Social justice enactment in primary school leadership: A tale of two principals

Year: 2017

Author: Macdonald, Katrina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

As part of a doctoral study examining how social justice is understood and acted upon by educational leaders in socially disadvantaged Victorian primary schools, in this paper I examine two principals with proven track records but very different approaches. The data in this 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 and educational leadership: their "topographies of self" (Macfarlane 2012, p.26).

Social justice leadership literature suggests principals who champion social justice will share particular ideologies and dispositions. Employing Bourdieusian methodological thinking tools of habitus, and the mechanisms and conditions of the field, in this paper I analyse the data generated with two principals working in some of the most socially disadvantaged areas of Victoria. I explore the habitus and dispositions of these educational leaders in challenging contexts, including their own understanding of their location within the field, and the capitals they bring to their leadership. While both principals can be said to be leading for social justice, based on the improvement in their schools during their tenure, their approaches are surprisingly and starkly different. One principal conforms to research ideals about social justice leadership, and the other challenges these norms. In this paper I investigate the habitus and dispositions of these two principals and question what it might mean for our understandings of social justice leadership.