New Perspectives in Educational Leadership: Exploring Social, Political, and Community Contexts and Meaning

Heather L. Mosley Linhardt (University of Missouri)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 5 July 2011




Mosley Linhardt, H.L. (2011), "New Perspectives in Educational Leadership: Exploring Social, Political, and Community Contexts and Meaning", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 49 No. 4, pp. 456-460.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

In the foreword of New Perspectives in Educational Leadership: Exploring Social, Political, and Community Contexts and Meaning, Fenwick W. English contends that it is conflict, not consensus, and the pushing of boundaries that allows for intellectual growth in a field such as educational leadership. The purpose of this edited book is to push those boundaries by providing new perspectives and reflections on educational leadership from a variety of philosophical and contextual approaches. By focusing particularly on issues grounded in research on culture and climate, transactional and transformational leadership, equity, reflective practice, adequacy, accountability, and social justice, it is the hope of Horsford that this book will “offer ways of thinking about educational management, administration, and leadership that actively improve the way we educate, prepare, and support students and their families, and in turn, the quality of life of our citizens and society” (pp. 3‐4).

Horsford brings together both established and emerging scholars of educational leadership to provide research, context, dialogue, and critical thought to important topics and questions surrounding this field so we might critically evaluate our understandings and assumptions to better educate students and contribute to society. The book is organized into three parts, each consisting of four or five chapters.

Part 1 “Theory, research, and practice” provides new perspectives on more traditional theories of organization and leadership, with implications for practice. Chapter 1 is entitled “Educational leadership and the shaping of school culture: classic concepts and cutting‐edge possibilities”, in which Brooks and Miles provide an overview and critique of organizational and school culture literatures. As part of their overview, they review the basic concepts and findings in each of these areas as well as the differences between the two sets of literature. Appropriate links to leadership for each framework are provided, as they discuss the vital yet slightly different roles leaders play in each. Brooks and Miles (p. 24) then highlight five critiques:

  1. 1.

    business leadership is not school leadership;

  2. 2.


  3. 3.

    rhetoric over reality;

  4. 4.

    lost individuality; and

  5. 5.

    global, which serve as points to ponder as they highlight areas of future research that could work towards “culturally relevant leadership”.

Chapter 2, “Rethinking transformational leadership in schools: the influence of people, place, and process on leadership practice” by Peters pushes the reader to rethink traditional transformational leadership literature. By unpacking the concepts of transformational and transactional leadership and their relationship with each other, Peters prepares the reader to critically examine the practicality of these leadership concepts in schools in two ways: a thought‐provoking analysis of the movie Lean on Me and a telling principal vignette, followed by the implications of rethinking these often‐cited theories.

Chapter 3, “On becoming a leader for educational equity and excellence: it starts with instruction” by McKenzie and Locke and Chapter 4, “Building leadership capacity to improve student learning: the practice and power of reflection” by Barnett and O'Mahony, look more specifically to the role of principals, focusing on the importance of instructional leadership. McKenzie and Locke briefly describe their conceptualization of an instructional leader for social justice, one who “not only focuses directly on the business of teaching and learning, but ensures that teaching and learning is occurring for all students” by attending to “equity consciousness and high‐quality teaching skills” (p. 51). The enlightening vignettes and vivid examples from their research on three types of leaders;

  1. 1.

    strong instructional leaders;

  2. 2.

    leaders derailed by diversions; and

  3. 3.

    aspiring transformational leaders, are engaging and thought‐provoking, leaving the reader to reflect upon the key to school improvement: having well developed equity consciousness and high‐quality teaching skills.

Barnett and O'Mahony look at principal leadership regarding how reflective practice builds leadership capacity and improves student learning. Examining what makes an effective instructional leader and discussing Leithwood's four pathways to influencing teaching and learning serves as a purposeful context to their definition of reflection and what it means for school leaders, particularly during times of rapid‐fire decision‐making. This chapter is particularly helpful in guiding self‐reflection, as the authors provide various options and activities through which principals can infuse reflection into their practice, as well as suggestions for how to use reflection as a professional development tool.

