Love, Care, and Solidarity: Understanding the Emotional Work of School Leaders in Australia and England.

Year: 2019

Author: Heffernan, Amanda, Mills, Martin

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

School systems around the world are seeing high rates of stress and burnout in school principals. The average age of principals is rising and fewer people are applying to become school leaders. This dearth of people aspiring to leadership is potentially due to our growing understanding about the personal and emotional toll of leading today’s schools. This paper presents findings from a study that explores the emotional impact of the Principalship. We conducted interviews with principals in Australian and English schools characterised by high levels of poverty, which research shows has impacts on principal wellbeing, staff turnover, and longevity in leadership roles. We build upon research into affective justice and care work in schools and the influence of emotions on the work of school leaders.

We advance Kathleen Lynch’s framework of love, care, and solidarity, which serves as a heuristic to better understand how the work of school leaders plays out in underserved school communities. We employ the framework to examine the hidden labour of school leadership and the place of emotions in leaders’ everyday interactions and encounters. We seek to articulate the connections between each aspect of love, care, and solidarity, and to understand how they influence principals’ work and lives.

The principals in this study demonstrated solidarityin their choice of working in these particular types of schools, which can bring with them a higher level of emotional complexity. They came to these schools to make a difference. Their work towards social justice manifests in their carerelationships and interactions with students, staff, and communities. These interactions, constant throughout each day, are full of emotion. Participants spoke of rage, happiness, shame, pride, fear, anger, and hope. We argue that these emotions and interactions have an impact on the final dimension of Lynch’s framework – love. Participants’ stories illuminate the impact of their care work on their own relationships with their spouses, their children, and their parents.

Developing our understanding of the impact of principals’ interactions is vital in better preparing leaders to take on these complex and challenging roles. Indeed, Lynch has emphasised the importance of preparing workers to undertake the affective labour involved in love, care, and solidarity work. We seek to articulate types of support that can prepare, empower, and enable principals to undertake their work while mitigating some of the impacts on the intimate, loving, relationships that are vital for their own health and wellbeing.