Shaped by and shaping of the system: School leaders as embedded and embodied auctors

Year: 2019

Author: Eacott, Scott

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Educational leadership literatures are frequently entrapped in the analytical dualism of structure and agency. Those advocating for turnaround, transformational, successful, effective, and so on leaders focus almost exclusively on the agency of individuals to overcome contexts to achieve positive change. In contrast, others portray the bureaucratic iron cage of structures and the inability of individual leaders and/or communities to escape the constraints of social structures. Increasingly, various forms of policy sociology overlay this analytical dualism with layering to reflect the global ebbs and flows of policy trends.

Neither agency nor structure based arguments can capture the constitutive and emergent relations of school leadership. We cannot think of schools, and their leadership, as separate to the systems of which they are apart. Attempts to add layers (e.g., micro, meso, macro or local, national, global) simply introduce artificial partitions that assume a distance between policy and practice.

Theoretically informed by the relationalapproach (Eacott, 2018), this paper argues that to overcome the analytical dualism of structure and agency requires a new way of looking at the problem. Our complicity with existing ways of thinking mean ‘new’ theories are often little more than iterations of existing ideas. If however we can re-cast our ways of thinking about school leadership, policy, and contexts, we can see the ways in which perceived separations are not sustainable yet alone defensible. In contrast, school leadership is at once constitutive of and emergent from the system. In being shaped by and shaping of the system, school leadership is neither victim nor saviour of education. Rather than continuing to argue for structure and/or agency, there is a need for quality scholarship that describes unfolding activity and illuminates alternate ways of being. The relationalapproach mobilized in this paper offers such description.