Educational leading as pedagogical love: The case for refugee education

Year: 2019

Author: Wilkinson, Jane, Kaukko, Mervi

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

From a normative perspective, education serves a double purpose, that is, to prepare students to live well in a world worth living in. The practices of educational leadership are crucial elements in achieving this telos. In this presentation, we reconceptualise leading practices as pedagogical love – co-constructed in the intersubjective domains that constitute the moment-by-moment interactions between students of refugee backgrounds, their teachers and leaders.

This reconceptualisation of educational leading draws on more holistic Northern and Continental European meanings of pedagogy, that is, the different historical and philosophical traditions in which a child’s upbringing into forms of life can be understood, reimagined and enacted. Learning to love is a key element of educationalleading understood as pedagogical practice. The significance of this point is that learning to notlove, i.e., divorcing loving from the practices of leading has become a common feature of neoliberal educational systems in Anglophone nations. It is characterised by instrumentalist means-end thinking privileging leading and teaching as forms of techné sutured from the relational aspects which underpin educational practice.

The paper draws on a larger parallel case study which examined refugee educational achievement in Australia and Finland. Specifically, it draws on interviews and observations conducted with students, teachers and leaders in a primary school located in one of the most culturally diverse and socio-economically deprived urban settings in Australia.

Our findings suggest that educational leading reimagined as practices of pedagogical loving is about more than the acquisition of knowledge as an individual cognitive act to be externally measured and quantified. Rather such practices encompassed the acquisition for students of refugee background of habits, feelings, normative convictions, and self-understandings that in turn became a crucial part of how they came to know how to go in this new world of their host nation.

Significantly, the notion of leading as a pedagogical practice of love enacted at the case study school was ultimately a political act for it focused on transforming rather than taking power. For students of refugee background who have so frequently been subjected to this ‘taking’ of power, these leading practices created space for new reparative practices that recognised and responded to difficult legacies of historical trauma, loss, and suffering beyond tropes of victimhood, suffering and pity.