Literacy Leadership and Accountability Practices: Holding Onto Ethics in Ways That Count

Friday, July 18, 2014: 9:00 AM
Room: 424
Oral Presentation
Lyn KERKHAM , Education, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Barbara COMBER , Queensland University of Technology, Australia
Despite the rhetoric of schools serving the needs of specific communities, it is evident that the work of teachers and principals is shaped by government imperatives to demonstrate success according to a set of standard ‘benchmarks’. In this paper, we draw from our current study of new forms of educational leadership that are emerging in some South Australian public primary schools to explore the ways in which mandated accountability requirements are being mediated by principals in schools that serve high poverty communities.

Taking an institutional ethnography approach, we focus on the intersection of trans-local policy and the everyday work of one principal to show the nature of the impact that standards-based reforms are having on practices of literacy leadership and how principals’ work is increasingly coordinated by attempts to classify and measure their professional responsibilities. Institutional ethnography explores the complexity of such coordination in its emphasis on actions of people as they engage with the ordinary, usually textually organised, routines of their local work organisation. School reviews in the form of ‘validation days’, and ‘literacy chats’ between a literacy leader and classroom teacher, are examples of such textually organised actions. We elaborate on these inescapable textual framings and tasks faced by the principal and literacy leader, and those that they create and modify in order to ‘hold on to ethics’.

We argue that while leaders’ and teachers’ everyday work is regulated by ‘ruling relations’ (Smith, 1999), it is also organic and responsive to the local context. We conclude with a reflection on the important situated work that school leaders do in mediating trans-local policies that might otherwise close down possibilities for engaging ethically with students and their learning in a particular school.