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Generational change in Australian school leadership: Collision path or smooth baton change?

Phil Lambert (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), Sydney, Australia)
Warren Marks (Graduate School of Teacher Education, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)
Virginia Elliott (New South Wales Department of Education and Communities (NSWDEC), Sydney, Australia)
Natalie Johnston-Anderson (Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 11 April 2016



The purpose of this paper is to report on a study examining the existence and perceived influence of “generational collide” for teachers and leaders across three generations – Baby Boomers, Generation X (Gen X) and Generation Y (Gen Y). The study sought to further determine if a teacher’s generation, gender, school level or position influenced their beliefs about generational leadership change.


This study employed a cross-sectional survey using an explanatory sequential mixed methods design. A random sample of teachers and leaders from schools in the Sydney metropolitan area participated in a questionnaire (n=244) and a purposive sample of eight participants from each of the three generational groups (n=24) participated in a follow up interview.


The data revealed that teachers and leaders across all three generations agreed that “generational collide” is real and is currently happening in some schools. Each generation has their own perceptions about the “collide” and often do not recognise that this may differ for other generations. In relation to the key variables, this study demonstrated that primary teachers were significantly more likely to believe that generational leadership change was happening than secondary teachers and that Baby Boomers were significantly more likely to view their staying on past retirement age as positive compared to both Gen X and Gen Y.

Practical implications

The findings from this study have practical implications for system leaders charged with the responsibility of providing the supply of quality leadership for schools through effective succession planning programmes and policies.

Social implications

The findings from this study have social implications for principals’ (and deputy principals’) professional associations who have the responsibility for the personal, professional and career welfare of principals and aspiring principals.


This paper adds to the growing body of evidence around generational collide in schools by providing an Australian perspective on the phenomenon. Moreover, this paper raises important concerns for school leaders and administrators involved in leadership development initiatives at the micro, meso and macro levels. Teachers in each generation have specific beliefs around promotion, career pathways, knowledge transfer and talent retention that need to be recognised and considered in future succession planning.



Lambert, P., Marks, W., Elliott, V. and Johnston-Anderson, N. (2016), "Generational change in Australian school leadership: Collision path or smooth baton change?", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 54 No. 2, pp. 114-134.



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