26 SES 14 B, High Poverty, Racism and Ethics
In its inception, educational leadership as a discipline was primarily a phenomenon of English-speaking countries (Britain, Canada, United States), but in recent years, interest in educational leadership has spread, with many countries, educational jurisdictions, and schools earnestly learning from one another. Transnational learning is particularly important in an era of increasing globalization and internationalization, of urbanization of poverty worldwide, and of new challenges related to student mobility, political and economic instability of many regions, and concomitant changing demographics in schools and educational jurisdictions. Increasing attention is paid to narrowing or overcoming the “achievement gap”—a gap in academic performance between middle-class, dominant-culture students and those who come from homes where a different language may be spoken, or from situations of disadvantage and poverty. Too often, educators blame students and their families—an attitude known as deficit thinking (Shields, Bishop, Mazawi, 2005; Valencia, 1997) and assume that without extensive changes in the social fabric of society, nothing can be done to improve the academic achievement of the most disadvantaged students.
Nevertheless, the 2009 report of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) states that:
while there is a correlation between GDP per capita and educational performance, this only predicts 6% of the differences in average student performance across countries. The other 94% of differences reflect the fact that two countries of similar prosperity can produce very different educational results. Results also vary when substituting spending per student, relative poverty or the share of students with an immigrant background for GDP per capita. (OECD, 2010, p. 14)
One factor found to make a difference in the academic achievement of children, especially those from disadvantaged home situations, is educational leadership (Robinson, Lloyd, & Rowe, 2008; Shields, 2013).
Purpose and Theoretical Perspective: This paper reports on a study of two school principals who drew on the theory of transformative leadership to improve student performance, despite rapidly changing and increasingly diverse student populations. The theory differs from other major leadership approaches such as transactional or transformational leadership in that it explicitly takes account of the material realities of the students and incorporates issues of social justice and equity into every educational decision (Burns, 1978; Foster, 1986; Freire, 1970; Quantz, Rogers & Dantley, 1991; Shields, 2010, 2013).
Using transformative leadership as both a conceptual and an analytical framework, this paper explores how these two school leaders have used transformative approaches to change the culture, curriculum, and pedagogy of their schools to address the needs of all students, especially those coming from impoverished homes. Because transformative leadership is context specific, the findings and discussion will be of relevance to those from both developed and developing countries who are striving to meet the needs of less advantaged students.
Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row. Evers, C. W., & Wu, E. H. (2006). On generalising from single case studies: Epistemological reflections. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 40(4), 511–526. Foster, W. (1986). Paradigms and promises. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder & Herder. OECD (2010), PISA 2009 results: What students know and can do – Student performance in reading, mathematics and science, (Volume I), accessed January 2013 at http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264091450-en Quantz, R. A., Rogers, J., & Dantley, M. (1991). Rethinking transformative leadership: Toward democratic reform of schools. Journal of Education, 173(3), 96–118. Robinson, V. M. J., Lloyd, C. A., Rowe, K. J., (2008), The impact of leadership on student outcomes: An analysis of the differential effects of leadership types, Educational Administration Quarterly, 44( 5), 635-674. Shields, C. M. (2010). Transformative Leadership, In E. Baker, P. Peterson, & B. McGaw (eds.), International Encyclopedia of Education, 3rd Edition, Oxford, UK: Elsevier. Shields, C. M. (2013), Transformative leadership in education: Equitable change in an uncertain and complex world, New York, NY: Routledge. Shields, C. M., Bishop, R., & Mazawi, A. E. (2005). Pathologizing practices: Deficit thinking in Education. New York: Peter Lang Valencia, R. R. (Ed.). (1997). The evolution of deficit thinking in educational thought and practice. London: Falmer.
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