Innovative Leadership in Underperforming Schools

Year: 2017

Author: Drysdale, Lawrence, Gurr, David, Longmuir, Fiona

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The paper reports on case studies of the leadership of three underperforming schools, two serving communities with relatively high educational advantage, and one with low educational advantage. In reflecting on these cases we consider the extent to which the principals were innovative in how they led the schools, and the extent to which they developed a climate of innovation.
It is generally accepted that we live in a time of uncertainly and transformational change. Many writers in business and education argue that leaders need to adapt and shape the future if they wish to succeed. One of the solutions is innovation. Innovation has many dimensions that make defining it a complex issue. The OECD (2005) defines innovation as: 'the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), process, new marketing method or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations'. One approach to conceptualising innovative is to use a continuum with incremental innovation at one end and disruptive innovative at the other (Christensen, Horn and Johnson, 2011). In the paper we explore principals in challenging circumstances to determine the extent they engage in disruptive innovation and demonstrate characteristics of disruptive leadership.

Research Questions
What are the characteristics and practices of a principal leading an underperforming schools, and to what extent can their leadership be considered innovative?
To what extent are cultures of innovation established at these schools?
The study adopted multiple perspective, observational case studies that included: individual interviews with the principal (three interviews), school council president, parent member of school council, assistant principal, curriculum coordinator, and six teachers; group interviews with two groups of 5-8 parents and two groups of 5-8 students; observation of the principal's work and the life of the school; and document collection.

The finding showed that all three principals engaged in innovative leadership practices. Innovative practices ranged from incremental innovative practices to disruptive innovative practices. The principal in School A demonstrated incremental innovative leadership; the principal in School B demonstrated moderately disruptive leadership practices; and the principal in School C demonstrated disruptive innovative practices. All three principals were successful in improving their school to some degree. The different approaches and strategies and levels of success are outlined in the paper. The concept of disruptive leadership is also discussed.