Scott Eacott Advancing Relational Theorizing Sat, 12 Jan 2019 12:40:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Scott Eacott 32 32 Recognition as national field leading researcher Tue, 09 Oct 2018 22:18:56 +0000 Read More

The 2018 Research Magazine published by The Australian, is dedicated to highlighting the excellence of Australian researchers, universities and other research institutions. Drawing on a volume of information available online, The Australian coupled the data skills of talent discovery and research analytics firm League of Scholars to generate a list of leading researchers and research institutions across more than 250 fields of research.

Fortunately, for Educational Administration, I was recognized as the field leading researcher in Australia (and the University of Queensland was identified as the leading institution).

Further details on how League of Scholars generates data can be found in this post [click here] on the LSE Blog. In summary though, ““… as more and more detailed, timely, and global data is available from online sources including … League of Scholars, research leaders will be able to gain perspectives and insights into the increasingly fast-moving, mobile world of research and research talent in ways hitherto impossible.”


While it is important to never get too carried away with any ranking / rating system, it is nice to have work recognized – on the basis of data – in such a way.


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Slides from #ACELNC18 presentation Sat, 06 Oct 2018 00:29:04 +0000 Read More

This week I presented a paper on Regional secondary school consolidation as part of the inaugural Australian Showcase at the Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL) annual conference. The presentation draws on a series of ongoing projects looking at secondary school consolidation (where two schools are consolidated into a single school) in regional and rural areas in Australia.

Throughout Australia, governments and school systems are currently engaging in substantial activity designed to improve equity, access, and achievement in rural, regional, and remote education. While much of this activity involves attracting and retaining teachers and leaders, personal and professional challenges, and educational opportunity, relatively little attention has been paid to school reform initiatives in leadership and governance. With a focus on recent policy moves to consolidate regional secondary schools, in this session I bring three matters into conversation: i) the evidence base of school consolidation; ii) the equity and excellence disparity between regional / rural and metropolitan schools; and iii) the experiences of school staff undergoing a consolidation process. In doing so I highlight the problems and possibilities of bringing two schools together for the purpose of improving the equity and excellence outcomes for students. In addition, I introduce an emerging framework created to assist school teams in working through significant reforms.

Building on a systematic literature search, a scoping study, and ongoing empirical work, in the paper I argue for the importance of clarity of purpose, coherence in activities, and generating a narrative for school reforms. This is a means of generating real world impact for the relational research program in schools.

This is all work in progress and I am grateful for those participating in the research and for the feedback and comments at #ACELNC18 yesterday.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in contact.


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Book review of Beyond Leadership Mon, 27 Aug 2018 05:12:07 +0000 Read More

The first published Book Review of Beyond Leadership: A Relational Approach to Organizational Theory in Education now appears as an OnlineFirst with the Journal of Educational Administration and History. It is written by Taeyeon Kim (PhD Candidate, Michigan State University).

The review is positive regarding the contribution of Beyond Leadership explicitly citing that tackling such issues of theory and methodology in educational leadership – and specifically going beyond the dominant approaches in the field – requires “great effort and risk”. In particular, Kim notes:

Eacott’s specific theorization of leadership in my home field of education provides a useful model for in-depth epistemological and methodological inquiry about leadership. From Eacott’s performance in the book, readers will learn about the nature of scholarly work – how scholars can advance a field of study through theorizing, engaging in debates and justifying arguments.

There is a general approval of the approach taken in the book to providing some background before explicitly articulating the argument and then having other scholars engage with the ideas before concluding by responding to the responses. This enacted social epistemology will hopefully encourage others to do similar.

While the overall review is positive, it does mis-recognize some of the arguments of the book. The claim by Kim that “the main argument in this book is that educational leadership is a methodological framing – a way of being a scholar” is not quite right. If anything, the book seeks to systematically dismantle the idea of studying ‘leadership’ and instead seeks to re-center relations for the study of organizing education. Similarly, Kim’s claim that the book proposes four leadership preliminaries in theorizing my relational approach is not correct. Rather, I use these four preliminaries to argue for limitations in orthodox ways of understanding leadership and as the basis for claims that an approach focused on relations is more appropriate.

