#acelconf15 – day three

Day Three marked the final day of #acelconf15. For many this was to be the highlight of the conference with the two big names (Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan) presenting. For me, it did not live up to the hype.

The student performances were outstanding everyday, but I was especially impressed on day three. I may be showing my Newcastle bias as two of the three came from Hunter School of Performing Arts though.

The opening keynote of the day was Andy Hargreaves. He delivered as expected. A slick and engaging presentation (based on the reactions of the people around me and the twitter stream) based on his books (which were adequately promoted) and supported by his work with other keynote presenters (which were mentioned often). For me, as a researcher, I found the work under developed and some of the contradictions in the arguments – namely schools are about more than literacy and numeracy measures, so we need to develop more measures for the things we want; and the critique of using PISA results to assess success yet then using PISA results to show what reforms work and what do not – not recognised. In such cases, Hargreaves falls into the textual apologist camp and despite the aspirational tone, the argument remains about playing the current game better than serious challenging the rules of the game and its formula for success.

At the conclusion of Hargreaves keynote a number of people raced to the door. This amazed me given that the next speaker was Jenny Shipley – the first female Prime Minister of New Zealand. While I found her argument essentialised gender (e.g. females do this, males do that), she raised some very interesting points about gender and leadership that require engagement.

Following morning tea was the final breakout session of the conference. I attended one focused on the impact of accountabilities on school leaders. I had a feeling it was going to be touch and go when the abstract claimed ‘the impact of such requirements [accountability] has received little attention in the literature’. After all, I have been researching and reading in educational leadership for almost 15 years and would say this is a major stream in educational leadership, parallel fields such as education policy, sociology of education, and broader fields such as management, public administration and organisation studies.

What was presented was a simple reporting of interviews with principals about how stressful and the impact of accountabilities on their time and practice. There was no analysis, no theoretical framing, and very little that could be offered from the data as no real work went into the conceptualisation of the project. I will admit to becoming ‘that guy’ and asking what contribution the presenter felt the work made. His response, ‘I have not had time to think about it’. Although he did say he used it in his teaching. I further inquired as to what exactly he was using given the lack of analysis, and he simply presents the findings to his students. Very disappointing in my opinion.

The final session of #acelconf15 was the William Walker Oration. As a student of educational leadership, I hold this as a very serious address that recognises one of the founding figures of the field in Australia (and the Commonwealth). This year it was presented by Michael Fullan. As with Hargreaves, he presented a slick and well paced address that was well received by the audience. Keeping with the trend of #acelconf15 keynotes (at least the education based ones), there was plenty of citing his own books, and work with fellow keynotes.

As a Bourdieusian inspired scholar, I find the use of ‘capital’ frustrating in popular educational leadership rhetoric. These terms have rich theoretical histories (note the plural) yet are used without any reference to that.

Personally, I found the insular nature of the keynotes at #acelconf15 sickening. The constant referencing to each other (in some cases giving the impression they were a package deal rather than stand alone – even if coherent – set of addresses), promotion of books and back slapping was problematic. had the cross referencing been analytical and advancing arguments, I could have handled that, but this was not the case.

If innovation is what we desire – a consistent theme across the addresses – then that is achieved not by listening to more of the same voices, but through different and potentially new voices. It is tough to critique the policy borrowing from afar when all the keynotes come from overseas. Where were the Australian education keynotes? Where were the critical voices?

Jim Watterson arguably addressed this with his dismissal of researcher in favour of those who had done it before. The privileging of the pragmatic over the scholarly – of course that simply reinforces the rather unproductive theory v practice division.

Overall, I am uncertain how I feel about #acelconf15. In many ways, it was a great three days. I met up with many people I do not see regularly – or only through twitter. I would have liked a greater diversity in the keynotes and more breakout sessions (or less running parallel). I hope future events strike a better balance between research and practice and seek to bring academics (especially those in Australia) into contact and conversation with the many school leaders (current and aspiring) who attend the event.

That said, the event ran smoothly – apart from the crowded nature of some rooms – and the ACEL team is to be applauded for their efforts.


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