Retired school leaders’ reflections – Identity, influence and issues

Year: 2019

Author: Longmuir, Fiona

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper reports initial findings from an exploratory, in progress, research project investigating the reflections of principals, assistant principals and regional principal-level officers, who had retired within the prior two years. Individual interviews with seven principals who had worked in Victorian schools were collated and thematically analysed. The initial findings provide insights into complexities, enablers and constraints of the work of leaders in school environments. Further indications are emerging about how individual and contextual factors contribute to personal and professional leadership success, role satisfaction and personal well-being.

The leadership of schools is of significant interest to researchers and policy makers due to the influence that the position has on educative and social outcomes for young people and communities. With a dominant discourse in Australia being centred around ‘learning outcomes’, often narrowed to, the measurable manifestation of these, school leadership has been shown to have a significant, although usually indirect, influence on success in these terms.

The participants in this research each had over three decades in education and this research sought to understand how as school leaders they had experienced these ‘times’ through conversational interviews. This methodology enabled participants to construct a narrative of their leadership careers that highlighted the issues and influences that shaped their experience of leadership. Interview questions also sought informed opinions about the current nature of, and future issues for, schooling given the political and social contexts that participants had experienced.

These school leaders shared perspectives on the policy and social influences that are affecting schools and how these had evolved and changed over their careers. They nominated issues such as parental involvement, local school competition, and issues of autonomy and compliance as examples key areas of change that had impacted on their work. Themes emerging from the findings contribute to understanding how Victorian schools, and those leading them, are responding to social and political changes in ways that contribute to socially just communities.

Their reflections on their leadership identities and the key events and people that influenced their trajectories demonstrated that capacity for resilience, relationship development and continuous learning were important. Understanding how they used personal and system resources to navigate challenging times can contribute to research, policy and practice for development of pre-service and in-service support for current and future leaders. Findings from this project will guide future research that investigates themes for the purpose of conceptual and theoretical contributions school leadership literature.