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Tinkering towards Utopia: trying to make sense of my contribution to the field

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of what the author believes to be his major contributions to the field of Educational Administration. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The approach taken is a personal review and reflection based on research. For purposes of structuring the article three themes have been selected ‐ complexity, development, and being close to and providing an empirical base for policy and practice. In addition, three areas are discussed that the author regrets having not taken further ‐ the relationship between a school and its system from the school's perspective, the role of quality evidence, particularly the provision of valid and reliable surveys for use by practitioners, and public attitudes to education, including re-examining the purposes of schools and their enactment. Findings ‐ The studies reviewed stress the importance of the interrelationship between the individual, organisational and contextual in effective teaching of educational administration, organisational development in schools, leadership for organisational learning and student outcomes, and successful school principalship. These studies promote a "tinkering towards Utopia". "Tinkering" in the sense of improvement from the inside out rather than from outside schools and from the top down, and being about small scale and developmental rather than wholesale and/or continuous change. "Utopian" in the sense of focusing on complexity and heterogeneity rather than simplicity and homogeneity in both purposes and processes. "Utopia" is about learning for all, especially through facilitating schools as communities of professional learners. However, there continues to be a need for researchers in the field to provide a stronger empirical base for policy and practice, including providing quality, culturally specific evidence. Research limitations/implications ‐ While clarity is provided on the links between leadership and student outcomes in schools and areas for further research are identified, the article is limited by its heavy reliance on the author's Australian research findings. Originality/value ‐ The article has value in that the links are clarified between leadership and a breadth of student outcomes. It broadens what counts for good schooling and school leadership and provides clear evidence for improvements in policy and practice.
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Keywords: Australia; Communities of professional learners; Complexity, Leadership; Educational administration; Organizational development; Organizational learning; Principals; Public attitudes to education; Schools; Social capital; Student outcomes

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 27, 2012

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