The Leadership-as-practice (L-A-P) Movement: Transforming Education Research Through Applying an Emerging Frontier to Teacher Collaborative Inquiry Research
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A new frontier of understanding leadership is emerging in the broad field of leadership studies known as the leadership-as-practice movement. Rather than assume leadership resides in the specific behaviours and traits of individuals as a precursor to action, L-A-P repositions leadership as a consequence of collective action. It decentralises leadership from individuals and positions it as a phenomenon that takes place as work is done. It goes beyond and still includes a focus on relations, as emphasised in the knowledge stream known as relational leadership, to also include non-human elements that are integral to patterns of action. L-A-P is also allied to shared and distributed leadership due to leadership being viewed beyond individual embodiment, as emphasised in leader-centric conceptualisations. The education field has been one of the busier arenas for shared and distributed leadership research over the last two decades. Much of the application of this research has tended to focus on how individuals (particularly those higher up the organisation’s structure) distribute leadership (or what I would argue is more work and sometimes responsibility) to others, rather than focus on day-to-day practice as emphasised in L-A-P.This paper applies some of the emerging principles of L-A-P to a research study that did not intentionally start out with a L-A-P informed ontology or methodology in mind. The study centres on the activities of principals, deputy principals, team facilitators and teachers over a year, where they sought to establish collaborative inquiry projects in their schools. Ten schools participated in this project where I had a dual role as a professional learning facilitator and researcher along with some colleagues. L-A-P informs the units of analysis to understand the data patterns emerging from a teacher survey across all ten schools, three case study schools and personal experiences from professional learning activities. This has meant the starting place to understanding the data and findings has not uncritically defaulted to assuming leadership practice is dependent on one individual rallying everyone else. Rather, the focus is on collective activity, both that which appears orderly and at other times emergent. My quest is to see if we can better understand practice often labelled as leadership without needing to fall back to the unchecked use of a leader-centric ontology. It is here where the new frontier being created by L-A-P in the broader leadership field could bring transformation to how we carry out educational leadership research.