Viewpoint from Anthony H. Normore
In this interview
Interview by Margaret Adolphus
Anthony H. Normore (Tony) is associate professor, programme coordinator for the educational administration programme, and programme development coordinator for the doctorate programme in educational leadership at the California State University, Dominguez Hills, Carson-Los Angeles.
His research focuses on leadership development, preparation and socialization of urban school leaders in the context of ethics and social justice.
Tony has had a long career in public education, and has served as a teacher, school-site and district office administrator in Canada, before coming to the USA. His overseas experience includes two stints as representative for the Canadian Teachers Federation in Nepal, and visiting scholar at Seoul National University, South Korea.
He is series editor of Emerald's Advances in Educational Administration; another recent publication is Educational Leadership Preparation: Innovation and Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Ed.D. and Graduate Education (Normore and Gaetane, 2010).
Numerous scholarly journals have published his research, including Journal of School Leadership, Journal of Educational Administration, Leadership & Organizational Development Journal, International Journal of Urban Educational Leadership, Educational Policy, and The International Journal for the Humanities.
He has also edited a special issue of Journal of Educational Administration: "Leadership for learning in the context of social justice: an international perspective" (Normore, 2007), for which he received an Award for Excellence from Emerald. He is also a senior editorial adviser to Emerald.
You began your career as a teacher, and then administrator, in pre-K12. What made you move into higher education?
At one point in my career, around 1997, I decided to do a master's degree in educational administration. I wanted to understand more about how school leadership and school administration truly worked. I did my master's in educational administration and school policy at Laval University in Québec City. I then subsequently completed a PhD at the University of Toronto in the area of accountability, recruitment and socialization of school administrators in large urban school districts.
I suppose to some degree I felt at a crossroads in my professional life. I had done well with teaching in public education; most of my teaching experience was with French immersion programmes. These are programmes intended for anglophone students where all subject areas are taught in the French language. After doing this for 20 years, I wanted to move into higher education and learn more about adult learning. I figured the best way to do that was to take a position at a higher education institution working in a leadership preparation and development programme.
My first position was at Florida International University – a Hispanic serving university in Miami-Dade County. Miami is a beautiful city, but has a lot of problems. My graduate students were mostly of Hispanic descent. After five years, I moved to Los Angeles to develop a doctoral programme in educational leadership at California State University Dominguez Hills. I wanted to continue to work in large urban settings and work with marginalized student populations.
You have focused your research on leadership development in the context of social justice. Can you give us a bit of background here, both in terms of why these two concepts have come to be linked, and why your own interest?
I did my postgraduate degrees in Québec City and Toronto, both of which are very large multicultural urban communities. Having worked as a volunteer in schools while I was doing my doctoral dissertation, I realized that some students' needs were not being addressed in schools: many marginalized kids remained underserved.
When in Miami-Dade County, Florida, I taught students who worked in inner city schools. Part of my role was to spend time in their school settings. I realized that I was being exposed to a lot of the disenfranchisement, inequities and inequality that come with kids who live on the margins. These kids bring all sorts of issues with them to school, which are often overlooked when it comes to academic achievement. Many of these issues centre on race, class, poverty, gender, religion, homelessness, disability and sexual orientation.
And when I visited schools, it became apparent that the administrators and teachers working with these kids just didn't seem to know how to handle these problems.
They were unaware, for example, that there were homeless kids in their classrooms, kids living with large extended families in cars and in back alleys. Oftentimes, these educators would discipline these kids for incomplete homework, unaware that this was due to issues beyond the student's control. However, it would have been better to investigate the reasons why kids couldn't complete homework, to acknowledge these issues and take a bit more responsibility to search for ways to help, rather than punish.
Another example would be special education or ability differences. Looking at demographics and statistics, we have a lot of students of colour in our special education classrooms. Many times these students are placed there without any real diagnostic background to support why they are there. In some cases, their placement in special education might be due to a behavioural issue rather than a specific learning disability.
Other children are coming to school with no breakfast, and hungry, so they can't be expected to perform well during the day. Or the child has been up all night and couldn't get the homework done because there was a party going on until 3am.
These circumstances and examples are at all levels of schooling from kindergarten to senior high level (tenth to twelfth grade). Administrators and teachers may want to help, but in many instances they need to follow regulations and policies. Sometimes, they are fearful of getting to the underlying causes as to why these kids are not doing what is expected of them. They are also reluctant to acknowledge that the real issues may not be students at all, but may lie with a rule, teaching, or leadership, or may simply be a problem of context or environment. I've always believed that if a policy or rule doesn't work then it needs to be changed.
As an instructor of leadership development and preparation of urban school leaders, I feel that we have a moral and social justice imperative to take into account cultural factors that may impede or support student learning. We must ensure that these children have their needs addressed, and that all children, not just one particular ethnic group, receive the best quality of education that we can provide.
We just need to look at all of these things and at the same time keep standards and expectations very high for all children. And at the same time we are absolutely responsible at all levels of education to make sure that no harm comes to any child – and that the child's critical first order needs are met before we can move on to the other things.
