Monthly Archives: October 2014

Piece of the Global Educational Pie

“…although basing educational policy making on scientific evidence may be a good idea, it implementation and rigour are lacking”
(Weiss, Murphy-Graham Pretrosino and Gandhi, 2008)

imagesReflecting on evidence in policy making in education on a local, state, national and global level and it is obvious of its role in forming policies. But evidence based decision making is, as Wiseman (2010) states, “… all about what works or best practise.” The question asked is what works in what situation and in what community?

I have to say I am divided about all this “evidence” and its effect on policy making and of course on leaders and schools.

I believe I may be devil’s advocate and suggest that there needs to be “something” and that we can’t just irrationally propose a policy on education without basing it on “something”. Oakley (2002) suggests evidence “validates and legitimises education processes and products”.

Obviously, the challenge is to  create a basis for evidence that has substance and takes into account social, gender, as well as geographic elements. This is where the criticism comes in that, as Wiseman states, “…it only focuses on what works in specific situations or with unique communities”.

But the question remains for me, is that continuing criticism of evidence based policy making can only lead to more authentic, genuine, truthful forms of policy, or at least one hopes. Or as Whitty (2006) states “we must consider evidence within context”.

To state it is politically driven or economically focused would predominantly touch at the hearts of those who, on a daily basis, value the true “depth” of education i.e. teachers, school leaders for example. Ask a policy writing politician and the response may be quite different. Each person’s role in education i.e. teacher, parent, student, leader, policy writer are all driven by different purposes of education e.g. educational, economical and political. And each has a domino effect on the other.

As Ladwig states “schooling is meant to provide many more things than just academic outcomes”. But for politically driven policy makers these  “non-academic outcomes” are irrelevant to their political intentions. Evidence doesn’t cater for or truly reflect these non-academic concerns.

So that brings to to the point of “sitting on the fence”. As an educationally driven and motivated member of society, evidence based decision making and policy writing are too concerned with the quantitive rather than the qualitative measures but as a citizen of a forward gesturing nation, I ask “How else do we make these decisions? What do we base the policies on?

To the non-educational background onlooker the conversations and their understanding of the policy making politically driven agenda relies on numbers. It is what everyone globally can relate to. It is what we can globally compare. It is what we can sell newspapers with! It is what politician can be elected with. Sadly, education of students is just one piece of the “global educational pie”, often and more so it is becoming a smaller piece at that.


Ladwig, J.G. (2010). Beyond academic outcomes. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 113-141.

Oakley, A. (2002). Social science and evidence-based everything: The case of education. Educational Review, 54(3), 277–286.

Weiss, C. H., Murphy-Graham, E., Petrosino, A., & Gandhi, A. G. (2008). The fairy god-mother—and her warts: Making the   dream of evidence-based policy come true. American Journal of Evaluation, 29(1), 29–47.

Whitty, G. (2006). Education(al) research and education policy making: Is conflict inevitable? British Educational Research Journal, 32(2), 159–176.

Wiseman, A.W. (2010). The uses of evidence for educational policymaking: global contexts and international trends. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 1-24.


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Not Sure Leader Is the Right Word

Unknown-1 In any organisation, the term leader is used but after much reflection on this area, is this the correct term to use when we discuss leadership? To be a leader suggests that you have followers. That somehow you are at the front while others continue to walk the path you have set out in your travels. I know many would stop the post here and suggest this is a ludicrous thought but the more I reflect on it the more I question the term “leader”. In 1990, Bass wrote that “leadership is a relationship with social influence in a group setting.” He suggested that “leadership occurs when “one group member modifies the motivation or competencies of others in the group”. This relational definition does not, in my opinion, suggest to lead or be a leader , and so I ask again, is it the right term to use? Lindberg and Oloffson claimed that leaders operate from a values set which they use to influence the thoughts and actions of others”. This does not arguably equate to leading others but influencing others. So if I believe that leader is not the right term, then what is the right term? Can I suggest “Influencer or 4 M-er (Meaningful Moderator, Motivator and Modifier) or  Social Effect Agent or Authentic Relationship Developer (Finlay, 2014) perhaps?

A Social Effect Agent does not appeal so much to many, I am guessing, as it sounds like an experimental spy term or a social experiment compound. Nor does 4 M-er as a write up on anyone’s Curriculum Vitae as their current position held in an organisation but whatever term we come up, should we not question the term leader and open it up for more discussions?

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Child Minding Does Not A Leader Make


Many years ago, at a school I worked in, a school staff member, and obviously not a teaching staff member, continually called teachers “glorified baby sitters”. I was fresh faced from university in my first job and when she would frequently use this term  I would politely smile (while my insides boiled) and continue on my way. But how do I now, some 25 years later answer to a person if that same comment was made to me now.

And my answer is eloquently put by Professor Charles Burford  when he says “…we are just child minding if we have no moral literacy” and “…we are not about the growth of the character of the kids”. (2009)

When we look at teachers and leadership in a school, and not just Principal leadership, Burford suggests we come across familiar values of common good; individual rights; justice; community; and, excellence. Special values are what we call core values. In a Catholic school environment, Catholicity is one core value. When these values influence and drive our decision making processes of what and how to teach, it distinguishes us from “glorified baby sitters” to leaders in education.

But Burford goes further to suggest that we need to know, as leaders, what is the moral purpose of what we are doing? At that young age, I knew I was a teacher, a hard working , dedicated teacher but this answer had no purpose. It was just an definition of what I was. And this definition was up for critique as it had no purpose.

In hindsight, my response should have been about my values and the values of the school, and “special issues of good character” e.g. decency and not ones considered more important than others, but ones that are prioritised in the school. My response should have included my purpose of supporting children for the “common good”; or effecting justice in the school environment; or developing levels of community across all age groups.

Perhaps, this conversation with this particular staff member may not have developed any further but what it would have assured me of was my understanding of what I believed an authentic leader was. And it wasn’t a glorified baby sitter!


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Ethics – “Same Intersection, Different Paths”

UnknownOne of the most awakening moments in my studies on authentic leadership is that which Paul Begley shared at a conference at the Penn State University in 2009. He describes ethics in the form of different perspectives of ethics.

The practise of ethics and the problem solving of it is the first category. This is common to the school leader or Principal. Problem solving is a very natural and common part of any school leaders day.

The second is the study of it in an academic arena, as would be found with a philosopher. So, at this point, we have the academic and the practitioner.

But Begley stretches this notion that ethical decisions can be made from many different areas of life. He speaks to us of the legal ethics with a legal, law abiding perspective. The decisions made by a police officer will be different to a welfare officer.

He continues to share the social justice ethics, again with social justice as its heightened perspective. An ethical decision being made about refugees in the country will vary, for example, between a social justice advocate and a politician responsible for the management of the country. In both these examples, the ethical decisions being made are between two rights in each case but their perspectives are clearly different.

What Begley encourages is the ideal that ethics is a singular definition but with many perspectives. He represents this by the notion of the “intersection” that all perspectives can meet at but that many come to this intersection from “different routes”.

The definition of ethics may seem stable and the decision making process of ethical decision making may be understood but clearly, the element most needing to be understood is the perspectives that they come to us from. When a leader can be, as Begley calls it “sensitive to the perspectives and be able to spot moral dilemmas” then the leader will also show existence of moral literacy in their leadership.

And Begley affirms that because of our diverse society, technological advances and needs for the environment then there will also be an increase in ethical dilemmas.

Perspectives and sensitivity to them will allow for authentic leadership to flourish and be more evident in the organisation.

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