Sharing leadership in schools : narratives of discourse and power : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education at Massey University

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Massey University
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This thesis explores the phenomenon of shared leadership as it emerged in three primary schools in Aotearoa/New Zealand, during the 1990s restructuring of educational administration. At this time, two 'mainstream' discourses of professional collaborative leadership and neo-liberal managerialism came into 'collision.' The principal's role was re-constituted from being a collaborative instructional leader, to being a chief executive, entrepreneurial manager. Separate contracts for principals and senior school managers detailed managerial tasks, performance standards and accountability lines that heightened the existing divisions between them and other teachers. The possibility of developing 'flattened,' more democratic forms of shared decision making- and leadership seemed increasingly remote. Yet it was in this context that a small number of co-principalships were initiated around the country. The study employs narrative, Foucauldian and feminist poststructuralist discourse analysis tools to examine how opportunities for change opened up within 'cracks' and contradictions in the 1990s discursive terrain of educational leadership. Moving between micro and macro analyses, the thesis demonstrates how individual and collective agency is enacted within and against dominant discourses, effecting transformations of practice. Three groups of women challenged and/or co-opted elements of managerial, professional and feminist discourses of organisation as they developed their co-principalships. These initiatives opened up for many people different ways of thinking about and practising school leadership: as one child said about her school, "Here there is no boss." Three case narratives provide insights into strategies for developing more fully democratic partnerships between principals and staff, principals and board members, professionals and parents. Open, honest communication and mutual forms of accountability that go beyond current requirements for contractual, task specific and linear forms of control, are particularly significant for a successful co-principalship. Governmental forms of power, material inequalities and socio-cultural hegemonies of gender, class and ethnicity, can constrain the democratic potential of shared leaderships however. Related factors that led to the disestablishment of two or the co-principalships included inequalities of knowledge and experience, difficulties over funding and staffing, and struggles between a governing body and their co-principals over the meanings and practices of governance and management. There are flaws in arguments that posit a generic model of 'strong' management that can be imposed across all schools, with assumed uniform results. This study shows how people's beliefs about and practices of school leadership are constituted in relation to their own backgrounds, interactions with other people in their local school community and wider socio-political, economic and discursive struggles over power.
Primary school principals, Case studies, Women school principals, Educational leadership