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School leadership and the cult of the guru: the neo-Taylorism of Hattie

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Abstract

As one of the central institutions of society, schooling is subject to significant public interest and scrutiny. Fads and fashion successfully developed elsewhere are often rebadged and relaunched in education for the purpose of improvement. Such interventions are often quickly identified as intruders and frequently fade into obscurity, but what of internal interventions, the education research that becomes widely accepted and promoted? In this paper I argue that contemporary thought and analysis in Australian school leadership has submitted to the cult of the guru. Specifically, I contend that dialogue (much less debate) has settled on the work of John Hattie’s meta-meta-analysis giving rise to the Cult of Hattie. This paper is not an attack on Hattie as a person, or even his work, rather an argument about the conditions which have facilitated the rise of a guru. I argue that the uncritical acceptance and proliferation of this cult is a tragedy for Australian school leadership.
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... Educational leadership is a field particularly sensitive to such changes in field relations. It has been argued that the field suffers from a "cult of the guru" (Eacott, 2017) grounded in an "attention economy" (van Krieken, 2019) where perceived expertise of any kind is more likely to be linked to followership (e.g. the number of followers) compared with traditional sources of expertise expressed through research track record or exemplarily performance (Eacott, 2020). This invites a key empirical question about how pracademia is recasting the field of educational leadership. ...
... The challenge for this group is how to leverage further study and professional locations without necessarily locating themselves as better or higher in the hierarchy of knowledge generators. The logic of pracademia and its impact on practice A second group comprises the "international consultants" (Thomson, 2019), "professorresearcher-consultants" (Gunter and Mills, 2017) or gurus and thought leaders [1] constituting the "international keynote circuit" (Eacott, 2017) in educational leadership. Social media has facilitated this group positioning themselves as experts bridging theory and practice due to the platform they are granted and the careful curation of followership (Eacott, 2020). ...
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Purpose The pracademia movement is gaining increasing traction in education, particularly in educational leadership. Offered as a means to bridge practice and academia, questions remain as to whether it resolves or perpetuates the theory–practice divide. This paper systematically approaches this problem. Design/methodology/approach Theoretically informed by the relational approach, this conceptual paper articulates the preliminaries and underlying assumptions of pracademia before exploring the implications for the field of educational leadership. Findings Having established the underlying assumptions, this paper offers three standards – description, explanation and alternative – for assessing knowledge claims in the field that does not default to distinct knowledge worlds (e.g. academic, practice) or categories of knowledge generators (e.g. academics, practitioners, pracademics). Originality/value Through a relational approach, this work breaks down the boundaries of theory and practice to offer a new way of thinking about knowledge claims. The new approach is consistent with the intent of bridging theory and practice without the need to assume them to be separate in the first place.
... (224) Thomson further suggests that the absence of these approaches is partly due to the 'ongoing focus on "the leader" and "the school/ college/ university" ' (225). Similarly, Eacott (2017) suggests that 'despite trends towards post-Fordist models of management, educational administration literatures still exhibit considerable bias towards individualised narratives of great individuals who turnaround school performance' (420). ...
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Much of the literature on leadership within education has centred on the heroic leader. Despite recent approaches moving away from trait and behavioural theories, the centrality of the individual leader persists. Recent practice perspectives have shifted the focus from leadership as an individual activity of a leader to leading as practices. This paper discusses how a practice perspective informed by the theory of practice architectures (TPA), has been used in the teaching of ‘leadership’ in an Australian Masterssubject to challenge conceptions of the heroic leader. It explores the use of the TPA to engage students in examining leading learning practices in workplaces and as a way of challenging their often deeply held beliefs and practices around leadership. In so doing, the approach decentres the leader and provides a lens for viewing leading learning as webs of interactions of practices rather than the traits and behaviours of an individual leader.
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Richard Bates is professor of education in the Faculty of Education, Deakin University, Australia. He is currently writing and teaching in the fields of educational leadership, teacher education, and international schooling, with an emphasis on issues related to social justice and education. His earlier work made contributions to the new sociology of education and a cultural approach to educational administration and leadership. Recent publications include The Handbook of teacher Education: Globalization, Standards and Professionalism in Times of Change (with Tony Townsend. Springer, 2007) and Aesthetic Dimensions of Educational Administration and Leadership (with Eigenie Samier, Routledge, 2006).