In Chapter 5, “Toward critical servant leadership in graduate schools of education: from theoretical construct to social justice praxis”, McClellan urges readers to explore how educational leadership faculty can make leadership preparations more relevant to social justice issues in schools. McClellan offers a compelling argument for the need for faculty to look long and hard “at the underlying assumptions that drive our teaching and research”, particularly as the demographics of both our public schools and graduate schools continue to change (p. 100). By utilizing critical service leadership theory, McClellan describes how faculty can examine their own ideas of privilege, power, equity, and social justice through reflection and self‐study in a way that delves deeper than more simplistic ideas of social justice.

Part 2 of New Perspectives in Educational Leadership: Exploring Social, Political, and Community Contexts and Meaning is called “Contextual and cultural considerations”. This section focuses on the more cultural, social, and political contexts relevant to educational leaders. Chapter 6, “Leading schools in an era of change: toward a new “culture” of accountability?” by Lewis and Fusarelli is a fascinating start to this second section, as they trace the evolution of accountability systems in education from input‐based to performance‐based to market‐based, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each and finally recommending their own hybrid model of accountability. After a thoughtful and critical discussion of President Obama's administration's impact on accountability measures, they suggest a hybrid accountability model that combines performance‐based with professional‐based, which together partner well with professional learning communities already in place in many schools. Leaders and teachers tired of current accountability measures and hoping for a more thoughtful model would certainly be interested in this chapter.

Chapters 7 and 8 tackle and critique more culturally equitable and ethical leadership issues in Aleman Jr's “The politics of equity, adequacy, and educational leadership in a (post)racial America” and “Considering the social context of school and campus communities: the importance of culturally proficient leadership” by Dancy and Horsford. In Chapter 7, Aleman focuses on our racialized public school funding system, suggesting that the presence of a post‐racial society actually strengthens the less than stellar status quo and the “colorblind ideologies” associated with it (p. 128). Using a critical race theory perspective, Aleman examines and supports the call to improve the preparation of critical scholars and school leaders for “(in)equity” and “(in)adequacy” through both examples of system‐wide issues and critical discussion. In Chapter 8, Dancy and Hosford focus more on preparing culturally proficient leaders to benefit the students of both K‐12 and higher education systems. The authors not only provide a review of research on culturally proficient leadership but also offer strategic ways to utilize this type of leadership to improve student learning and achievement at all levels. Relevant and useful to scholars and practitioners alike in the P‐20 education system, Dancy and Hosford describe cultural proficiency as a framework for leaders, providing the reader with ideas for utilizing culturally proficient leadership in classrooms of all ages.

The last two chapters of Part II look beyond school walls to issues involving communities and global realities. In Chapter 9, “Educational leaders as cultural workers: engaging families and school communities through transformative leadership”, Wilson Cooper reminds us of the importance of strong school‐family partnerships that empower families and enhance leader efforts towards student learning and success. Cooper provides a review of parent involvement studies and discusses how transformative leadership can empower both families and leaders alike. Even more pertinent to practitioners, Cooper does a great job of offering strategies and resources for educational leaders to use in engaging diverse families in school.

Chapter 10, “Educational leadership in a changing world: preparing students for internationalization and globalization through advocacy leadership” by Murakami‐Ramalho focuses on preparing students for the twenty‐first century through conversations reaching far outside the school walls and into the international and global scale. She describes how education conceptualizes internationalism and globalization through language, curriculum, and leadership with examples from her own fieldwork as well as others. The rest of her chapter is a captivating discussion interspersed with examples and suggestions for how educational leaders can support critical pedagogies to prepare students to discuss international and global issues, with advocacy leadership being one very powerful element.

