Page 1

AERA 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association San Diego, CA th 13 – 17th April 2009

Researching Leadership for Learning across International and Methodological Boundaries Sue Swaffield and John MacBeath University of Cambridge Faculty of Education Abstract This paper reports a three-year international project in which boundary crossing – internationally, disciplinary and methodologically - was a major theme. The project focused on the relationship between leadership and learning in schools in seven countries, bringing together university researchers, school principals and teachers from the US, Europe and Australia. Expanding the circle of knowledge was presented from the outset as a shared enterprise in which disciplined inquiry was not simply the province of researchers but a shared commitment of all participants. The primary outcome was a set of principles of practice that provided a capacity building framework in which exploration of learning, leadership and their interconnections are the centrepiece of inquiry within and among schools locally and internationally. Contact Sue Swaffield University of Cambridge Faculty of Education 184 Hills Road Cambridge CB2 8PQ UK Email: or Leadership for Learning Administrator University of Cambridge Faculty of Education 184 Hills Road Cambridge CB2 8PQ UK Tel: +44 (0)1223 767621 Fax: +44 (0)1223 767602 Email: Web:


Researching Leadership for Learning across International and Methodological Boundaries How do we account for the growing interest in identifying the connections between leadership and learning? Why has it become a shared concern of researchers, policy makers and politicians? For policy makers it may seen as holding the key to improving schools, the leverage for raising standards, the recipe for feeding the economy and the answer to successful competition in the global concourse, highlighted cyclically by OECD and other supranational agencies. Researchers, for their part, are concerned to tease out what ‘leadership’ means and through what mediated mechanisms it connects to the achievements of students. The meeting point for the policy makers and researchers may be found in empirical research that offers ‘strong claims’ (Leithwood et al., 2007; Robinson, 2008) for a causal link between what leaders do and what students learn. Contained within the ‘strong claims’ are, however, assumptions as to what we understand by ‘leadership’, what we understand by ‘learning’ and what proxy measures we employ to connect these two highly complex and essentially contested concepts. Leadership revisited For policy makers leadership tends to be equated with its most visible embodiment, the principal or headteacher, the locus of ultimate accountability and responsibility for turning schools around. For researchers, focusing on the behaviours, and competencies of these singular individuals has been both productive and limiting in equal measure. Educational research has paralleled a substantive body of studies in the corporate world (Senge, 1990; Collins, 2001; Kets de Vries, 2001), and has at best both drawn on and problematised that work. Studies of successful leaders have informed the policy discourse and generated a considerable academic literature. They have produced more systematic pathways to headship in many countries, notably in England where the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) is now the singular route into senior management through a highly structured and centralised programme. Research has been productive in that we now have a far richer purchase on the complexity of the role of the ‘big leader’ (Hargreaves, 2005) and the situated nature of principalship. In a context of relentless intensification we have recognised the logic of ‘distribution’ (Spillane and Diamond, 2007) and the dangers of disenfranchisement by those heroic leaders who hold on to power. That leadership effects are mediated is now firmly established (Mulford, 2008; Hallinger, 2009) and the language of capacity building is now embedded in conventional wisdom. Yet, the paradigm within which leadership is pursued may have blindsided policy and practice to much of the research and much of the discourse which recognises the subtlety of the connections, the patterns and flow of leadership within a school, the reciprocal


interdependence, the spontaneous collaboration in which leading learning is a moral enterprise (Starrat, 1998) and is greater than the sum of its parts. As leadership comes to be framed in terms of activity rather than status or role it leads us to explore ways in which agency comes into play, helping us to perceive how conjoint agency can find expression, and allowing us to examine the context which promotes such interpersonal, inter-group activity. This is what Bourdieu (1981) intended by the term ‘habitus’, the framing context within which the actions of individuals both shape, and are shaped by, the structural and cultural context in which people find themselves. In Spillane and colleagues’ terminology, leadership is made manifest in ‘negotiated order’ (2001:23) between leaders and followers. While leaders can often draw on their positional authority to support the beliefs and actions they advocate, followers can influence leaders by drawing on personal characteristics, their access to information and their special knowledge or expertise. These may be drawn on to influence leadership strategies through subtle forms of manipulation, subversion and ‘creative insubordination’. In other words, followers are an essential element of leadership activity. Nor, might we add, are those roles static. Those who lead may also follow, while those who follow may also lead, depending on context and the task at hand. Leadership may thus be seen both as the formal hierarchy of roles and responsibilities, clearly described, as well as the dynamic flux which defines moment by moment the inner life of a school. So, whether viewed as ‘organisation’ or as ‘community’ we are offered alternative lenses through which to grasp the exercise of influence, persuasion, power, authority and agency. So it is with learning So it is with learning. We may view it on the one hand through the institutional viewfinder with its goals, outcomes and measures of value added, or through a multifaceted lens which refracts restless constellations of activity. Is the explanation for the restless dissatisfaction of adolescence an artefact of contemporary society or of the institutional structures created to contain their volatile energy? In the final sequence of the Cannes Palme d’Or film. ‘Entre Les Murs’ (The Class) the teacher rehearses with his students what they have learned over the last year from the whole gamut of subjects to which they have been exposed. In the poignant closing scene a girl stays behind after the others have gone with the pathetic lament ‘I have learned nothing’. If it were not the last day of term with a teacher worn out by the effort of engaging thirty or so restless minds he might have sat down with her and explored how she had made sense of an intense emotional and social experience, beneath the apparent boredom and alienation. He might have discovered some deeper lying constructs and dispositions irrespective of the fragments of subject content that might have adhered, misconceived or misaligned, like her peers whose attempts to describe the meaning of Pythagoras or Plato’s Republic evoke a laughter of recognition from the cinema audience.


