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Picking a hill to die on: discreet activism, leadership and social justice in education

James Ryan (Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)
Stephanie Tuters (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 7 August 2017

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to describe a study that explores the discreet activist strategies of educational leaders who promote social justice.

Design/methodology/approach

Part of a larger project, this study employed qualitative methods. In particular, researchers interviewed 26 leaders – principals, vice principals, department heads, and central office officials who presided over both homogeneous and diverse schools, departments, and districts in and around a large Canadian city. Data were analyzed during and after data collection, and themes were identified, explored, and described.

Findings

Given the resistance they faced in their efforts to promote social justice, leaders found that they had to be strategic in their efforts. In particular, they had to position themselves in ways that reduced their visibility and increased their credibility. When they took action, they tended to adopt subtle rather than obvious strategies.

Originality/value

The harsh reality for activist educational leaders who promote social justice is that they will likely have to be strategic in the way they go about their work. Given the nature of their relationships with the organizations in which they work and the power differentials within which they operate, educational leaders may have to adopt low key or discreet strategies if they are to successfully promote their social justice agendas.

Keywords

Citation

Ryan, J. and Tuters, S. (2017), "Picking a hill to die on: discreet activism, leadership and social justice in education", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 55 No. 5, pp. 569-588. https://doi.org/10.1108/JEA-07-2016-0075

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited