Rethinking Educational Leadership: Challenging the Conventions

Raymond L. Calabrese (Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




Calabrese, R.L. (2004), "Rethinking Educational Leadership: Challenging the Conventions", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 503-505.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Nigel Bennett and Lesley Anderson's edited book Rethinking Educational Leadership: Challenging the Conventions is part of the British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society's (BELMAS) series focusing on leadership in schools. The book is a compilation of serious and thought‐provoking manuscripts and is comprised primarily of conference papers presented at the BELMAS International Research Conference in 2000. The authors report that four additional papers were solicited to address the book's themes. The book is divided into four sections: leadership perspectives; leadership perspectives into practice; leadership perspectives and professional development; and review and overview. Gunter's contribution as the final chapter in the book is an excellent summation of the various chapters. Gunter uses the metaphor of a map of educational leadership to connect the book chapters around the themes suggested by the authors.

In spite of the excellent work of the contributors, the book has little to do with educational leadership in the form of management or leadership and more to do with educational leadership in the context of an ideological agenda of which the reader should be aware. Although the editors frame the book by examining three perspectives of leadership, critical theory seems to be an underlying theme throughout the book.

The greatest consideration is given to leadership perspectives into practice (chapters 5 through 10). The least consideration is given to the last two sections: leadership perspectives and professional development (chapters 11 through 12) and review and overview (chapter 13). The authors set an ambitious agenda of attempting to inform leadership practice by exploring institutional theory, activity theory, and contingency theory. They assert that examining school leadership through the lens of these theories raises important, yet, frequently neglected questions related to leadership within the organization and community. The authors hint at the social responsibility of leadership and the ethical implications of the actions of those in leadership positions. The notion of school leadership throughout the book is ambiguous. The authors do not make a distinction of the level of school leadership that they address. Is it public schools? Is it community colleges? Do they view school leadership as generic encompassing all educational institutions in all cultures and levels?

Although the authors attempt to coalesce around the theme of educational leadership, the reader is left hanging because of the disparate nature of the manuscripts. There are theoretical pieces on leadership, reports of case studies from public schools as well as community colleges, and a focus on leadership in teaching and administration. Some readers may find this approach confusing; in effect, it gives the reader a sense of having to switch trains at every station to get to one's destination. Since the collection of manuscripts gives the appearance of being forced, it delimits the outstanding contributions of some of the authors. Of special note in this review are the contributions of Goddard, Ogawa, McGregor, and Gunter.

The strength of Ogawa's chapter, for example, is a rich description of the institutional context of teaching. Ogawa offers the perspective that “schools can be organized around the knowledgeability and capability of teachers by providing conditions that are consistent with the notion of professional communities as vehicles for promoting the professionalism of educators” (p. 38).

Ogawa illustrates the compartmentalization of school leadership and the act of teaching. It is the compartmentalization of these two fundamental acts that separates leadership from the core technology of the school ‐ teaching. He extends his argument by demonstrating that a decoupling process occurs on two levels in school organizations related to the core technology of teaching. One, structures are decoupled to meet environmental demands; and two, that school organizations decouple from the core technology of teaching to maintain legitimacy if stakeholders challenged teacher adherence to and compliance with curriculum or policy. Ogawa's position is grounded in critical theory; he makes a set of assumptions formed by a set of beliefs about the function of the public education system. As Clark (2002) indicates:

Further, critics charge that critical theorists can be unwilling to listen to the experiences of those most adversely affected by current policies and the status quo, as they tend to focus their analyses on persons and institutions in positions of power and authority. This, critics note, causes critical theorists to be out of touch with the very persons they purport to be most interested in helping.

There is longstanding support for Ogawa's argument; yet, this perspective appears to have little, if any, impact on the relationship of leadership, school organizations, and teaching. It hints at the possibility of a conspiracy between administrators and teachers where each agrees to operate in his or her world with little, if any, intrusion by the other party. Ogawa's contribution, however, is a worthy read for those seeking to gain multiple perspectives on how schools operate.

Goddard's contribution, “Leadership in a post modern era”, asserts that leadership is not simply learned and that it is a function of knowledge and experience that allows the school leader to choose among appropriate leadership styles, selecting the right style for the right context. The author is not breaking new ground; the notion of situational leadership appeared much earlier. Hoy and Miskel (1987), for example, supplied readers with four types of situational leadership: “structural properties of the organization, organizational climate, role characteristics, and subordinate characteristics” (p. 273). Goddard states that in the postmodern era, “There is a growing need for school leaders to recognize that the building is no longer separate from the community”. Practice in the USA indicates that educators are well aware of this important characteristic. All one has to do is reference Professional Development Schools (PDS), the growing action research application in many preparation programs, and the emphasis in numerous school districts to connect with their communities.

McGregor's contribution, “Collaboration in communities of practice”, presents empirical evidence from a research design focused on three case studies: an 11‐18 school in a suburban area; a community college in a rural area; and a large 14‐18 upper school and community college located in a high socio economic area. Although qualitative researchers argue that multiple case studies advance the credibility of the data in the study (Yin, 2003), McGregor does not inform the reader why these cases were selected. Were they selected because of convenience? Were they selected because the researcher sought to identify common or disparate practices among the three cases? Moreover, some members of the international community may not be aware of 11‐18 schools, or 14‐18 upper schools. More precision in definition would allow for greater transference. Additionally, it would have been beneficial if the research questions were made explicit for the reader, giving the reader an opportunity to connect the problem, research questions, and research design.

The author seems to have the benefit of reacting to the work of other contributors in the book (see Ogawa's chapter as a means of supporting the outcomes found in this study). The author makes a strong case for the community of practice, and the research findings support the theory that the school leader needs to be more of an instructional leader and not a manager.

The book's major shortcoming rests in the fact that it lacks focus and the lack of focus adds to reader confusion. Its greatest strengths are the attempt to link leadership to teaching and to demonstrate the cultural barriers that seem to resist this linkage, although many administrators will espouse the opposite. The theory‐in‐use of the same administrators supports what many of the contributors in this book criticize. It may be that the book's best potential audience is at the university level where faculty want to challenge inbred beliefs about the relationship of leadership to teaching.


Clark, L. (2002), “Critical theory and constructivism: theory and methods for the teens and the new Media @ Home project”, available at: qmr‐crit‐theory.htm (accessed November 3, 2003).

Hoy, W.K. and Miskel, C.G. (1987), Educational Administration: Theory Research, and Practice, 3rd ed., Random House, New York, NY.

Yin, R. (2003), Case Study Research, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.

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