In ten to twelve years of schooling it is remarkable how little we take away with us from the 15,000 hours of exposure to the curriculum, but we learn indelible lessons about relationships, about dualities and paradoxes, discipline and punishment, impulse and control, compliance and subversion. The nature of the world, winners and losers, becomes daily more clear. As researchers much of our study of learning takes place in classroom settings in which we try to come to terms with the disconnect between how teachers teach and how children learn. We observe classrooms, very often within a transmission model of teaching in which students appear as passive recipients, yet at the same time we understand learning as a mental, emotional and social activity, largely hidden from view. With our limited repertoire of instruments to probe learning outside of the laboratory, and responsive to intensive political pressures and impatient policy strictures, we have recourse to crude, and very often misleading proxies. These are dignified as ‘outcomes’, generally measured by individual written text within closely defined parameters. Yair (2000) estimates that despite a succession of reform initiatives, about 80 per cent of American teachers continue with a didactic approach. While 15 per cent attempt to change from a delivery mode they largely fail, leaving only around 5 per cent who are able to innovate successfully. Attempts to improve classroom dialogue through the use of ‘interactive whole class teaching’ in the UK have resulted ‘in a rash of lessons and closing plenaries characterised by fast and furious closed questions and superficial answers rather than exploratory discussion and reviewing learning that was the aim’ (Cordingley and Bell, 2007: 4-5). ‘Still no pedagogy’ wrote Robin Alexander in 2004, his national review of primary school education in England concluding: Primary education is increasingly but needlessly compromised by the ‘standards’ agenda. The most conspicuous casualties are the arts, the humanities and those kinds of learning in all subjects which require time for talking, problem-solving and the extended exploration of ideas; memorisation and recall have come to be valued over understanding and enquiry, and transmission of information over the pursuit of knowledge in its fuller sense. Fuelling these problems has been a policy-led belief that curriculum breadth is incompatible with the pursuit of standards in ‘the basics’, and that if anything gives way it must be breadth. (Alexander, 2008:3) A number of years ago Paul Goodman wrote a book entitled Growing up Absurd. It was about the disconnect between the two worlds of childhood, school and society. In the five decades since Goodman penned those words the disconnect between the classroom diet and learning in the home, street and peer group appears to have increased rather than diminished. At the same time the drive to ‘raise standards’ through classroom instruction has been intensified and outcomes progressively narrowed. As the ‘ultimate gatekeepers of change’ (Broadhead et al., 1999) it is teachers who are held responsible for the attitudes, behaviour and achievements of children and young people. It is teachers who must answer for lagging national performance in comparative country league tables.


