Not simply transfer: rural leaders re-contextualising their post-graduate study in context

Year: 2017

Author: Rogers, Bev

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Cowie and Crawford (2007, p. 130) argue that in the past two decades "anxieties regarding school underperformance in an increasingly competitive global economic environment have brought political pressure to raise educational standards upon principals". The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests that school leaders, "need specific training to respond to their broadened roles and responsibilities" (OECD, 2008, p. 11 emphasis added). In Australia, several states (SA, WA, Vic) have responded with programs for 'useful training', within the standards-based context of the Australian Professional Standard for Principals (AITSL, 2011). Preparing future leaders (AITSL, 2015), conceptualises professional learning for principals as "learning that can be put into practice on the job" (p. 14 emphasis added).

We actually know very little about how professional learning experiences are useful or helpful to school leaders and why (Anderson & Cawsey, 2009) and have little to guide the idea of 'transfer'. What actually occurs for a leader to put [learning] into practice in a particular context is not really understood (Eraut, 2004a, 2004b, nd). It is also the case that little current research links professional learning for principals to school outcomes (Jensen, Hunter, Lambert, & Clark, 2015). It is possible that our limited understanding of principal preparation (and ongoing study) programs for both leaders/aspiring leaders, is related to the pervasive individualistic, instrumental, and largely managerial conception of leading practice (Eacott, 2011; Thomson, 2001).

The research described in the paper is a narrative inquiry/hermeneutic phenomenological study aimed at exploring the lived experience of principals of rural schools trying to re-situate or re-contextualise, in their contexts and in their practices as leaders (Kemmis et al., 2014), professional learning from post-graduate study. The intent is to better understand learning in the context of practice. Rather than thinking of leadership and professional practice as requiring 'training' in which techniques are 'applied', we might view what happens as "practice where nuanced judgement is required" (Gillies, 2016, p. 150). Such judgement requires reflection in the company of others. Since leading is an interactive and "experiential process" (Laszlo & Brown, 2014, p. 341), it is not pre-determined by the 'styles', 'traits' or 'best practice' of one person. Examining practice architectures (Kemmis et al., 2014) provides a way of understanding how learning in the context of practice and from post-graduate study, plays out for leaders in nuanced judgements in their site.