Recently I have been involved in many conversations about educational (but really school) leadership preparation and development. A consistent theme that comes up is around the differentiation of programs based on career stage. That is, the need for an ‘aspiring’, ‘emerging’, ‘established’, ‘experienced’ and so, suite of programs.
Although I understand the popularity of these initiatives and somewhat anecdotal experience that supports it, I want to ask a few questions around it. In particular, I have two questions:
- Are we sure that such career stages exist in the first place? and
- What of diversity in the classroom?
In relation to the former, there are substantial lived experiences in regards to different stages of progress. An evolution of the leader for a lack of a better phrase. This is built upon an underlying generative principles of getting better over time / experience. The professional standards movement, with ties more to performance than tenure, challenges this assumption. However, at the same time, the professional standards movement also legitimised the idea of career stages.
My caution around career stages is less a problem with the idea per se, and more to do with how they are used. I am forever mindful of Pierre Bourdieu warning about the artificial partitioning of the social world serves the classifiers purposes more than reflects a reality.
This leads me to my second point, that of diversity in the leadership classroom. The idea that there is a need for specialised programs based on career stages assume that each role is different. I take this on board, but what is to be made of this difference.
Is the goal of leadership preparation and development programs to get a group of people at basically the same stage in similar contexts in a room and learning about the role? If so, then arguably there is no problem with stages and differentiated programs.
But what if leadership preparation and development is a broader brushstroke. One focused on engaging leaders – whether they have formal roles or not – with other leaders and the wider world. If this is the case, then does it not make sense to embrace diversity in the leadership classroom?
The most enriching classes I have taught have included the full scale of educators, from newly minted teachers, to more experienced teachers, middle management positions, principals, systemic officers, and just as importantly, those beyond schools. The insights provided by participants from universities, TAFE, early childhood centres, not to mention the military, hospital have been outstanding.
Why does this work? For me, the reason that this diversity of experience and positions works is because rather than getting caught up in the specific context, participants – myself included – need to engage with the key concepts first, whether that be ‘leadership’, ‘performativity’, ‘relations’ or whatever, and then bring those concepts to life by embodying those within a context.
This works as both a scholarly and pedagogical approach. Hearing, or reading in the case of online learning, about how concepts play out in different contexts is a powerful learning experience. That being said, the moment when two different participants from the same context – or even institution – describe the same concept differently is equally powerful.
I have often written about the need to de-centre the technicist / problem solving nature of leadership preparation and development and embrace problem posing. Striking the balance is tricky, but well worth it. For me, an appropriate way of getting this balance is to have a diverse set of experiences in the classroom.