The description of Part II of the book, where the five relational extensions are each nuanced through individual chapters does capture of the core contribution of the book and the development of organizing activity, auctor, and spatio-temporal conditions as the three key concepts of the relational approach. Kim points out:

Eacott points to what has been overlooked and what is missing in the leading paradigm of the educational administration field. Thus, the book gives readers a sophisticated analytic lens that includes not only a dominant paradigm but also alternative ones with which to understand scholarship in the field.

And she also highlights the pedagogical value of the Tables included in the book demonstrating the relations between different approaches to studying organizing in education (e.g., logical empiricism, naturalistic coherentism, humanistic, social critical, relational).

The review concludes with the following statement:

… [Beyond Leadership] contributes to stimulating our critical and innovative thinking in the field of educational leadership internationally.

In addition to others citing work, Book Reviews provide useful insights into how others engage with one’s work. This is first of a number of book review on Beyond Leadership and I am thankful to JEAH and especially Taeyeon Kim for her thoughtful reflections on the book.


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Ranting, raving, and complaining Mon, 13 Aug 2018 00:29:16 +0000 Read More

My dear colleague Professor Fenwick W. English often reminds me that you make more friends with honey than vinegar. I would like to say that he has only needed to remind of this on one occasion, but that would be a lie. In my latest paper I continue my work on a social epistemology for educational administration and leadership (see here) and the cult of the guru (see here) by discussing the nature of dialogue and debate in educational leadership journals.

Originally presented at the 2017 Australian Association for Research in Education conference in Canberra, this paper reflects on my 2017 paper School leadership and the cult of the guru: the neo-Taylorism of Hattie , the published response by John Hattie and the rejection of my offer to response to Hattie in the journal.

I argue that educational administration and leadership, and arguably education research at large, is not well equipped for dealing with dialogue and debate. Instead, what we are more likely to experience, both as consumers and generators of research is ‘parallel monologues’. Even when debating one another, as many potentially seek in journals and at conferences, there is often little if any serious attempt to engage with the ideas of others as this becomes secondary to enforcing one’s opinion on the other.

While I am aware of Tony Bush’s (2017) rebuttal (not refutation) of my claim of parallel monologues, I am more persuaded by the insights of Robert Donmoyer (2001) Martin Thrupp and Richard Willmott, (2003) and Jill Blackmore (2010), that in educational administration and leadership we treat those with whom we disagree with benign neglect and apathy more than intellectual engagement. For the most part, one finds their community or network of like-minded scholars with accompanying journals, conferences and the like and carves out a career – often blissfully unaware of scholarly dialogue and debate taking place within and beyond their chosen fields/sub-fields. There are salutatory acknowledgments to the need for multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approaches but arguably the traces of the paradigm wars have meant even some of the most senior professors in the field struggle to meaningfully engage with those writing from different positions.

Central to my argument is what I (and many others) see as the logic of academic work – argument and refutation. The parallel monologues of educational administration and leadership mean that even when engaging with one another, there is a major struggle to step outside our comfort zone and seriously engage with knowledge claims that do not confirm that which we hold dear. It is not about simply producing a counter argument, but engaging with the ideas of another and where necessary refuting them. Not imposing one’s view of the world on another, but engage on their terms – testing out claims for robustness and internal coherence and not alignment with one’s own normative position. This removes subjectivity in the dismissal of ideas and instead provides the basis for a more rigorous and robust exchange of ideas.

