Aspirations of a Leader: A Biographical History Through a Narrative Lens

Year: 2012

Author: Peeler, Eleanor

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Biography is often construed as a life story, life history or memoirs. The author may skim the surface to relate the events of a life or dig deeply to explore the social and political issues that shaped events at the time. Beyond the personal story of a man who grasped opportunity to lead, had vision to realise and implement change, stood fast in opposition and had fortitude in the face of defeat, this biography reveals a history of education in Victoria as it unfolded. Historically it uncovers the evolution of secondary schooling, the impact of depression, war and their aftermath and three decades of incredible growth.

During the mid twentieth century LW Shears, the biographical subject, served education in varied capacities for over forty years. As a teacher noted for his facility to lead he took on key roles at an early age. In each successive position he had vision and purpose to implement change for the better for those in his care, whether pupils in class, trainees and staff in teachers' college or the teachers in schools. Eventually leading Victoria's entire education system he understood that change was inevitable though it was often abrupt and faced opposition. Shears' success as a leader depended upon his ability to convey his rationale, engage with others who often opposed and bring fruition or modification to the proposed action.

As the biographer, my attempt to anchor the story in the lived experience of another has taken me into the subject's world. Delving into the past has helped to understand society in which he was born, grew and developed, and into a person whose contribution is worthy of note. I observed his philosophies and success as a leader evolve, and his aspirations for others to develop leadership skills. This led me to witness to the vulnerability, emotional stress, loneliness and wounds suffered in pursuit of his vision, his strategies to cope and fortitude to move on. In this paper I reflect on my role, discuss Shears' formative years as a backdrop to his most prominent leadership period between 1973 and 1984, and consider his philosophies to advocate training for leaders at all levels of the educational spectrum.