Professional School Leadership: Dealing with Dilemmas

Professional School Leadership: Dealing with Dilemmas

Professional School Leadership: Dealing with Dilemmas

Professional School Leadership: Dealing with Dilemmas

Synopsis

The ideal school leader is often portrayed heroically, as someone who is able to drive forward an agenda of change and improvement whatever the challenges. Yet the experience of school leadership is more complex. School leaders often find gaps between their aspirations and the tensions and moral uncertainties of the job, leading to high levels of personal and professional stress. These tensions arise between individuals and groups within plural school communities whilst the competing priorities set for the education system by its political masters are exacerbated by the competing values and interests found in our complex societies. In schools, this gives rise to specific and unavoidable dilemmas which affect individuals deeply, dilemmas which can occur on a daily basis.
Daniel Murphy uses this concept of dilemmas to rebalance our understanding of the work of school leaders. The perspectives of three disciplines, psychology, politics and ethics are brought to bear on the dilemmas; this perspective offers a fuller analysis of what is at stake. It provides those on leadership training programmes with a broad understanding of factor which contribute to the experience, as well as the aspiration, of leadership. The book also offers important insights into what the dilemmas tell us about the character of all public service in complex plural democracies. Such analysis is often a necessary first stage in facing up to difficult dilemmas. The book concludes with a toolkit which can be used by school leaders in such situations, together with some worked examples.
Dealing with Dilemmas has proved of considerable use to school leaders and those training for leadership roles in schools and education administration. Research reveals that these dilemmas are experienced by school leaders across the globe. In this substantially amended and enlarged new edition, updated information, new case studies (16 in all), research references and practical insights provide further assistance to school leaders and administrators who face these complex realities in their daily work.

Excerpt

Dilemma: (a) a situation involving choice between two equally
unsatisfactory alternatives; (b) a problem seemingly incapable of a
satisfactory solution. (New Penguin English Dictionary, 2000).

This concept of ‘dilemma’ does a good job in encapsulating many of the difficult and messy experiential aspects of school leadership. These are situations where a choice has to be made but where, no matter what you chose to do, you appear to go against a key value or leave one of the people or groups involved in the situation aggrieved and unhappy.

In a small-scale research project I conducted to open up to view these aspects of the work of the school leader (Murphy, 2002), a set of dilemma vignettes (similar to those below) acted as a stimulus to semi-structured interview and focus group discussion with a group of experienced school leaders. Those who took part showed a strong degree of association with these examples which ‘encouraged empathy’, and had been ‘typical’, part of the ‘day to day’ of school life, ‘close to my experience’, ‘particularly appropriate to my experience’, ‘I empathised with them all.’ Leaders involved in this study went on, unprompted, to identify a wide range of other dilemmas they had experienced, beyond those outlined in the vignettes. This Scottish experience is not untypical. Important studies of the experience of school leadership conducted in several school systems in the late 1990s (Day et al., 2000a; MacBeath, 1998) independently identified dilemmas as one of the key experiential features of headship. According to . . .

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