This is why I have chosen to have others engage with my work in special issues and my recent book. It is why I actively seek out dialogue and debate in what I read. All of this is my normative position on how scholarship ought to be conducted. Through more robust dialogue and debate I argue that educational administration and leadership would benefit not in building the careers of the next guru, but in advancing knowledge claims. To that end, while the article (at least the title) may give the impression that it was others doing the ranting, raving and complaining it is really me building a case for how I believe we ought to conduct ourselves as scholars.

My aspiration is that in the coming years in journals, at conferences, in seminars, at any scholarly event, and even on Twitter, I hope to see less ranting, raving, and complaining (myself included) and more serious engagement with the knowledge claims of those presenting.

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Slides from #ISA18wcs paper Thu, 19 Jul 2018 12:38:40 +0000 Below is a link to the slides for my presentation at #ISA18wcs. The paper was presented as part of a suite of papers (26 in total) mobilizing relational sociology.


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Relational sociology at #ISA18wcs Tue, 17 Jul 2018 15:39:04 +0000 Read More

This week I am at the XIX International Sociological Association World Congress in Toronto. It is a major international sociology conference and importantly, includes many sessions on relational sociology. For many, this conference represents a great opportunity to build on the work of a series of books edited by Francois Depelteau such as The Palgrave Handbook of Relational Sociology and previous works with Christopher Powell Conceptualizing Relational Sociology and Applying Relational Sociology. And an opportunity to build further momentum in the Palgrave Studies in Relational Sociology book series.

Across the week there are 26 papers being presented that draw on the diversity of relational approaches. Including:


Tuesday, 17 July 17:30-19:20 (206A, MTCC North Building)

Relational sociology: What are ‘relations’ and why does it matter to study relations.


Wednesday, 18 July 09:30-18:30 (Sociology Department, University of Toronto)

This day includes, courtesy of the Sociology Department of the University of Toronto, the presentation of 12 distributed papers from #ISA18wcs


Thursday, 19 July 10:30-12:20 (701A MTCC South Building)

The relational-processual turn in sociology: Theoretical discussions and debates

This is the session I am presenting in. The abstract for my paper is:

Classic organizational theories build on substantialist assumptions and grant ontological status to organizations. Rarely do the underlying generative principles of scholarship get illuminated. With an inter-disciplinary and global scale, various networks of scholars, a volume of contributions in journals and books (e.g., The Palgrave Handbook of Relational Sociology), and an array of international meetings, Prandini (2015) argues there is a ‘relational turn’ in the social sciences. The label ‘turn’ indicates an epistemological breakthrough that has transformed an intellectual space, altering its constitution and ‘providing a blueprint for new developments’ (Gulson & Symes, 2017, p. 125). Drawing insights from the recently published Beyond Leadership: A Relational Approach to Organizational Theory in Education (Eacott, 2018), this paper offers a starting point for the relational approach I am advancing through the explicit articulation of a concept glossary. Paying attention to the core thrust of the relational program – the relational extensions – this paper demonstrates how the key concepts of organizing activity, auctor, and spatio-temporal conditions are crucial to maintaining theoretical integrity and coherence. Creating distinctions from other ‘relational’ positions, such as the adjectival, co-determinist, and conflationary, I offer a nuanced, within the confines of a conference paper, account of how a relational approach and explanatory framing differs from hegemonic substantialist approaches. This paper is not about constructing a dense and inaccessible technical language rather, articulating and defending a vocabulary to discuss and understand the social world relationally. As a series of starting points, this paper contributes to bringing some clarity and coherence to shared principles of relational approaches for understanding and significantly, how these ideas and concepts can be mobilized for empirical work courtesy of insights from an ongoing project on principals experiences of temporality.


Saturday, 21 July, 14:30-16:20 (718B MTCC South Building)

The relational-processual turn in sociology: Relationism in empirical studies


This is further evidence on the growing momentum of relational sociology on a global scale and the basis from which ongoing networking and a global intellectual infrastructure can support.

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Visiting the Depart of Ed Admin at University of Saskatchewan Fri, 13 Jul 2018 03:57:20 +0000 Read More

This week (11-13 July), Dr Eacott has been visiting the Department of Educational Administration in the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada).