The more intensified the outcome measures the greater the emphasis on narrowly defined academic performance. Yet such measures assume a reservoir of expertise among students enabling them to understand and play the system. However, many of them, like the students in the French classroom, struggle to come to terms with the tacit assumptions of school life, its expressions of authority, its systems of sanctions and rewards which sit in uneasy juxtaposition with the norms and priorities of the peer group, and life as it is lived in uncompromising neighbourhoods. Kincheloe and Hayes’ 2006 research in American neighbourhoods found that neighbourhood effects transcended family effects both for good and ill. They found that social capital grows when there are adults who provide resources, opportunities, models of activity and social norms, who provide helpful networks and exert social control over deviant behaviour. By the same token neighbourhood effects may trump even strong family social capital. Wacquant’s term ‘advanced marginality’ (2001) describes a situation in which young people become increasingly marginalised by a cluster of economic and social pressures impacting most powerfully on poor neighbourhoods, polarizing economic growth, casualising the labour market and the street economy, and reinforcing political alienation. Wacquant’s findings have wider resonance with studies of schools ‘on the edge’ (MacBeath et al., 2007) in which, as a Cambridge evaluation team, we followed a group of eight of the most disadvantaged schools in England over three years. These were bountifully financed by the Government department (DfES) but the initiative was prematurely curtailed after three years because of a lack of evidence of tangible or sustainable effect. All of these schools, like hundreds of their counterparts across England, were struggling in the face of: Economic and social disenfranchisement Lack of social capital Insularity and disillusionment Transience and instability Erosion of work-based identity Racism, violence and intimidation Media images, rumour and disinformation Lack of family mobility and navigational know-how. It is within this context that we have to grasp the connections between leadership and learning. Learning is a continuous activity, a social process, as children and young people individually and collectively construct identity, make meaning out of experience, and strive to build a repertoire of knowledge and skill. Leadership assumes similar configuration - social processes, transformational and empowering in intent, but within an organisation which, by its very nature, constrains and compels activity and places tight parameters round the exercise of agency.


Researching the connections Our research into the connections between leading and learning was prompted both by dissatisfaction with the language and thrust of policy and a desire to get to grips with the complexity of the ties that bind and the potential scope for loosening of those ties. Mapping the nature of leadership activity, individual and shared, across a school would, we hoped, allow us to discern and explicate the configurations of activity and to tease out how such leadership activity serves to improve learning for all. This was the focus of an international project encompassing schools in seven countries and eight cities. The Leadership for Learning Project (known as Carpe Vitam after its Swedish commissioning body) was a research and development project focusing on the process by which schools made, and then grew, the connections between learning and leadership. It was funded for three years (2002-2005) by the Wallenberg Foundation in Sweden, with further financial support from participating countries. The project was directed from the University of Cambridge in collaboration with eight different groups of university researchers and their nominated schools in eight cities – Athens, Brisbane, Copenhagen, Innsbruck, London, Oslo, Seattle and Trenton (New Jersey)1. The journeys which these schools undertook in collaboration was a search for common ground and common meaning which could apply in their widely differing contexts. The monocultural schools in Innsbruck, Oslo and Athens stood in strong contrast starkly with schools in Brisbane, London and Trenton, New Jersey serving local communities with a highly diverse ethnic mix of languages and attitudes to school education. Among young people in a Brisbane school 55 different languages other than English were spoken with birthplaces that extended to 60 countries other than Australia, with certain parts of the city continuing to attract students from Pacific Rim countries, European countries such as Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary and Poland, as well as from troubled African countries such as the Sudan. There was a measure of common ground here with one of the London schools in which 55 per cent of the school population have English as an additional language while 35 per cent are on the school’s register of Special Educational Needs. The profiles of attainment, as in many of our schools, were more a reflection of the demographics of their communities than of the quality of classroom learning and teaching. Methodological Approach The project researchers came together through their knowledge of each other, and their involvement in the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI). All shared an interest in the central themes of leadership, learning, and their interrelationship, and everyone was willing to engage in an international collaborative endeavour. Their commitment was not to a pre-determined, fixed design project, but 1

The Cambridge team: John MacBeath, David Frost, Sue Swaffield, Gregor Sutherland and Joanne Waterhouse. Team leaders in other countries were: George Bagakis (University of Patras, Greece), Neil Dempster (Griffith University, Brisbane), David Green (Centre for Evidence Based Education, Trenton, New Jersey), Lejf Moos (Danish University of Education), Jorunn Möller (University of Oslo), Bradley Portin (University of Washington) and Michael Schratz (University of Innsbruck).


