Leadership, Gender and Culture in Education: Male and Female Perspectives

By John Collard; Cecilia Reynolds | Go to book overview

1: Negotiating and
Reconstructing Gendered
Leadership Discourses1

Marian Court

In her groundbreaking study of women in educational leadership, Shakeshaft (1987: 171–191) used a woman-centred approach to document differences in women's and men's work environments and styles of leadership, communication, decision-making and conflict resolution. She posited that a female culture (based in an ethic of relational response and care) was characteristic of women in educational administration. This female world in schools was conceptualized as having five main features. Relationships with others were central for women administrators; teaching and learning were their major foci; building community was an essential part of their style; sexism marginalized them; and in their daily work the line separating the public world from the private was blurred (Shakeshaft 1987: 197–198). This conceptualizing combined a cultural feminist 'female difference' argument with a radical feminist analysis of male domination.

These analyses have provided some useful insights into the nature of gendered leadership, but they have limitations for a feminist politics of change (Blackmore 1999). In this chapter I explain how a feminist post- structuralist approach can offer a more complex and dynamic analysis of women's agency in educational leadership. I illustrate this from a case study of a New Zealand primary school co-principalship (Court 2001). The proposal for this initiative was developed by two seemingly very similar 'Pakeha'2 middle-aged women teachers. Their commitment to shared leadership had developed, however, out of some very different life and work experiences and different feminist positionings. A discourse analysis of their co-principal proposal reveals how the latter differences had been blended in an argument that was constructed within and against the grain of the new public management (NPM) discourse and different versions of professional collaborative leadership.

I begin these discussions by explaining and critiquing a cultural feminist approach.

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