During this visit, he has meet with colleagues in the Department, the Saskatchewan Educational Leadership Unit (SELU), and from Concentus. In addition, Dr Eacott has taught two classes in EADM820 Administrative roles in school systems, and a PhD Seminar on his relational approach. The abstract for the PhD seminar is:

Relational inquiry in educational administration and leadership.

The relational research program offers a fruitful approach to the study of educational administration and leadership. Built on five relational extensions and three key concepts, it offers a means of engaging with the messiness of the social world while focused on making a productive contribution. In this seminar Dr Eacott will facilitate dialogue and debate concerning how one might go about mobilizing the relational methodology in developing a research project, or writing a dissertation / thesis, journal article, or book. Drawing on actual examples from Honours, doctoral projects and his own work, this hands-on seminar will introduce participants to the relational template, a resource developed by Dr. Eacott to assist those mobilizing the relational approach in their writing projects.

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Visiting Western University (Canada) Tue, 10 Jul 2018 12:19:09 +0000 Read More

This week Dr Eacott is presenting two workshops at Western University on the relational approach (see here). On Monday he will be presenting to faculty and higher degree researchers on:

Relational inquiry in educational administration and leadership.

The relational research program offers a fruitful approach to the study of educational administration and leadership. Built on five relational extensions and three key concepts, it offers a means of engaging with the messiness of the social world while focused on making a productive contribution. In this workshop Dr Eacott will facilitate dialogue and debate concerning how one might go about mobilizing the relational methodology in developing a research project, or writing a dissertation / thesis, journal article, or book. Drawing on actual examples from Honours, doctoral projects and his own work, this hands-on workshop will introduce participants to the relational template, a resource developed by Dr. Eacott to assist those mobilizing the relational approach in their writing projects.

The talk will be livestreamed here.


On Tuesday he will be presenting to school leaders on:

A Relational Approach to Educational Leadership

Educating is political. Decisions regarding what is taught, how it is taught, and how students are assessed reflect a version of what makes an effective school. Of course what is judged as effective is contested, but do we contest? I have no doubts that schools are good at what they prioritise – but are they clear about those priorities? In this seminar presentation Dr. Eacott works through his relational approach to propose a flipped approached to school leadership. His core argument is built on three matters: i) effectiveness begins with clarity of purpose; ii) you are judged on your level of coherence against that purpose; and iii) you construct the narrative for your school. The result is a broad principle that recognises there is one size fits all approach to education, an embrace of professionalism in the justification of practices, and flipping the criteria for effective to educators and not those outside of schools. When taken together, this argument is about empowering educators to build a version of education and enacting that in the interests of students.

The event will be livestreamed here.


*Thanks for the featured image goes to Jing Qu from Western University.

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PUBLIC LECTURE: Responding to Gonski 2.0 from an ed lead perspective Sun, 24 Jun 2018 11:59:03 +0000 Read More

This Thursday the Gonski Institute for Education will be hosting its 2nd Public Lecture responding to Gonski 2.0. Speaking from an educational leadership perspective, Dr Scott Eacott, Dr Richard Niesche, Robyn McKerhian and Iris Nastasi will discussion the problems and possibilities.

The event will be live stream and then available via You Tube. As soon as the links are known they will be added here, as will a link to Dr Eacott’s slides.

For further details or to register for the event, see: here

Below is a copy of my presentation text

Gonski 2.0 and Principal Preparation: A Response

Since its release on 28 March there has been substantial dialogue and debate on what is, and is not, in the Federal Government’s Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools – affectionately known as Gonski 2.0 (and this is the label I will adopt for the rest of this paper). Reactions have varied, ranging from the supportive through to rejection. But as is always the case with such reports, the nuances of what it means for those working in and with schools is important.

