Cross-Cultural Communication

The Scholarship of Educational Leadership – some reflections

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It all seems a little utopianistic trying to frame my own personal experiences and observations within a literature of the ideal avenues or traits for educational leadership. It seemed apt to write this piece now as The Times Higher Education university rating came out last week with Oxford University in the UK making the top spot for the first time. With a methodology which encompasses teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook, it does appear to cover all the ‘bases’ necessary to assess how a university is performing. I would question though, in the vein of the theme of SoEL in university contexts, how can we measure good leadership and more specifically in my interests how are we assessing the scholarship of teaching and learning?

I draw in my discussion on three pieces but which in my view together frame my thinking and reservations on the possibility of an ever strengthening Scholarship of Educational Leadership (SoEL).

The first is an article focusing on what is needed in terms of leadership for the future of student learning in higher education (Quinlan 2014); the second is a short piece on how we might best map advocacy and outreach in teaching through their presentation of a matrix (Huber & Robinson 2016); I choose the third piece because I was intrigued by the use of the terms culture of innovation in the report title, there is much discussion currently on technological or scientific innovation so I thought it an interested perspective and way to look at leadership in higher education (Setser & Morris 2015).

I face a growing dilemma on a daily basis given my role within UBC’s new international student program and how the university has progressively embraced the marketization of higher education (Quinlan 2014). Despite the creation of the educational leadership stream at UBC there is still a premise that research (not that on teaching and learning) is the keystone of the academy. I do not dispute this; indeed I battle for the ability to continue my own research endeavours despite my role as a faculty member with the educational leadership stream. Entwined in this is the lack of recognition of educational leadership in higher education research, while in contradiction faculty are expected to be the best teachers and win awards based on their innovation and teaching and learning techniques. Quinlan advocates for a holistic approach, and a reality where students develop their values, sense of self, identity and purpose (Colby et al. 2003) rather than simple focusing on instrumental and economic goals such as employability skills. In order to achieve this teaching must be treated seriously (Huber & Robinson 2014), and a big piece of this is through relationships with the wider community. Ultimately, who are we serving as academics?

I truly believe that in order to remain relevant as institutions and practitioners of what we preach we must be engaged with community partners. Indeed many of our students may be the community partners of tomorrow and by engaging with people beyond the walls of the academy we get a better sense of what it is out students really need to face the world in its entirety rather than just trained to complete certain tasks. As a scalar exercise this step in developing a SoEL practice is a powerful one in my opinion. Beginning with small immediate networks developed through working with faculty at other institutions and their outreach and advocacy within their specific communities will allow these networks to grow. In doing so as academics we are being the transformative leaders that Quinlan presents as a necessity in creating a holistic teaching and learning experience for students.

I challenge Quinlan though and indeed she accepts the contradiction that what is really needed within academic institutions is instructional leadership as a more effective tool than transformative leadership. By focusing on the traits that she thinks are necessary for good leadership in higher education, she determines that there are three key components. These are: the need to create organizational conditions for successful educational change, the need for leaders to be self-reflexive and the need for instructional leadership or direct involvement in curriculum. These three components, although all necessary I would argue need to be thought of in a more scalar chronological relationship. There needs to be acknowledgment and appreciation from the most fundamental level of the importance of curriculum development and what is working and not working for students in teaching and learning. As Huber & Robinson (2014) advocate, there needs to be more people writing about what they have done in their teaching and learning designs, what has been successful and what requires more support. Once again we are back to the issue here of a lack of broader institutional support for these educational leadership activities. Conversation is losing out to a society which is interested in the end goal of getting a high-paying job or having the most research funding for the university, and are hence ignoring the process of getting to that end goal. Although idealistic this is what the Educuase report on Cultural Innovation focuses on – there needs to be a shift in labour economics in how people work and this change needs to come from within education at all levels. At present there is a culture of improvement or just fixing problems as they arise, but the report argues for a culture of innovation which entails building new ways of approaching higher education. The real change will occur when there is institutional support for the scholarship of teaching and learning at all levels. This includes offering national grants as well as institutional support from within universities and departments.

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