We also need to remember that academic achievement is so much more than standardized tests, even if we live in a time and in countries [both the US and the UK] where testing appears to be "the be all end all".
In an article in the special edition of Journal of Educational Administration, you refer to the Movement Model (Normore et al., 2007, pp. 656-657) of leadership, which gives a voice to vulnerable communities. Can you describe this concept, and its influence on educational policymaking?
At the time of putting together that special edition, I was working at Florida International University with some of the most distinguished educators in the field of urban educational leadership, including civil rights legend Bob Moses. Bob Moses leads the Algebra Project which helps bring maths skills to children in poor communities so that they are properly prepared for the workforce.
He used the Movement Model, which is related to Ella Baker's work on grass-roots leadership in the civil rights era. It's about tapping into the wisdom of communities. In this case, it took the form of kids being involved in the research process through participatory action research: critical dialogue with those directly affected by the issues being studied. It's really about social change.
It's a fundamental principle of social justice – meaning that if we want to learn about the issues of those who live on the margins, the best way to do this is to actually engage with them directly. Not only does that provide a unique perspective that is often overlooked, but it also challenges the fundamental principles of knowledge and consciousness and power that we all sometimes see in our scholarly research and practical work with young people: it's a bottom up rather than a top down approach.
Working under the leadership of Bob Moses, these students would present their projects to teacher preparation programmes and to other schools. This means that we are not only acknowledging the real issues, but they're also sharing their findings with other schools and with future teachers, who get an idea of what they will be presented with in the school system.
Talking about student empowerment is all very well, but what if you are dealing with students who are just not motivated?
If we hear kids saying that they really don't care about school, we need to look at the underlying reasons. I honestly believe that it's not that they don't care, but that they haven't felt the support and encouragement to motivate them to do good things.
When I visit schools, I often see teachers who are unmotivated, and their lack of motivation filters down to the students in their classes. One of the responsibilities of school leaders is to ensure that the resources are there to help motivate teachers. Of course, teachers must take responsibility for their own motivation too; this will help students in the long run.
How influential are your ideas – both of the importance of social justice and grass-roots leadership – on educational leadership programmes?
Not as influential as I would like them to be, but I suppose anyone can say that about their ideas. I do see an increased interest in including social justice issues in leadership preparation programmes. For example, my book Leadership for Social Justice (Normore, 2008) has been used in various university doctoral programmes. It has also been used as a feature book in a few urban leadership centres across the United States. The students I work with are very interested in what social justice leadership looks like in practice.
In addition, a lot more time and effort is being devoted to social justice leadership preparation and development at national conferences. It featured heavily in the last University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) convention, and at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) there are a couple of special interest groups devoted to social justice, ethics and morality.
So there's some influence and impact, but I'm not convinced that there's enough.
It's also very important that professors with a special interest in multiculturalism and social justice visit schools. We are responsible not only for teaching the underlying concepts, but equally for being out there in the trenches with those teachers and administrators, not just leaving them to do it on their own.
ARK Schools is an educational charity based in the UK which takes underperforming schools in areas of deprivation and transforms them into model schools. Its ethos is high academic expectation, exemplary behaviour, excellent teaching, a longer school day and the division of schools into smaller units. "Inner-city academy that's a blueprint for the future" gives a good description of one of these schools. Isn't discipline, good teaching, good relationships the key for children in tough urban areas who may have very disadvantaged backgrounds?
I have no argument with what they are suggesting – the excellent teaching, the longer school day, the division of schools into smaller units make for higher academic achievement.
We have research that clearly indicates that a longer school day does work, although it's not much use without good teachers. As to smaller units, we have a high school here in southern California with approximately 2,500 students. The school was recently divided into six smaller professional learning communities, and since that's happened we've seen a lot of kids performing much better.
So the ARK schools are on to something good. I would add that cultural understanding, community involvement, and developing meaningful curricula are equally important. It's the way we create a positive school culture that leads to a higher level of student achievement. For me, it's about the leadership. Leadership – not just by the principal, but by a wider cast of individuals in both formal and informal leadership roles – plays a critical role in reinforcing instructional improvement and quality that lead to enhanced student learning.
You have argued that the concept of glocalization, a meaningful integration of local and global forces, can help educational leaders inform and enhance their pedagogy and practice (Brooks and Normore, 2010). Can you elaborate on this?
We're very big on doing things locally; we're not so good at taking that local work and commitment and moving it globally. However, educational leaders need to have the tools to operate as global citizens.
Both Jeff Brooks and I were concerned that little work had been done around glocal competency and educational leadership, and our published article is intended to start that discourse. We certainly sparked a lot of interest and we've even had a request for permission to translate the article into Chinese! In fact, if you were to google "glocalization" you'll find that we're also cited in Wikipedia.
Teaching today is a very international profession, and you have had a couple of stints of working abroad, in Nepal and South Korea. What did you find most different about these experiences, and what did you take back for your subsequent teaching and research?