rather to a process of exploration and development, involving both school participants and researchers. Underpinning this commitment was allegiance to democratic values, in turn feeding a moral purpose that seeks to contribute to both the individual and greater good. Each of the eight local groups of researchers recruited three schools, selected purposively for their readiness to challenge their thinking and practice about leadership and learning. We agreed that we would work with urban schools that included 12 year olds – the age profile of pupils in particular types of schools was just one of the many differences among the countries that we learned more about and had to accommodate. The exception was the Greek ‘Second Chance School’ where the students were older. In each school it was the principal or deputy principal and a few teachers who were most closely involved with the project; we also encouraged the involvement of community or Board members, an invitation most embraced in the two sites in the United States of America. For the participating schools the project provided an opportunity to develop their understanding and practice in relation to leadership and learning, supported by structured activities, data collection and interpretation, and interaction with local and international school and university colleagues. For the researchers, as well as facilitating this development of practice, the focus was on three broad questions: 1. How is leadership understood in different contexts? 2. How is learning understood and promoted within 24 different schools and policy contexts? 3. What is the relationship between leadership and learning? The Leadership for Learning team of international researchers shared a research focus, but had very different research backgrounds and expertise. For example among us there were those who favoured approaches such as quantitative surveys, portraiture, discourse analysis, action research, appreciative enquiry, and school self-evaluation. This we viewed as a strength of the project, providing us all with opportunities to learn from each other about methodological as well as substantive issues. However, to profit from this diversity required certain attitudes and behaviours – individually and collectively we needed to be open to research approaches other than our own favoured ones; to listen without prejudice; and to be prepared to engage with less familiar or comfortable methodological approaches. In short, a boundary crossing which took us into new territories and new challenges to our own preconceived ways of working. Conceptually we needed also to cross internationally boundaries. Working in seven countries (and two States in the US) meant that we had to become aware of differing school structures, policies, traditions and norms. To help us in this we wrote ‘country context statements’ for one another, setting out the key features of our educational systems, as well as producing grids of data (for example school type, number on roll, staff-student ratio, staff demographics, and socio-economic data), about each participating school. Paradoxically perhaps, having an international research team with five first languages (more if we take into account the subtle and significant differences


among American, Australian and British English), possibly aided our openness and willingness to learn from each other. We were conscious of having to explain clearly and to check our understanding. We were liberated to ask for clarification, and less inhibited in asking the naïve questions than might have been the case in a mono-lingual situation. In addition there were practical differences among the eight sites that we needed to learn about, understand, and accommodate. Differences in things such as research protocols, project funding arrangements, research team staffing and resourcing, and routine considerations such as school holiday and examination dates, all affected the way we could operate as a whole project. The diverse wellspring of methodological traditions, often grounded in different contexts, necessitated ongoing detailed dialogue among the team, and generated rich, inventive approaches to the research and development work of the project. We have described the overall methodology of the project as ‘federalist, eclectic, emergent, practice-focused and educative’ (Frost, 2009: 64). It was federalist in that although we agreed there would be a core programme of activities and some common data collection, there were opportunities for localisation (for example of particular items on questionnaires), and for each country to pursue the project aims in ways that were adapted to their particular circumstances. An illustration of this was the country specific arrangements for researchers and critical friends working with the schools. Critical friendship was a key element of the project design, such that each school was linked to a ‘trusted outsider’ – someone who helped the school reflect on their present position in relation to leadership and learning, interpret data from various sources, and take forward the school’s development focus. As an international research team we discussed possibilities as to who could best fulfill the role of critical friend, and how they could work with both school colleagues and researchers. It was important, and again a formative experience that ‘no one model was imposed, and each country made its own, often pragmatic, arrangements’ (Swaffield, 2008: 326). The variety of methodological expertise among the research team meant that we considered a wide range of approaches when discussing the project design, and we decided on elements that taken separately and in concert best suited our aims. This eclecticism was not just a feature of the initial planning, but remained part of the process throughout, as the project evolved. Whilst we were clear about our overall aims and aspirations right from the beginning, we could not possibly foresee the opportunities and challenges that arose from bringing together practitioners from 24 schools and researchers from seven countries. For Tom (1996) ‘in qualitative research, and especially qualitative research with a strong commitment to community service or involvement, research plans must change if the research is going to be effective and relevant’ (p347). We would attest not only to the inevitability of emergent design, but also to the benefits of responding flexibly both to situations as they occurred and to our developing understanding of issues, thus creating a responsive and appropriate design. That said, we were aware of needing to guard against inappropriate ‘cherry picking’: at the thrice yearly extended meetings of the international research team we reviewed progress and proposed, scrutinised and agreed future plans.


