Mission, monarchy and might: Missiology and social justice leadership

Year: 2018

Author: MacDonald, Katrina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper, I examine how social justice is understood and acted upon by educational leaders in socially disadvantaged Victorian public primary schools. In particular, I consider one principal, ‘Robert’, who had a proven track record for improving student results. The data for this qualitative case study was generated through biographical interviews, observations, and autobiography. The interview and autobiography process prompted leaders to reflect on the unique experiences that had brought them to a leadership position in their current school and asked them to reflect on how their early lives, family and career had intersected to contribute to their beliefs and understandings about education, educational leadership, and social justice.
Social justice leadership literature suggests principals who champion social justice will share particular ideologies and dispositions. These include, for example, a focus on pedagogy and improving student learning outcomes, a shared ethos of social justice, leadership dispersal across the school, structures that support the smooth running of the school, network development with local organisations and businesses supportive social relationships and a culture of care with high-trust low-surveillance Employing Bourdieusian methodological thinking tools of habitus, and the mechanisms and conditions of the field, I discuss the data generated with one principal working in one of the most socially disadvantaged areas of Victoria.  I explore the habitus and dispositions of Robert, including his understanding of his location within the field, and the capitals he brings to his leadership. While Robert might be said to be leading for social justice, based on some of his leadership practices and the improvement in his school during his tenure, his approach is surprisingly different to normative expectations of a social justice leader. Robert’s prior life as a missionary with a progressive Christian religious organisation working with at-risk youth in Australia, shaping his primary and secondary habitus, leads to an examination of the sociology of religion and missiology, and the impact this may have on his social justice leadership practice.