School Leadership in the Anthropocene: Ecology of Crises

Year: 2021

Author: Brooks, Jeffrey, Kensler, Lisa

Type of paper: Symposium

The Anthropocene, a term for our current geologic epoch, is characterized by far reaching human impacts on Earth’s planetary systems, driven by dramatic human population growth and technological advancement (Crutzen, 2002). Scientists report that our planetary systems are under severe stress and, in some cases, may be on the verge of crossing tipping points into permanent changes beyond conditions ever experienced by humans (Wijkman & Rockstrom, 2012). We have a limited window of time to act such that we realign our behaviors, individually and collectively, with laws of nature that have served us well. These environmental crises – climate change, biodiversity loss, etc. – set a global stage for an interdependent array of social crises – poverty, racism/equity, health/trauma/wellbeing – that converge to demand attention and action from school leaders. This paper will explore school leadership in the Anthropocene, the ecology of crises that demand an expanded understanding of educational leaders’ opportunities and responsibilities.  First, we will provide a more detailed discussion of the Anthropocene and its relevance to school leadership. Awareness and understanding of the Anthropocene is sparking new scholarship and practice across diverse fields (Heikkurinen et al., 2016; Hoffman & Jennings, 2015; Lloro-Bidart, 2015; Pichler et al., 2017; Whitmee et al., 2015; Zalasiewicz et al., 2017); educational leadership is late to these conversations. Second, we will provide a detailed description of what we mean by an ‘ecology of crises’ and the direct impacts apparent in schools today. Finally, we will present a systems-based model for guiding educational leadership research and practice into the future. This model proposes the following strategies: i)          Dispelling the myth of certaintyii)         Understanding interrelated systems rather than “problems” iii)        A focus on non-linear/branching/organic educational processes and outcomesiv)        Leadership, activism and education as cross-sector systems that link and extend/expand ideas, resources and change.