We were committed to a practice-focused approach, for the two reasons elucidated by David Frost, a co-director of the project: First, if practitioners were to expend time and energy on the project and to open up their practice to the scrutiny of others, they needed to derive direct and immediate benefit for their schools. Second, we wanted to be able to produce knowledge that would travel, that could be used by other practitioners in a wide range of countries and that could influence the thinking of policy makers in the global context. (Frost, 2009: 65) This practice-focused approach links closely with an educative approach to research aimed at actually changing people, as opposed to simply providing them with information thought to be relevant to their concerns. For the project participants, school and university colleagues alike, the whole experience was very definitely an educative one. Here again international boundary crossing was significant, and we noted how difference and comparison became powerful catalysts for learning. Brad Portin, the researcher from the Seattle, identified three stages in the development of discussion about practice across national boundaries: focusing on similarities and differences with one’s own practice; seeing own practice in a new light; and comparing practice with principles (Portin, forthcoming). It was noted (Swaffield, 2007) how the multi-national element of the project may initially have been viewed by project participants as an interesting novelty, but later became recognised as key in making connections, extending awareness and understanding, and challenging thinking and practices. The ‘connect, extend, challenge’ notion, developed by David Perkins and his Visible Thinking team at Harvard (, can be identified in the typology of discourse stimulated by international boundary crossing that was proposed by Swaffield (2007). Categories in this typology include: reflecting on one's own practice with an awareness of alternatives; changing thinking by understanding others’ viewpoints; and reflecting on practice in the light of feedback. As the project progressed, and relationships and trust developed, some school colleagues engaged in exchanges inviting the visitors to examine and comment on a particular issue, providing the outsider’s eye genuinely present in an international venture. Elements of the project design There were a number of elements common to the research and development activities across the project. These included questionnaires, interviews, shadowing, school portraits, critical friendship, annual international conferences, local and regional conferences, school visits, visiting speakers and regular meetings of the international research team. Activities and data collection at the beginning of the project provided a starting point for reflection and development work, as well as a ‘baseline’ of leadership and learning practices and values so that we had some means of gauging change and progress over time.


Through intensive research team discussions we devised questionnaires for school leaders and teachers as well as students. The detailed debate necessary to agree items and wording was a powerful learning process, involving the exploration of meaning and culture, and one that enabled us to understand more about the context, structures and issues facing schools in the different countries. The questionnaires were translated for use in Norway, Denmark, Austria and Greece, and local amendments agreed for a few items. We used the increasingly familiar double-sided structure for the questionnaire, so that respondents were asked about both values and practice in relation to each item. This elicited perceptions about each school as it is as well as how people would like it to be, with the differences between these perceptions providing us with a rich agenda for discussion. The data generated from this one instrument alone could have been used for myriad comparisons, between practice and values and among different groups of respondents at school, national and international levels. However, the project was avowedly not a comparative study, and although we did analyse data in all these ways, much tended to get lost in aggregation, and the real power of analysis and interpretation was at the local level. Informed and sensitive feeding back of data to each school by critical friends and researchers helped schools to know themselves in ways they perhaps had not before, and most significantly assisted them in planning development. Alongside the initial questionnaire we also collected qualitative data through interviews with principals, teachers and students, and the shadowing of principals. These complemented the information revealed by the questionnaires and assisted the development of understanding and insight. Each school was also encouraged to develop a ‘self-portrait’, an activity which required reflection, self-evaluation and dialogue, and which produced a representation that assisted project participants in getting to know one another. Critical friends worked with school leaders, teachers and students to identify pertinent evidence, create representations such as pen-portraits and photographs, and assemble texts, illustrations, and other materials. Schools engaged with self-portraiture with different degrees of enthusiasm, so that the richness and comprehensiveness of the products varied. Some were shared electronically, but every school brought an artefact to the first full gathering of project participants as a way of introducing themselves. There were four annual conferences during the course of the project, held in four of the participating countries, and attended by representatives from all the schools along with the critical friends and researchers. These were key events – milestones along the journey – when participants got to know each other, shared and learned about practice, toiled over issues and dilemmas, and developed ideas and understanding about our central themes of leadership, learning and their interrelationships. We needed to scaffold the sharing and dialogue in order to foster learning, and did so in a number of ways. Vignettes of practice, interactive displays, critical incident analyses, structured discussions, prioritisation card-sorts, and other co-operative group activities such as ‘place mats’ and ‘table graffiti’ were among the many activities we employed. Guest speakers from the US and Europe also stimulated reflection and action and David Perkins, critical friend to the project, encouraged and challenged us in our endeavours. School visits became an integral feature of the conferences, and were so highly valued that some schools set up exchanges among themselves. There were also national and regional conferences, as well


