(W)e're going to call our kids "African Aussies"': Critically interrogating school leadership practices in an ethnically diverse school in regional Australia

Year: 2012

Author: Wilkinson, Jane, Langat, Kiprono

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Chair: Dr Jane Wilkinson


A small but burgeoning literature has interrogated how leadership as a culturally specific set of practices discursively constructs educational leadership scholarship and practice. Yet few studies have examined the role of formal leadership in challenging and/or reproducing  the 'discursive White landscape' (Edgeworth, 2011, p. 32) of more ethnically homogenous cultural contexts, such as regional and rural Australia. This paper contributes to such research through its examination of the leadership practices in a regional high school which had undergone a shift from a largely white, monocultural demographic to a more ethnically diverse student population. It analyses the executive's laudable attempts to open up a space for/on behalf of minority ethnic students through a positive engagement with cultural recognition and diversity. It draws on Spivak's distinction between representation as 'speaking for' a particular group, and on the other hand, 'involving interpretation', in its exploration of the complex and fraught terrain of school  leadership advocacy work when attempting to foreground marginalised voices.


The paper draws on a case study of a regional high school in New South Wales which had experienced a significant increase in students from a variety of African nations from refugee backgrounds. The 12 month study documented the impact of increasing cultural diversity on school leadership and pedagogical practices, attitudes and beliefs.  It employed semi-structured interviews and focus groups with school executive, head teachers, English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, teachers from a range of discipline backgrounds, students from both majority (predominantly Anglo-Celtic ) and minority origins, school counsellors and Learning Support Officers (Ethnic).


A charismatic school executive whose practices and philosophy suggested a transformative discourse of diversity played a significant role in enabling shifts to a more positive cultural recognition of student ethnic diversity at school-wide level. However, ethnic diversity remained the property of 'them' (students of minority ethnic origin), rather than 'us' (taken-for-granted white, middle-class leaders).


The paper highlights the importance of a critical interrogation of leaders' assumptions and practices when undertaking advocacy work for minority ethnic students. It argues such interrogation is a crucial aspect of school leadership practice in regional and rural Australia, where historically Indigenous and ethnic 'Others' are discursively concealed in a white landscape with subsequent deleterious material impacts (Edgeworth, 2011).