3 Making sense of educational leadership studies
The core purpose of educational leadership is necessarily related to the purpose of education in the setting and context in which it takes place. For example, for Swaffield and MacBeath (2013), educational leadership is ‘for’ learning and has moral purpose for the ‘wider good’ (p. 15). This purpose is linked to issues of equity and social justice, which are underpinned by our views about the ideal ways in which society should work. However, researchers and educationalists have many different ‘world views’ or personal preferences and beliefs about what individuals can do and the way that knowledge is developed and applied in practice. These inform the paradigm that is being adopted, which in turn shapes the research questions that are asked and the way that the activity of research is approached (the methodology).
Research paradigms that you may have heard of include positivist, interpretivist, critical/constructivist, feminist and postmodernist. We will not be going into the detail of these world views here, but as you study this course you are encouraged to think critically about a range of contrasting and contradictory ideas. To do this, it is helpful to clarify your own world view and beliefs about how change is achieved. We hope that you will find that the ideas presented in this course challenge your thinking, and will help you to refine and develop your ideas about educational leadership and management.
To consider what a ‘world view’ might be, it is helpful to reflect on your own ideas about how the social world operates; how individuals can act, how human relationships create a ‘real’ world, and how culture and power influence our actions (the concept of ontology). Importantly, in education we also need to consider our views about knowledge, how it is developed, and how it can be shared and extended through learning and teaching. This is a view on epistemology (the study/theory of knowledge). For example, Westernised views of knowledge are often deeply embedded in the scientific tradition (explicit knowledge) whereas some Eastern concepts of knowledge are embedded in intuition and storytelling, which is a more tacit concept of knowledge (Nonaka, 1994). Importantly, in relation to both sets of views, Burgess et al. (2006) point out that ‘These beliefs are basic in the sense that they must be accepted simply on faith (however well argued); there is no way of establishing truthfulness’ (p. 54).