as a virtual conference mid way through the project. A large part of what schools shared at the conferences was progress on their chosen developmental focus. Each school used the initial data to help them identify some aspect of leadership for learning to work on with the support of their critical friend. Examples were student leadership, distributed leadership, teacher collaborative learning, students taking the role of teachers, and learning and teaching in science. This ongoing development work was the source of more data, although our aspiration that there would be a ‘chronicler’ in each school was unfulfilled, so systematic recording was left for the most part to the researchers and critical friends. Near the end of the project we administered re-designed questionnaires, using items that through factor analysis of the first questionnaire were found to be the most discriminating, and introducing new questions to ascertain perceptions of change (or not) in relation to such things as the learning culture of the school, the encouragement of adventure and risk-taking in teaching and learning, and the recognition of leadership potential in everyone. We also carried out another round of interviews, which again explored the common themes of leadership, learning, and their interrelationship, but also incorporated the exploration of events and issues pertinent to the particular site. Interviewees, who included people who had not been closely involved with the project as well as those who had, were asked to reflect on the influence of the project and developments in leadership for learning practice. Analysis The common data collection activities and the wealth of note making during the course of the project generated a plethora of data. Although English was the dominant language at international conferences and research team meetings, most of the data collected were in the local language. Apart from the questionnaire which was analysed centrally, all the other primary data were analysed locally. The research team had extensive discussions to ensure that the ‘eclectic and emergent’ methodology extended to the analysis in a way in which we had confidence. Drawing on a framework for quality in qualitative evaluation (Cabinet Office, 2003) through extensive dialogue we arrived as a set of criteria for methodological robustness: • • • • • • •

Data are available from at least two out of the three schools in each country site An explicit system of analysis is used consistently and rigorously Adequate validity checks with schools are carried out The common framework of analysis is used The report produced for sharing with the international research team is written in English The report includes a full account (including justification/rationale) of the methodology used The report includes a description of the scope and range of the data.

Each national team of researchers analysed their data using their particular strengths and expertise, and made a self-assessment of their methodology against these criteria, which


was then scrutinized by the international research team. The country reports themselves were then analysed – an ‘analysis of analyses’ (Glass, 1976: 3), aided by our understanding of the different schools and issues developed over three years of the project, and informed by the context statements written by each local team. A key element of the analysis both at the country and international levels was the common framework of analysis – a set of principles. These principles for practice were derived from discourse drawing on both data and theoretical perspectives as well as practice, a discourse shaped by democratic values and moral purpose. We drew up the first draft part way through the project, introducing them at the third international conference as a way of shaping activities, thinking, and dialogue. As we continued to use and debate the principles they went through many iterations, each version being tested, challenged, and further refined. The principles were not only an analytical tool, but are also one of the key outcomes of the project, and are discussed in more detail below. In terms of the overall methodology, they are the final piece in the discursive process of activity that is leadership for learning (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: Leadership for Learning – a discursive process (Swaffield and MacBeath, 2009: 41)

Democratic values Explicating what we understand by democratic values and why they lay the foundation for an educational philosophy which is driven by moral purpose.

Moral purpose Defining what we understand by moral purpose is the guiding frame for the nature of learning and the essence of leadership activity.




Analysing sources and a range of data which may be presented in ways that nourish the discourse.

Stimulating a discourse which is focused on values and moral purpose, helping to share dilemmas both within and between cultures, informed by data, by theory and by evolving frameworks.

Illustrating ways in which theoretical texts inspire and enhance our thinking and offer explanatory frameworks on which we can build.



Shaping principles that flow from the discourse, influencing practice but in turn informed and shaped by practice.

Transforming practice, shaped by discourse, by the evolving principles and feeding into a reframing of the principles.


Outcomes – Leadership for Learning Principles for Practice The most significant outcome of the project was a set of principles that could be used by researchers, by school leaders, by teachers and students to make the connections between leadership and learning through reflecting on, or researching, their own practice. We came to represent the principles for practice as five statements. Leadership for Learning practice involves: • Maintaining a focus on learning as an activity • Creating conditions favourable to learning as an activity • Creating a dialogue about Leadership for Learning • The sharing of leadership • A shared sense of accountability These five principles are dynamically interrelated, with dialogue forming the connections, a focus on learning and shared leadership mediated by conditions for learning, and all framed by the fifth principle of accountability. ‘A focus on learning’ is quite deliberately placed first because it can be considered as the prime principle, reflecting a commitment to making learning the number one priority – the core of Leadership for Learning. Each headline principle is elaborated through sub-principles that amplify and illustrate. A focus on learning Leadership for learning practice involves maintaining a focus on learning as an activity in which: • everyone (students, teachers, principals, schools, the system itself) is a learner learning • relies on the effective interplay of social, emotional and cognitive processes • the efficacy of learning is highly sensitive to context and to the differing ways which people learn • the capacity for leadership arises out of powerful learning experiences opportunities to exercise leadership enhance learning. Conditions for learning Leadership for learning practice involves creating the conditions favourable to learning as an activity in which: • culture nurtures the learning of everyone • everyone has opportunities to reflect on the nature, skills and processes of learning • physical and social spaces stimulate and celebrate learning • safe and secure environments enable everyone to take risks, cope with failure and respond positively to challenges • tools and strategies are used to enhance thinking about learning and the practice of teaching.