The executive summary of Gonski 2.0 outlines some of the contexts in which it was prepared, including:

  • In a world where education defines opportunity, schooling must support every one of Australia’s 3.8 million school students to realise their full learning potential and achieve educational excellence.
  • Since 2000, however, academic performance has declined when compared to other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.
  • Declining academic performance is jeopardising the attainment of Australia’s aspiration for excellence and equity in school education.
  • The extent of the decline is widespread and equivalent to a generation of Australian school children falling short of their full learning potential.

What cannot be lost in this discussion is the idiosyncratic nature of Australian federalism. Constitutionally, education is the responsibility of the States / Territories. Despite this, it is the Commonwealth government that holds the funds – distributed via States / Territories. This leads to strategic reporting of funding arrangements to best meet arguments. Irrespective of this underlying condition, the issue of declining – or at best stagnate – performance has been consistent across government (at all levels) and systemic rhetoric for some time. The unanimously accepted idea is that reform is needed. But what can and should this reform look like? And what are the issues that Gonski 2.0 raises?

In this paper, I am going to focus on Chapter 4: Empowering and Supporting School Leaders, and in particular, the implications for principal preparation. Importantly, what I offer here is not a definitive statement on principal preparation in Australia. Rather, this paper is a researched informed (a claim that not all responses to Gonski can make) contribution to ongoing dialogue and debate on the issue of principal preparation from an educational leadership academic perspective. There is of course a bias present as I work in a university and teach almost exclusively into the Master of Educational Leadership, and graduate research programs (PhD, EdD, Masters by Research, and Honours) in educational leadership. But this does not reduce the strength of argument and is no more a vested interest than anyone else responding to public policy.

Recommendations and findings

Chapter 4 includes three findings and four recommendations. The findings focus on comprehensive training and preparation of aspiring school principals (Finding 13), alignment with the Australian guidelines for school leadership development and monitoring for effectiveness (Finding 14), and ongoing participation by principals in quality professional learning centred on leading learning (Finding 15). The specific recommendations are:

Recommendation 17
Review and revise the Australian Professional Standard for Principals to prioritise leadership of learning and make maximising the learning growth of every student every year the key focus.

Recommendation 18
Ensure principals have the professional autonomy and accountability required to lead their school on the improvement journey most relevant to their starting point.

Recommendation 19
Create and provide opportunities to implement a structured career pathway for school leaders which articulates clearly defined roles and development streams for middle leaders through to experienced principals and provides the opportunity for remuneration, recognition and allocation of responsibilities appropriate to the role.

Recommendation 20
Provide school leaders with access to a variety of professional learning opportunities appropriate to their career stage and development needs and recognise and harness the skills and experience of high-performing principals by enabling them to share their expertise across schools and throughout the system.

In this relatively short response paper, and in the interests of not diluting my argument too much, I take stimulus from Recommendation 20 and focus on three matters: i) variety of professional learning opportunities; ii) career stage and development needs; and iii) relevance and currency.

Variety of professional learning opportunities

Any argument about ensuring that current and aspiring principals have a variety of professional learning opportunities requires some evidence as to what current practices are. So what do we know about school leaders’ professional learning? While there is arguably systemic data on this, there is not too much publicly available. To that end, if we review the Australian Council for Educational Research triennial Staff in Australia’s Schools survey (McKenzie, Weldon, Rowley, & Murphy, 2014), we see that the average primary school leader participates in 13.7 days of professional learning per year, with secondary school leaders slightly lower at 12.1. Both values are higher than teachers with 10.1 (primary) and 8.2 (secondary) respectively, which may or may not be surprising. These professional learning opportunities are primarily offered by employers (including regional / local offices), professional associations (e.g., Australian Council for Educational Leaders, Australian College of Educators), and to a lesser extent, universities, with many supplemented through informal mentoring relationships and other networks. These professional learning opportunities are considered as helpful or very helpful by 84% or more participants.

