A Life and Career Based Framework for the Study of Leaders in Education: Problems, Possibilities and Prescriptions

Authored by: Peter Ribbins

International Handbook on the Preparation and Development of School Leaders

Print publication date:  July  2008
Online publication date:  May  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415988476
eBook ISBN: 9780203872239
Adobe ISBN: 9781135277017


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Meeting the developmental needs of leaders in education has in recent times become big business. Increasingly elaborate and expensive programs of training, assessment and certification, especially for school principals,1 have mushroomed in many parts of the world.2 Whatever its merits, as an innovation this has too often been implemented as an ‘act of faith’ rather than as the outcome of a systematic and critical examination of the available evidence and theory. This chapter considers this claim and relates it to what is known of the lives of principals and their need for support and development at different phases of their careers. It will seek international similarities and contrasts in the way such leaders are formed, selected, developed and supported.3 It will take a broadly life story and career history approach.4 Drawing heavily on a series of portrait-based studies involving over 100 principals in eight countries, on which since the late 1980s I have worked with indigenous researchers, the chapter will examine how this approach can be interpreted, its strengths and limitations, and the knowledge it can draw on. The chapter is constructed of three parts. Part one is methodological and takes the form of an introduction to issues of how we know. Part two is primarily empirical and offers a much fuller account of aspects of what is known. Part three is broadly prescriptive and offers some ideas on what should be done.

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