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Educational Leadership – to champion improvement for all students
Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Educational Management, Volume 28, Issue 7.
The papers in this special issue are based on papers presented at the European Educational Conference on Research (ECER) in Cadiz, Spain in 2012. Each of them was presented as a part of network 26 Educational Leadership.
For many of us, conferences are vital because they give us the chance to listen to our colleagues ideas, and their use of theory, methods, and findings. Conferences create excellent opportunities to network and meet others with the same interests. Conferences are often a first step towards presenting one's ideas and receiving responses. The next step for every presenter ought to be to publish the presented paper, which means receiving new reviews and feedback. These are all important steps to raise the quality of one's research before it reaches a wider audience of researchers. This special issue is a result of a long process that started with findings and ideas presented in Cadiz.
Special issues are often built around a specific theme or project. This issue suggests another kind of commonality: a broad interest in educational leadership that stretches across continents and contexts, together with the idea that it is not enough to present papers in conferences; papers deserve to develop until they are published.
The European Educational Conference on Research (ECER) is the yearly conference for the European Educational Research Association (EERA), where local and regional European research associations encourage collaboration, communication, and dissemination of research. Network 26 Educational Leadership started ten years ago at a 2004 conference in Crete. During that conference, 18 papers were presented in the network. Last year, when the conference was held in Istanbul, 106 presentations were made in our network. We had the chance to listen to new doctoral students as well as well-known professors. The presenters and the audience came from all around the world, which is also reflected in this journal, with authors from Australia, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the USA.
This special issue in many ways reflects the issues for which our network stands. In these papers, it is possible to see a variety of perspectives and contexts. School leadership operates often in complex environments, in which we need to recognize differences and similarities alike. Sometimes we need to reduce the complexity in order to understand the most important features. Global trends and national contexts require multiple perspectives to understand processes.
Many of these papers were authored by scholars from several countries. The interest in comparative research and in the process of learning from other contexts is growing. Conferences are a good venue for meeting others with the same interest in a topic or phenomenon. Even if North America and the English-speaking countries still dominate the field, we can see more and more research from other countries research that sometimes challenges what we take for granted, and that sometimes confirms things we already know.
Almost all of these papers have a qualitative approach. Many build on case studies. One of the papers uses a factor model and a cluster analysis, something we also see during the conferences. Most leadership research involves small, qualitative studies, even as mixed-method approaches are growing.
The first paper in this special issue is a comparative study written by authors from several countries. Lawrie Drysdale, Jeffrey Bennett, Elizabeth T. Murakami, Olof Johansson and David Gurr remind us about the individual person's principal role and discusses heroic and post-heroic leadership. More specifically, this paper discusses how heroic and post-heroic leaders hold accountability and build inclusive and collaborative communities in challenging contexts. Their data was collected from case studies of successful schools, which they have reexamined to search for heroic and post-heroic themes in principals leadership in three countries: Australia, Sweden, and the USA. They argue that there is a difference between heroic and post-heroic leadership. Today, both leadership styles are necessary to explain successful school leadership. Even if there are some country-specific differences, their summary highlights common leadership characteristics that are important to make schools successful. The principals who show heroic and post-heroic leadership traits clearly articulate their visions, build relationships, influence others, are visible, and have the capability to build schools that can cope with and accept change, all on behalf of their students. These writers conclude that we need to leave behind the stereotypical definitions that undermine the complexity of leadership.
The next paper also deals with successful schools. Both papers have authors who are involved in the International Successful School Principal Project (ISSPP). Encarnacion Garca, Lawrie Drysdale, David Gurr, Stephen Jacobson, and Betty Merchant followed four successful principals through case studies. All principals lead schools with very different challenges. All principals are experienced, female principals who have stayed in the same school for several years. They each show a strong commitment to social justice issues. Besides being successful individuals, they also built leadership skills in their teachers and acted as trainers for new principals. The paper provides lessons for principals as well as principal training and superintendents.
Jan Merok Paulsen, Olof Johansson, Lejf Moos, Elisabet Nihlfors, and Mika Risku have, in their paper, taken a closer look at the levels above principals. They compare the Nordic countries, with a focus on superintendents, and see a structure in which both soft and hard governance is evident. All countries are facing increasingly standardized policies that are being developed by agents and experts. As a result there is signs of political empowerment on the municipality level as well as on the national level. This is especially evident when the national level sometimes bypasses the municipality level in school governance. The superintendent position is at the crossroads between duties of control and leaning facilitation. The superintendent must mediate and balance the levels that are above and below him or her.
The fourth paper also looks at prerequisites for principals when there is a change in governing structures in a decentralized system. Stefan Brauckmann and Alexandra Schwartz have made a survey among principals in Cyprus in relation to operative and perceived autonomy and accountability. They find that the experience of autonomy does not always relate to intended aims. Instead, perceived autonomy can be connected to factors on the individual level. This results in four types of school leaders: the challenger, the optimist, the sceptic,and the opportunist. Each meets the demands of his or her position differently. To overcome the tension between external demands, internal expectations, and individual difference, it is necessary to build stronger support systems and more sufficient leadership programs.
Pia Skott is also interested in the levels above principals. She interviewed superintendents and political board chairs to study their role identity construction in a larger context. Her paper is a part of a larger Swedish study about how national policy meets local implementation structures. The paper shows the importance of every actor and his or her actions on the local level in order to construct prerequisites for principals and teachers. The ways in which superintendents and chairs contribute to understanding, building relations, and handling conflict create a complexity and a variation in themselves. The local curriculum processes are a collectively constructed transformation activity.
The last paper in this special issue deals with pedagogical leadership and classroom observations. One of the challenges with new concepts is that of finding a definition that is both clear enough to create activity and broad enough to create meaning. Helene rlestig and Monica Trnsen have defined pedagogical leadership and created a model that elucidates its three main aspect goals: steering, process steering, and result steering. Their paper follows principals who participate in a course in pedagogical leadership; their data show that more knowledge about classroom observations will be necessary in order to use these observations as tools to create dialogue and learning that can improve teachers work.
I hope you will enjoy reading this special issue in the same way we enjoyed listening to the presentations at the ECER conference in Cadiz. Quality research conference and academic journals are, to a large extent, the result of collaborative work. Many are involved as authors, reviewers, and audience members. New ideas are not created in a vacuum; instead, an interest in others and in other contexts can help us understand more about those other contexts as well as about our own. Principals leadership is a too important issue to engage only the ideas of the few. The ECER conference is growing, and so is the interest in educational leadership. There is an increased need for more theoretical, conceptual, and empirical research on principals and how schools are governed. Research on educational leadership in necessary to champion improvement for all students
Dr Helene Ärlestig
Umeå University, Umeå , Sweden