The underlying question is therefore around quality and professional learning that has an impact on practice. In Gonski 2.0 this is said to be achieved by aligning with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s (AITSL) Australian guidelines for school leadership development. Given the politicised role of AITSL and the profession’s engagement with it, I am going to refer to the work of Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2007) on the qualities of exemplary leadership preparation programs. They articulate seven qualities:

  • Clear focus and values about leadership and learning around which the program is coherently based;
  • Standards-based curriculum emphasizing instructional leadership, organizational development, and change management;
  • Field-based internships with skilled supervision;
  • Cohort groups that create opportunities for collaboration and team-work in practice oriented situations;
  • Active instructional strategies that link theory and practice, such as problem based learning;
  • Rigorous recruitment and selection of both candidates and faculty; and
  • Strong partnerships with universities, schools and districts to support quality field-based learning

These are not too dissimilar to the goals of Gonski 2.0, particularly the focus on instructional leadership. There has been a lengthy history of partnerships in developing leadership preparation programs in all sectors and states / territories. If we accept that teachers are the key leverage point for improving performance then focusing leadership preparation and development on instruction makes sense. And improving instruction is only made possible by having a model of pedagogy that is desired (Ladwig, 2005), something that has been replaced in the rhetoric with a list of practices based on effect sizes. Whether this list constitutes a coherence model of pedagogy is infrequently discussed to any great extent. The former (a model of pedagogy) can be used to work with teachers while the latter (a list) simply tells teachers and leaders what to do.

What has not been addressed in any great detail at least in Australia, is how an increasing number of school leaders are turning to social media for professional learning. This is however far from trouble free. In some currently under review work, I investigated whether there is potentially ‘social science Kardashians’ in educational leadership. That is, are there educational leadership ‘researchers’ (those who trade on academic titles and/or affiliations) who have social media profiles that exceed what could be expected given their research / scholarly track record might indicate? This work is an appropriation of Hall’s (2014) work in Genome Biology. Using a sample of educational leadership researchers on Google Scholar with Twitter profiles, the findings are interesting for thinking through leadership preparation and development and what leaders are exposed to.

Of the 30 researchers identified through Google Scholar, only four had Kardashian-index or K-Index scores that were high (2.5 times the median absolute deviation from the trendline), and two were only just (less than 0.1 above the threshold). In contrast, 8 of the 20 researchers identified through keynote speakers at educational leadership conferences had high K-index (ranging from double the threshold through to ten times). What this means is that a number of big names called upon to give keynotes (and usually regularly) are not those researchers who have attracted attention for the quality of their research in the traditional academic sense (e.g., peer reviewed publications, citations). It is quite possible that some of these keynote speakers are simply famous for being famous. There is much more nuance to this claim that I have engaged with here, but it is worth thinking about. If the speakers invited to keynote at conferences are invited because they are big names and will get ‘bums on seats’ rather than due to new or quality research then it is possible that they are what current and aspiring educational leaders come to see as the cutting edge of research. For me, this is highly problematic and something that all involved in the preparation and development of school leaders need to be mindful of. We cannot assume that the big names we are exposed to, especially those regularly cycling around the keynote circuit are reflective of the latest and greatest in research.

A secondary analysis stimulated by the K-index work was the possibility of Twitter Tagging Cartels. That is, when famous keynotes consistently tag one another in tweets – not for the purpose of engaging in conversation, rather just tagging. A form of social media name dropping. Building profiles through connections. In this case, it is possible that those on the fringe of this power group (the ordained next generation) extend their reach and influence – irrespective of the quality of their research – solely through connections. In many ways, there is nothing new about this, but social media has provided a new infrastructure for these entrepreneurial types to build profiles and followership well in excess of what traditional measures of academic success might suggest.

If quality and variety are issues for the ongoing professional learning of current and aspiring principals, then further dialogue and debate is necessary as to what constitutes quality and how does the field assure that this is what we have moving forward.