Part 3 of New Perspectives in Educational Leadership: Exploring Social, Political, and Community Contexts and Meaning, entitled simply “Looking to the future,” suggests new directions for educational leadership from school reform to social justice. Chapters 11 and 12 focus on school reform topics, starting with Jean‐Marie, Ruffin, and Burr's chapter entitled “Leading across boundaries: the role of community schools and cross‐boundary leadership in school reform” in which they focus on principals as cross‐boundary leaders. This is a very conceptual chapter focused on rethinking the idea of community schools in relation to cross‐boundary leadership using urban regime theory, a theory employed extensively for examining urban politics. As part of their examination, the authors describe four realms of leadership used by principals as cross‐boundary leaders in community schools: distributed, instructional, democratic, and boundary spanning. Finally, they describe a coalition in Tulsa as a model for school reform, providing an illuminating description of the coalition, particularly the role principals play in this initiative.

Royal and Davis continue with the school reform focus in their Chapter 12 entitled “Leaders of the new school: exploring teacher‐leadership and the future of school reform”, concentrating on the placement and strategy of teacher‐leaders in school reform. Royal and Davis describe the current educational system as demoralizing and devaluing teachers and instead offer a new way of understanding teaching that advances the leadership inherent in our teachers. More thought‐provoking than anything, this chapter brings to our attention the current educational climate, new educational endeavors in teacher leadership through such organizations as the New Teachers Project or Teach for America, and the role of teacher leaders in professional learning communities. Royal and Davis also offer explanations for why teachers don't stay in schools and implications for teacher leadership in relation to President Obama's administration and the future of school reform. The reader can't help but come away from this chapter critically reflecting on how they conceptualize teacher leadership and its place in successful educational reform.

The last two chapters of this book focus on new directions of educational leadership as they relate to social justice. Brunner et al. in their chapter “Transforming leadership preparation for social justice: dissatisfaction, inspiration, and rebirth ‐ an exemplar”, present a tool for leadership preparation that addresses issues of power and identity in an effort to promote educational equity. They organize their discussion via three states of radical transformation: dissatisfaction, inspiration, and rebirth, using the state of innovation to introduce their leader development tool, experiential simulations. As they describe the tool, which is grounded in their own substantial research, they provide vivid examples and descriptions from their fieldwork on the utilization of this tool, showing incredible potential for practitioners and researchers alike. An exemplar from one case in particular is used to show, among other things, how one leader/participant evoked the three full stages of radical transformation, completing her “rebirth” as it were.

Chapter 14 completes this collection of essays with Theoharis describing the immensely important but very messy process of principals attempting to advance equity and opportunity through social justice leadership in his essay “”Yes we can”: social justice principals navigating resistance to create excellent schools”. Theoharis reminds the reader just how much resistance a principal focused on developing an equitable and socially just school can encounter before he leads the reader through a riveting multi‐year exploration of seven principals, including himself, and their messy road toward equitable and excellent schools. In describing the themes he found regarding advancing an agenda, hitting resistance, and strategies to keep momentum and their own sanity, Theoharis brings the reader along through the principals' realities. He provides the reader with a reality that doesn't show “ah‐hah” or “hallelujiah” moments followed by a grand solution, but instead the reality of a messy, ongoing process of flexibility, reflection, and change that involved “approaching their jobs in sometimes slightly different ways and in sometimes radically different ways” while also “learning how to protect and maintain their lives outside of their schools as well as their spirits” as they held onto their beliefs and took ownership of their school conditions (p. 290).

Tillman concludes the book by pushing the reader to think even beyond the new perspectives discussed in these essays and take it a step further to new practices, which includes thinking beyond educational leadership and onto the greater picture of school systems themselves. The idea of pushing the reader is a theme constant throughout these essays, along with informing the reader and providing guidance for reflection of self and systems. The myriad of perspectives, practices, and theories portrayed and examined in this text is nothing if not compelling. The reflection sparked by these essays requires a second read in order to critically digest and appreciate the authors' ideas and stories as well as contemplate one's own use of such insights and experiences in the field, whether as a practitioner, researcher, policy‐maker, or interested person. No matter one's expertise, specialty, or job title, this book is a pertinent text to challenge his or her understanding of educational leadership in multiple contexts and meanings as we move towards new perspectives and ultimately new practices in an effort of growth and excellence.

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