Dialogue Leadership for learning practice involves creating a dialogue about LfL in which: • LfL practice is made explicit, discussable and transferable • there is active collegial inquiry focusing on the link between learning and leadership • coherence is achieved through the sharing of values, understandings and practices • factors which inhibit and promote learning and leadership are examined and addressed • the link between leadership and learning is a shared concern for everyone • different perspectives are explored through networking with researchers and practitioners across national and cultural boundaries. Sharing leadership Leadership for learning practice involves the sharing of leadership in which: • structures support participation in developing the school as a learning community • shared leadership is symbolised in the day-to-day flow of activities in the school • everyone is encouraged to take the lead as appropriate to task and context • the experience and expertise of staff, students and parents are drawn upon as resources • collaborative patterns of work and activity across boundaries of subject, role and status are valued and promoted. A shared sense of accountability Leadership for learning practice involves a shared sense of accountability in which: • • • • • •

a systematic approach to self-evaluation is embedded at classroom, school and community levels there is a focus on evidence and its congruence with the core values of the school a shared approach to internal accountability is a precondition of accountability to external agencies national policies are recast in accordance with the school’s core values the school chooses how to tell its own story taking account of political realities there is a continuing focus on sustainability, succession and leaving a legacy.

Learning is an activity for everyone, including students, teachers, school leaders, other adults, and the school as an organisation. We have adapted the ‘wedding cake’ representation of interconnected layers of learning from Michael Knapp and colleagues (2003), incorporating the five principles, the foundation of leadership and learning as activity through agency, all framed by moral purpose and democratic values (see figure 2).


Figure 2: Leadership for Learning – an integrative model

Use and application of principles The remodeled 'wedding cake' as it is revisited and further enhanced, becomes less and less redolent of the real thing, but nonetheless is an attempt to capture the complexity and dynamism of the principles in a way that is accessible to a wide range of potential users. The five principles set out above are the key markers, indicators, or benchmarks for the interrogation of practice. For researchers they offer a framework for data gathering or for co-generative dialogue (Martin, Scantlebury and Martin, forthcoming). For external reviewers or inspectors they may provide or complement the evaluation toolkit. For school self-evaluation, or internal school review, the principles have proved to be a powerful set of 'can openers', stimulating schools to open up their practice, sometimes progressively by individual areas of inquiry, principle by principle, or by engaging in a holistic view of how these aspects of school practice cohere and challenge one another. We see its primary potential as the province of the internal stakeholders - senior leaders, teachers, students, ancillary staff and parents - using it in any one of a variety of ways that could stimulate a cross boundary dialogue about current practice, aspiration and the means by which a school could realise those aspirations. Previous experience with


discussion forums that brought together teachers, parents and students to share, discuss and try to reach consensus of on rating key areas of practice (MacBeath, Schratz, Jacobsen and Meuret, 2000) showed just how illuminating it could be to view school and classroom life through different lenses. Building on that ground breaking work with 21 European schools, and a few years later replicating it with East European countries (Brotto and MacBeath 2006), we recognised the power of border crossing, - of status age, background, language, and national identity - as the fuel of school improvement as well as the most powerful tool in the researcher's repertoire. A key legacy of these ventures was the support and challenge of a critical friend and to research their impact in different circumstances and configurations. With a deep grasp of the power of the principles, a critical friend can help to steer a school through their potential uses and the challenges to established practice that they inevitably raise. Intelligent, sensitive, risk taking and systematic use of the principles manisfestly offers scope for thicker description than weak proxies of student performance measures or soulless (and potentially highly misleading) value added data. For participants in the Carpe Vitam Project they welcomed an alternative evaluation framework for evaluating and developing leadership in contrast to the atomistic and decontextualized lists of standards that have become a common feature of national policies which seek to provide leadership development and assessment programs (Harrison, 1995; Louden and Wildy, 1999). We would like to think that the principles cross the boundary from school to district to state and to national policy and that they broaden the nature of the discourse at differing levels of policy making and in the vertical connections between them - a wedding cake remade in a new integrative mould. References Alexander, R. (2004) Still no pedagogy? Principle, pragmatism and compliance in primary education, Cambridge Journal of Education, 34 (1) 7-33. Alexander, R. (2008) Towards a New Primary Curriculum: Interim Report, Cambridge, University of Cambridge. Brotto, F. and MacBeath, J. (2006) Bridges Over Boundaries: Report to the European Commission, Cambridge, University of Cambridge Faculty of Education. Bourdieu, P. (1981) Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Broadhead, P., Cuckle, P., Hodgson, J. (1999) Promoting pupil learning within a school development framework, HYPERLINK "" Research Papers in Education, 14 (3) 275 – 294.