Career stage and development needs

There is a well-rehearsed line of argument that the professional learning needs of educators, including those in leadership positions, changes with career stages. What is rarely discussed is how do we best define career stage?

Common approaches have focused on experience – usually defined in years – and/or role (e.g., assistant principal, deputy principal, principal). To a certain extent, the latter is present in Gonski 2.0 with reference to a structured career pathway and linked professional learning. And this is also an approach taken by many systems. But is there a text of equivalency here? How do we know that such groups, whether they be based on years of experience and/or role are a homogenous group? Is there a difference based on context? Do rural and regional school leaders need the same as urban? What if you move contexts do you need to do it again from a different perspective? What if you chance sectors, move states, and so on?

An alternate version is currently underway given the roll out of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Rather than based on years of experience and/or role, you now have a career structure built on performance – or at least those willing to subject themselves to evaluation (and the cost) of higher levels of accreditation. For principals (current and aspiring) this is made a little more complicated by the fact that AITSL has ‘the’ Principal Standard. Note the singularity. Despite its visual representation, unlike the teacher standards, there is only the principal standard. How then do principals continue to engage with ongoing professional learning linked to career stage if there is a glass ceiling of performance?

What role do credentials play in the preparation and development of principals? From a formal perspective, there is the traditional pathway of Bachelor (or the increasingly popular Master of Teaching) as Initial Teacher Education, followed by post-graduate coursework (Graduate Certificate and/or Masters) and then post-graduate research (Masters by Research, EdD, or PhD). What role can, or should this pathway play in the development of Australia’s school leaders?

For me, mindful of my bias, there is a significant role to be played by universities in this space. Systems do a fantastic job of preparing their leaders for leading in their systems. The ACER research supports this, and it makes sense. Who better to prepare and develop leaders for working in a system than the system? But what of more? Gonski 2.0 spends a lot of time discussing the role of personalised learning, what would this look like for school leaders (and teachers for that matter). There are, as I flagged earlier, examples of systems and universities partnering for credentialing. But I want to make a specific argument here. That is, despite the push to have impact and perpetual improvement, there is more to the preparation and development of school leaders then learning to lead. What I believe is also required is a focus on learning for leading. The latter is of increasing importance in an era of standardisation, data-drive decision, and policy informed research – and something that is not always delivered from the inside of a system. Challengingly though, learning for leading does not always have an immediately recognisable impact is therefore often dismissed as irrelevant.

Relevance and currency

The question of relevance and currency is an ongoing one for principal preparation and development. In attempting to standardise programs what is left are simplistic one-size-fits-all approaches stripped of the diversity and variety that gives strength to a field. Think here of how aligning with the professional standards is stripping initial teacher education of philosophy, sociology, history, organizational theory and reducing it to a technicist deliverology – an argument that to some extent has been led by the profession. The same can be said of principal preparation and development programs needing to align with the immediately observable work of principals. If we reduce programs to learning to lead, then who gets to decide what we are leading for, and for whom, is removed. In seeking problem solvers and not problem posers we lose diversity and the asking of big questions.

Education is complex. There are no simple solutions. Programs should reflect this. As English (2006) argues they should have ‘internal contradictions, antinomies, circularities, and contested intersections. In short, a cutting-edge, research-centred preparation program would reflect the knowledge dynamic at work in which it is embedded’ (p. 466). Therefore, while I welcome the Gonski 2.0 idea of recognising and harnessing the skills and experience of high-performing principals by enabling them to share their expertise across schools and throughout the system, I am reminded of Thomson (2010) arguing do we want to learning how to play the game better or challenge the very rules of the game and its formula for success? For me, the big questions and issues of education are not going to be resolved through playing the current game better.

What learning for leading does is introduce current and aspiring school leaders to the conversation of the world. Through broad exposure one is better positioned to have clarity of purpose, be judged on the coherence of practice with that purpose, and generate the narrative of what is and can be education. This is not about being the local face of a system – although I am aware there is that role to play – but focused on leading a narrative of education. After all, if educators do not tell the story of their school, staff, communities, and most importantly students, someone else will have data to do so.


