contemporary school leadership in Australia was accepted for publication by Leadership & Policy in Schools.

In this paper we pick up on the idea that changes in economic conditions have an impact on the ways we talk about management. In particular, we draw on the rational rhetoric which focuses on standardisations, hierarchy, audit, performance management and efficiency; and the normative rhetoric which appeals to the social an emotional needs of employees.

We discuss these in relation to how Australia’s economic position – one which for the time being has avoided austerity – shaped discussions of educational accountability. Importantly, our argument is centred on the idea that we scholarly narratives that are explicitly located in the here and now.

Practically, this article highlights the different ways we try to tap into the psyche of staff in bringing about change.

The intention is that this is the first of many papers as we continue to explore this space.

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Let’s not forget the history of a discipline

This week I have read three articles that have reinforced my beliefs around the role of history – or historical disciplinary understanding -  in scholarship. This has also been reinforced through multiple conversations with colleagues on where do we expose graduate students to the history of the discipline.

The first article is the latest by leading organisational studies scholar Stewart Clegg (UTS) published in Journal of Change Management. Entitled ‘Why old social theory might still be useful‘, Clegg argues that we need more sociological understanding of the contemporary market to overcome some of the limitations of orthodox economics. This argument is not about applying the novelty of different great thinkers from the past to the present, rather it is about respecting the intellectual heritage of a discipline. The lack of attention to insights from the past is seen as one of the flaws on the contemporary academy.

In what at first appears to be a very different argument, the second paper is by Julian Birkinshaw, Mark P. Healey, Roy Suddaby and Klaus Weber entitled ‘Debating the future of management research‘ and published in a special issue of Journal of Management Studies celebrating its 50th anniversary.  Personally, I will be giving this paper to all of my doctoral researchers and even my colleagues. In the paper, the four contributors outline future directions for management studies, yet a consistent message is that to do so requires an understanding of the history of management studies within the social sciences. As Roy Suddaby argues:

… it also means devoting more time and paying more attention to our own history as a profession. Understanding our own history is important, not only for developing a distinct professional identity – medicine, law, engineering, and most other professions are very attentive to history of their scholarship – but it is critically important to overcome the false belief that our knowledge base is not historically contingent (p. 50).

He goes on to argue:

In contrast to the physical sciences, the object of inquiry are significantly changed as our knowledge diffuses. Not only does this create an ongoing cycle of new knowledge creation and diffusion, it makes our knowledge historically contingent and reinforces the need to understand the history of our scholarship and its effects (p. 50).

The final paper was one that I reviewed for a leading international journal in educational administration. In direct contrast to the above examples this paper did not historically locate its argument in the discipline. A quick scan of the reference list (which I must admit as a reviewer I often do first) revealed only a couple of references beyond research methods texts and the great thinker this paper was bringing to educational administration. As a general rule, I am not a believer that you need a lengthy reference list to produce a substantive argument. However, in failing to locate the general thesis of the paper in educational administration – apart from a couple of tokenistic and forced links – the author/s had overlooked similar debates and dialogues that had taken place in the discipline, not to the mention, the actual journal in question.

There are a number of argument that could be raised in relation to this third paper – many of them taken up by others in relation to academic (see for example Pat Thomson’s blog) – but the point I want to make is to stress the role of historical grounding. Irrespective of how ‘new’ ideas are for the field, I feel that it is vitally important that author/s show how their ideas support, extend or even refute the existing body of work in the field. The only way to do this is to pay attention to the history of the discipline.

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