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Educational leadership in challenging times

2nd June 2021

Author: Carol A. Mullen, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, School of Education, Virginia Tech, USA

Carol A. MullenEducational leadership, an academic discipline, has real world impact. School leaders guide their stakeholder groups (teachers, students, parents, etc.) toward achieving common aims on behalf of a shared vision.

Universities with graduate degrees in educational leadership produce principals, assistant principals, and other leaders for schools and districts/divisions. A professional organisation to which I belong, the University Council for Educational Leadership (UCEA), addresses race, racialisation, and racism in schools, academies, and societies through transformative programming in universities and schools. University programmes seeking to join UCEA as an institutional member undergo scrutiny of their policies, programmes, and practices of diversity and social justice. With over 100 university members, UCEA takes the lead in USA-based social justice leadership.

In educational leadership programming, ethical compasses are utilised in the preparation of aspiring and practicing leaders. While quality leadership has long mattered in the discipline, the call for equity and justice in administration-based university preparation and school-communities has momentum. Cultivating racially diverse public school leaders as change agents is advanced through talent pipelines of practitioners for leading schools and entering university programmes.

Collaborating universities and schools can overcome the selective grooming of a privileged few in favor of identifying as well as nurturing quality professionals from underrepresented populations. Social justice in action has magnifying effects, which can be seen through the recruitment, selection, and development of diverse leaders and their work and commitments. New generations of school leaders who foster just and equitable learning environments for vulnerable communities are democratically accountable. University faculty create the theories giving rise to ethics-in-practice, and they research trends and share results that perpetuate change. They also educate majoritarian and minoritised populations, typically as cohorts, to think critically and reflectively while mentoring for lasting impact.

In today's world, just like graduate students and faculty in educational leadership programmes, school leaders navigate multiple global pandemics. COVID-19, racist attacks on African American, Asian, Latinx, LGBTQ+, and other minoritised communities; police brutality; the ongoing colonisation of tribal nations; and technology, facility, and curricular inequities are among scholars and practitioners’ concerns. While alternative practices like instructional, distributed, and transformational leadership are considered desirable, social justice leadership is an essential competency for influencing school culture, teacher development, and student learning. Leaders who advance social justice on their campuses, perhaps as a reflection of their university education, value diversity, ethics, and equity in situations or even systematically.

Culturally courageous leadership is surging. Consider that the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States has seen repercussions worldwide through protests seeking to eliminate systemic racism, end White supremacy, and stop racialised violence. Bringing justice, healing, and freedom to Black and brown people and demilitarising neighbourhoods is an uppermost responsibility recognized in the educational leadership community even while faced with rebuilding lives and communities that have been completely disrupted.

New possibilities for reimagining our lived worlds have been researched during these times of crisis. A special issue entitled “Mentoring and Coaching in a Time of Crisis, Pandemic, and Social Distancing” for which I served as guest editor features articles from educational leadership and teacher education contributors (Mullen, 2021a). Findings, to quote,

(a) reveal the paradox of making academic progress in a crisis; (b) indicate the need for mentorship theory to conceptualize compassion and intimacy in relationships; (c) illustrate the value of manifesting care in relationships; (d) disclose that the mentor role was seen as unique and that online mentoring was well-received; (e) demonstrate that mentorship training needs to become suitable for online education and (f) show that coaching can support simulation contexts, reflection, and self-efficacy. (Mullen, 2021b, pp. 133–134)

The reckoning of the present era calls for shared responsibility as global citizens who are fully human and committed to working systemically for educational change.



Mullen, C. A. (2021a). Guest editorial: Reimagining mentoring and coaching in a world crisis, in special issue. International Journal of Mentoring & Coaching in Education, 10(2), 133–138. DOI:10.1108/IJMCE-06-2021-108

Mullen, C. A. (2021b). Guest Editor of special issue. International Journal of Mentoring & Coaching in Education, 10(2).