There is a substantial amount of recommendations, problems, and possibilities in Gonski 2.0. For educational leaders, at all levels, there is plenty to do. In this paper I have focused on some matters to do with the preparation and development of school leaders, notably principals. Is the argument complete – far from it! But when is anything in education ever complete. And more importantly, that was never my intent. Rather, what I am hoping to do is start a dialogue and debate about what can and could principal preparation and development in Australia be.

Irrespective of what one thinks of the Gonski 2.0 report and its recommendations, and the potential of Australian politicians to deliver, there is a genuine opportunity for the profession to stand up and lead a conversation of Australian education. Does this require the field to come together to have a shared vision, possibly, but if so, I would argue that this shared vision needs to be a commitment to contestation, to dialogue and debate. One where we do not accept a one size fits all approach and instead seeks to learning from one another – across sectors – in the interests of working for students. To do so we must go beyond the loudest and biggest voices to bring diversity of thought and opinion together to not simply problem solve but to ask questions. The big questions that shape the education of Australia’s children require substantial commitment and as a profession are we up for it, I think so.


Darling-Hammond, L., LaPointe, M., Meyerson, D., Orr, M. T., & Cohen, C. (2007). Preparing school leaders for a changing world: Lessons from exemplary leadership development programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford University | Stanford Educational Leadership Institute.

English, F. W. (2006). The unintended consequences of a standardised knowledge base in advancing educational leadership preparation. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(3), 461-472.

Hall, N. (2014). The Kardashian index: a measure of discrepant social media profile for scientists. Genome Biology, 15(7), 424. doi:10.1186/s13059-014-0424-0

Ladwig, J. G. (2005). Monitoring the quality of pedagogy. Leading & Managing, 11(2), 70-83.

McKenzie, P., Weldon, P., Rowley, G., & Murphy, M. (2014). Staff in Australia’s schools 2013: main report on the survey. Canberra, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Thomson, P. (2010). Headteacher autonomy: a sketch of a Bourdieuian field analysis of position and practice. Critical Studies in Education, 51(1), 5-20. doi:10.1080/17508480903450190

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PhD Opportunity: School reform for equity and excellence Mon, 28 May 2018 10:23:58 +0000 Read More

As part of UNSW’s Scientia PhD Scholarship program there is a unique opportunity to come and do a PhD under the supervision of Dr Scott Eacott, Dr Richard Nieshce, and Professor Colin W Evers.

Project Details

Educational equity, access, and excellence have emerged as serious social problems in an age of economic and social disparity and instability. This project focuses on how these problems are being redefined via initiatives seeking to ‘lead’ under-engaged and/or under-achieving populations through school (primary or secondary) reforms in regional and rural Australia (and elsewhere). Bringing an inter-disciplinary approach to the grand challenges of equity, access and excellence, the aim is to build a strong empirical foundation that can inform current government and educational initiatives by examining the relations among educational, social, economic, geographic, and historical factors on school improvement/reform interventions.

Theoretically, the ideal candidate would have some background in education, leadership, and/or sociology. Particular preference would be given to candidates with working knowledge of social critical theory.

Methodologically, the project is diverse and the ideal candidate would have a skill set across one or more of the following: philosophical inquiry, empirical fieldwork (e.g., questionnaire and quantitative analysis; data mining of school-level performance data and resource usage; qualitative skills in interviews and focus groups), and/or document analysis.

Practically, the ideal candidate would have some skills engaging with professionals (e.g., educators, principals, teachers, systemic officers) and have effective written and oral presentation skills.

Personally, the ideal candidate would be willing to learn, be well read, and happy to network nationally and internationally.

Benefits include:

  • A $40K stipend for four years;
  • A $10k career development fund; and
  • Explicit career mentoring to kick start an academic career.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Dr Eacott (

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