07 SES 02 JS, Making Sense of Social Justice: An International Exploration of School Leader Perspectives
Joint Session with NW 26
The papers in this symposium reflect work undertaken as part of the International School Leadership Development Network, a collaborative research initiative sponsored by BELMAS and UCEA. Papers here are drawn from Phase 1 work of the Network’s Social Justice Leadership strand.
The work seeks to address four provisional research questions from a range of international perspectives:
1) How do social justice leaders make sense of ‘social justice’?
2) What do social justice leaders do?
3) What factors help and hinder the work of social justice leaders?
4) How did social justice leaders learn to become social justice leaders?
The material presented in this symposium is based on 5 in-depth interviews conducted with Principals in each of the countries represented in the symposium (see individual abstracts for details). These 5 cases form part of a wider project involving 24 researchers undertaking work in 14 different countries.
The term ‘social justice’ is so widely used, in such diverse contexts, and by those holding such divergent views, that it might be argued that it has become meaningless.
Within education there have been some notable attempts to frame a notion (or notions) of social justice in ways that can help to explain and understand the practices of those working in schools, and especially school leaders. For example, Cribb and Gewirtz (2003) have sought to build on the work of Rawls (1972) and others to develop an approach to social justice that emphasises three elements – a sense of distributive justice (focused on the allocation of resources), associational justice (with a focus on the distribution of power) and cultural justice (with a recognition of the need to reflect a broad range of identities).
The framework provided by Cribb and Gewirtz (2003) is helpful at two levels. First, it draws attention to the need to explore processes as well as outcomes. Put simply, it is not enough to only look at what Principals do, but also how they do it. Do ‘social justice leaders’ work in ways that might be described as more inclusive, participatory or democratic? (Woods, 2005). Moreover, how do they reconcile the outcome of democratic processes when they conflict with their own aims and value positions?
Such questions highlight the second issue that arises from the framework provided by Cribb and Gewirtz (2003) – how do ‘social justice leaders’ navigate their way through a world riven by tensions and contradictions? At one level this can be a conflict between the values of individual Principals and the values embedded in dominant policy discourses. However, these issues can shift considerably over time, and they also play out differently in different regional and national contexts.
The research contained in this proposal seeks to enhance our understanding of school leaders’ actions as they work to promote socially just practices and/or outcomes in a range of different national contexts.
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