Details of Thesis

Title An Exploration of the Perceptions and Experiences of Leadership by Teachers and their Opportunities for Leadership Development
Author O’Brien, Patricia Anne
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2005
Abstract Leadership in schools is equated principally with those who hold formal or designated positions of leadership. However, the general leadership literature asserts that leadership in the post-corporate world of the organisation is not solely position-based, nor does it belong to any one person. Rather, leadership is shared and collaborative, is distributive and multi-dimensional, and is open to all members of an organisation. This study explored the perceptions and experiences of leadership by teachers and their opportunities for leadership development, in the context of the study of the Catholic school. A key assumption that underpinned the study was that teachers, by virtue of their professional practice and professional learning, exercise leadership. It was argued in the study that the educational philosophy of a Catholic school provides a suitable context for teachers to exercise leadership. The conceptual framework for the study was derived from an exploration of the research literature which focused on the general field of leadership, educational leadership and the genre of teacher leadership. The empirical study involved qualitative inquiry situated within an interpretative paradigm and oriented to providing in-depth and detailed descriptions and interpretations of the phenomenon of leadership. Data were gathered through four focus group interviews conducted with teachers in two Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia. A fifth focus group interview was conducted with an ‘expert’ group of teachers to verify a first summary of the findings. Data were analysed through an iterative process of data reduction, data display and verification. The data produced rich descriptions of leadership as perceived and experienced by teachers and were displayed in key themes within the framework of the research questions. The findings of the study revealed that teachers in the sample had well-developed understandings of leadership, of the nature of leadership in a Catholic school, and of their personal, interpersonal and professional capacity to exercise leadership in their professional practice and professional learning. However, these conceptual understandings did not always translate into practice. Leadership by teachers and leadership development of teachers were hindered by a number of factors, namely, a perceived lack of identity of teaching as a profession; the association of leadership with formal leadership structures within the school, and limited access to professional learning programs. The recommendations arising from the study have implications for system and school leaders and for policymakers and practitioners alike. In particular, the development of policy and practice that articulates the multi-dimensional perspective of leadership, and the leadership and professional role of teachers within this perspective, are highlighted. In light of the study’s findings, future research relating to the area of teacher leadership is recommended. Although the genre, teacher leadership, is well established in educational literature, there has been limited empirical research undertaken in this field in the Australian education context. This study makes a small but significant contribution to the ongoing development of knowledge in the field.
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