Theory and Praxis of Middle Leadership

Year: 2021

Author: Carter, Amber

Type of paper: Individual Paper

The education agenda in Australia focuses on improvement and identification of the initiatives that enhance outcomes for students. Increased accountability resulting from these performative drivers often falls on the principal and has increased the demands on the principal’s role. There is an evolving interest in the contribution middle leadership teams have in supporting the work of the principal in the pursuit of school improvement. Although positive claims are made about the influence of middle leaders in driving school improvement, a gap between theory and praxis centred on this layer of school leadership has emerged.This gap is revealed through middle leaders’ emphasis on administration of curriculum rather than leadership of learning (Bassett, 2016; Leithwood, 2016; Harris & Jones, 2017; Lipscombe, Tindall-Ford & Grootenboer, 2020). The focus on managing rather than leading reduces middle leaders’ influence to improve practice and has resulted in an underutilisation of the leadership capacity of middle leaders. Significantly, effective middle leadership teams have capability to reduce in-school variation, but more importantly, reduce variation across school systems. This is due to their unique positional advantage of being closer to the ‘chalkface’ than the principal. When provided with enabling conditions, middle leaders become collective drivers of change and improvement. The impetus is for school and system leaders to re-imagine the role of middle leaders and to mobilise their potential as leaders of learning, particularly in the pursuit of the improvement agenda.This paper reports on the progress of a doctoral mixed method study with the aim of describing the enabling conditions for effective middle leadership practice. The first phase sought to define the characteristics of effective middle leadership through a series of expert interviews with scholars active in this area of research. These findings highlight the challenges in describing effective middle leadership which has implications for identifying enabling conditions for effective middle leadership praxis in Catholic secondary schools in NSW.Bassett, M. (2016). The role of middle leaders in New Zealand secondary schools: expectations and challenges. Waikato Journal of Education, 21(1), 97-108.Harris, A., & Jones, M. (2017). Middle leaders matter: reflections, recognition, and renaissance. School Leadership & Management, 37(3), 213.Leithwood, K. (2016). Department-Head Leadership for School Improvement. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 15(2), 117-140.Lipscombe, K., Tindall-Ford, S., & Grootenboer, P. (2020). Middle leading and influence in two Australian schools. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 48(6), 1063–1079.