Cabinet Office (2003) Quality in Qualitative Evaluation: A framework for assessing research evidence, London, Strategy Unit. Collins, J. (2001) Good to Great, London, Random House. Cordingley, P. and Bell, M. (2007) Transferring Learning and Taking Innovation to Scale, An Innovation Unit Think Piece ( HYPERLINK "" last accessed 1/3/09 Frost, D. (2009) Researching the connections, developing a methodology, in J. MacBeath and N. Dempster (Eds) Connecting Leadership and Learning, London, Routledge. Giroux, H. (1992) Border Crossings, London, Routledge. Glass, G.V. (1976) Primary, secondary and meta-analysis of research, Educational Researcher, 5 (11) 3-8. Goodman, P. (1960) Growing up Absurd, New York, Random House. Hallinger, P. (2009) Assessing the Contribution of Distributed Leadership to School Improvement and Growth in Math Achievement, Paper to be delivered at AERA, San Diego, April. Hargreaves, A. (2005) Dimensions of Leadership: Video accessible at HYPERLINK "", last accessed 10/05/2007 Kets de Vries, M.F.R. (2001) The Leadership Mystique, London, Prentice Hall. Kincheloe and Hayes (2006) Metropedagogy: Power, Justice and the Urban Classroom, Rotterdam, Sense Publishers. Knapp, M., Copland, M. and Talbert, J. (2003) Leading for Learning: Reflective tools for school and district leaders, Washington: Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington ( Leithwood, K., Mascall,B., Strauss, T., Sacks, R., Memon, N. andYashkina, A. (2007) Distributing leadership to make schools smarter: Taking the ego out of the system, Leadership and Policy in Schools, 6 (1) 37-67. MacBeath, J., Jakobsen, L., Meuret, D., Schratz, M. (2000) Self-evaluation in European Schools: a Story of Change, London, Routledge MacBeath, J., Gray, J., Cullen, J., Frost, D., Steward, S. and Swaffield, S. (2007) Schools on the Edge: Responding to challenging circumstances, London, Paul Chapman.


Martin, S.N., Scantlebury, K. and Martin, S (forthcoming) More than a Conversation: Using Cogenerative Dialogues in the Professional Development of High School Chemistry Teachers, Evaluation, Assessment and Accountability in Education Mulford, (2008) Learning about School Leadership in Australia, in J. MacBeath and Y.C. Cheng (Eds), Leadership for Learning: International Perspectives, Rotterdam and Tapei, Sense Publishers. Portin, B. (forthcoming) Cross national professional learning for school leaders International Journal of Leadership in Education Robinson, V.M.J. (2008) Forging the links between distributed leadership and educational outcomes, Journal of Educational Administration, 46 (2) 241-256. Senge, P.M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation, New York, Doubleday. Spillane, J.P and Diamond, J.B. (2007) Distributed Leadership in Practice, New York, Teachers College Press. Spillane, J.P., Halverson, R. and Diamond, J.B. (2001) Investigating school leadership practice: A distributed perspective, Educational Researcher, 30 (3) 2328. Starratt, R. J. (1998) Grounding Moral Educational Leadership in the Morality of Teaching and Learning, Leading and Managing, 4 (4) 243-255. Swaffield, S. (2007) Scaffolding discourse in multi-national collaborative enquiry: the Carpe Vitam Leadership for Learning project, Leading and Managing, 12 (2) 10-18. Swaffield, S. (2008) Critical friendship, dialogue and learning, in the context of Leadership for Learning, School Leadership and Management, 28 (4) 323–336. Swaffield, S. and MacBeath, J. (2009) Leadership for Learning, in J. MacBeath and N. Dempster (Eds) Connecting Leadership and Learning, London, Routledge. Tom, A. (1996) Building collaborative research: living the commitment to emergent design, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 9 (3) 347-359. Wacqaunt, L. (2001) The Rise of Advanced Marginality: Notes on its nature and implications, Berkeley, California, Acta Sociologica. Weiss, L. and Fine, M. (2001) Construction Sites: Excavating Race, Class and Gender among Urban Youth, New York, Teachers’ College Press. Yair, G. (2000) Educational Battlefields in America: The tug of war over students’ engagement with instruction, Sociology of Education, 73 (2) 247-269. 19

Researching Leadership for Learning across International and Methodological Boundaries  

Sue Swaffield and John MacBeath University of Cambridge Faculty of Education

Researching Leadership for Learning across International and Methodological Boundaries  

Sue Swaffield and John MacBeath University of Cambridge Faculty of Education