Researching educational leadership: The use of narrative inquiry.

Year: 2018

Author: Harold, Barbara, Stephenson, Lauren

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Over the last three decades narrative approaches have been widely used in social science contexts and particularly in some educational contexts as a way to make known the life and work of classroom teachers. Narrative inquiry is an interdisciplinary approach to research, with its roots in various disciplines and philosophical traditions (Squire et al. 2008).  It is the study of story, interpretation and discourse and a means by which we collect data about people’s lives and collaboratively construct a narrative about the experiences and meanings they contribute to the experiences (Clandinin, 2013).  The stories lived and told are situated and understood within larger cultural, social, familial, intergenerational and organizational narratives.
In this paper we discuss how a narrative approach was used to research the lived experiences of five Emirati female educational leaders. The narratives were constructed using re-storying, a collaborative approach that involves the researchers and the participants in the negotiation of the final text.  Intensive interviews were conducted with the participants who were also observed in their workplaces and/or homes. The interview questions paid attention to cultural context, beginning, middle and end, significance of other people, historical continuity, the embodied nature of the teller, and the choices and actions of the teller (Etherington, n.d).
Data were triangulated through interviews with participants’ mentees, critical friends and family members.  Data were also collected through field notes, journal entries, documents, and artifacts. In co-constructing the narratives, the wider context of the participants’ personal and cultural experiences was taken into account within their historical contexts.
As the stories and descriptions of events were collected, underlying themes were identified and synthesized into narratives co-constructed by the researchers and the participants. Fictionalized narratives were created, drawn from the stuff of memory and field texts composed and co-composed with the participants, and in response to lives and living.  In the final phase the researchers did a comparative analysis of the stories, identified themes across them and related those themes to the educational leadership literature.
The paper provides a detailed view of how the narrative approach to research into educational leadership was carried out and highlights its strengths while also addressing the methodological and ethical challenges facing the researchers during the inquiry.