Policy, personal and organisational change: Theorising how a leader can find balance within competing narratives

School leadership can be an emotional rollercoaster. This paper examines the significant moments for a school leader when leading a school reform towards a growth mindset in a climate of systemic accountability. Accountability demands can create disequilibrium for leaders, particularly when such demands create dissonance between the public narrative of educational performance and the leader’s ontological narrative of educational purpose. Margaret Somers’ narratives of identity are used to understand and explore how a school leader was able to balance a public narrative of accountability expectations, with a conceptual narrative of a Growth Mindset concept identified by Carol Dweck, with the leader’s ontological narrative. A Queensland school leader’s daily reflective journal that identified the narrative moments of leading policy change was analysed through Margret Archer’s theoretical lens of reflexivity. Reflexivity was defined as a distinctive human power to prioritise concerns and commitments through the three Ds of discernment, deliberation and dedication. By using these conceptual tools the emotional labour of school leadership of change was represented and analysed in a series of narrative vignettes. The change leader experienced several conflicting emotions. Emotional responses, in particular those relating to anger, frustration, excitement and self-doubt, were analysed to identity those moments that assisted in bringing about change. By understanding the reality of emotional labour for school leaders, the emotional balancing act of leading policy change can be better understood. Another finding was the helpfulness of conceptualising the emotional balancing act in terms of three narratives. The public and ontological narratives were actively being brought into balance by the change leaders’ conceptual narrative that was continually being shaped by the leader’s reflexive deliberation. By further understanding the complexity of change leadership, this study can inform leaders and policy makers how to make sense of the messiness of change leadership. This research inquiry has relevance for understanding how reflexive approaches, based on an understanding of the effect of emotions, learning principles and narrative identity to change leadership may support school leaders in their complex roles.