My Nepal experience (with the Canadian Teachers' Federation) was over ten years ago; my Korean experience is more recent – summer of 2009.
Nepal is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, with almost a quarter of the population living below the poverty line. South Korea on the other hand is one of the world's wealthiest countries, and takes great pride in its economic success.
In both countries, however, what had the greatest influence on my research and practice was the high value placed on education and how education is considered the path to status, money and success. Both Nepal and Korea promote and foster "the act of giving", hold high regard for education and for social interaction, and recognize the importance for ongoing support systems.
That really influenced me when I came back to Canada and the USA, because I feel this kind of values system is one we once held in high regard, but somehow we've lost a bit along the way in this very fast-paced, technologically oriented world. I'm an advocate of technology but we need to reclaim what is really critical to our hearts and souls, which is the concept of caring for one another and for the work we do that's going to have a lasting impact on students.
We also need to place a higher value on education, and as part of that work harder as educators to share the good things we do. Education is frequently subjected to public scrutiny, and the "not-so-good" issues are frequently highlighted in the press. We need to really step up to the plate and shout to the world that we're doing some good things that help kids. For some reason educators are not good at doing this, yet they do such remarkable things to help kids.
One of the problems in leadership is that, in a culture which constantly measures performance, our school leaders are spending far too much time on managerial duties, filling out forms, putting out fires and trouble-shooting day-to-day problems that they find little to no time to engage in true leadership.
Your other research interests are listed as "intercultural dynamics and global educational leadership", "recruitment, selection and socialization processes of leaders of learning", and "democratic schooling". Can you say a bit about your research in these areas?
I recently did a book with a colleague in Australia, John Collard, on intercultural dynamics and leadership, which was a truly international venture: we had people from all over the world arguing for multiculturalism.
I've also been working, with a colleague from the Los Angeles sheriff's department, on a book Education Based Incarceration, about prison education and how rates of recidivism can be reduced as a consequence.
I've also done research on recruitment and selection, and the socialization process of school administrators, which is directly connected to my leadership preparation research. This research filters through into our leadership development and preparation programmes.
I'm currently focusing on the process of academic writing, as we have a lot of graduate students who want to publish their work, but aren't sure how to go about it.
You recently (at AERA) gave a talk entitled "Demystifying the Writing Process for Transforming the Doctoral Dissertation into Publication: A Guide for Emerging Educational Leadership Scholars". Can you give a few key pointers as to how PhD researchers can publish their work in journals?
Not just PhD researchers, but those doing an EdD: in fact, any graduate student can publish their work much more easily than they think. There are three pieces of advice I would give:
- Graduate students need to cultivate a multi-tiered and multi-purpose support network, which means getting to know journals, serving on editorial boards, volunteering to review papers for conference proposals.
- They also need to be submitting their work from day one, from the proposal stage of a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation, and presenting their work at conferences.
- Finally they should read a lot of research in books and journals, which will help them get to know what a high quality piece of work looks like.
For more information, see Normore, A.H. (2011).
You are the series editor of Advances in Educational Administration. What is the mission of this series, and what sort of topics does it cover?
We try to present new perspectives and the latest thinking on issues to do with educational administration and leadership within the pre-K12 educational system. Further, we try to provide practical applications and strategies for improving leadership.
We are particularly interested in the international perspective, and currently have three or four books in the pipeline, with a good mix of international contributors.
Can you say something about your role as a senior editorial adviser to Emerald?
I act as adviser on the local and global rankings of books and journals; represent Emerald at key conferences; comment on perceptions of Emerald's products and services; act as advocate through my own networks; effect introductions to key organizations and conferences; suggest new editors or editorial advisory board members for journals and books; and identify emerging topics.
A key trend at the moment is that education is becoming more global, in that there's a move to more and more online and distance education. There are universities here which have programmes for students in Korea, Pakistan and India. The trend will eventually filter down to the pre-K12 level.
Brooks, J.S. and Normore, A.H. (2010), "Educational leadership and globalization: literacy for a glocal perspective", Educational Policy, Vol. 24 No. 1, January, pp. 52-82.
Normore, A.H. (2011), "The process of transforming the dissertation or thesis into publication", in Rocco, T.S. and Hatcher, T. (Eds), The Handbook of Scholarly Writing and Publishing, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, pp. 75-88.
Normore, A.H. (2008), Leadership for Social Justice: Promoting Equity and Excellence through Inquiry and Reflective Practice (a volume in Educational Leadership for Social Justice), Information Age Publishing, NC.
Normore, A.H. (Guest Ed.) (2007), "Leadership for learning in the context of social justice: an international perspective", Journal of Educational Administration, Special Issue, Vol. 45 No. 6.
Normore, A.H. and Gaetane, J-M. (Ed) (2010), Educational Leadership Preparation: Innovation and Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Ed.D. and Graduate Education, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, NY.
Normore, A.H., Rodriguez, L. and Wynne, J. (2007), "Making all children winners: confronting social justice issues to redeem America's soul", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 45 No. 6, pp. 653-671.