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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Toward a conception of educational leadership Coombs, Charlotte Rosalind Compton


The question which animates this thesis is the extent to which study of extant leadership theory and research is relevant to the fostering of educational leadership. Because this question cannot be answered without an adequate account of leadership in education, the thesis develops a conception of educational leadership and assesses the relevance of the leadership literature in light of that conception. The foundations upon which this conception of educational leadership is built are as follows: (1) the ordinary language meaning of "leadership," (2) the ideals fundamental to a liberal, democratic society, and (3) our ideal of the educated person. Conceptual analysis of "leadership" reveals that it is used both descriptively (to denote positions) and normatively (to rate something positively). The normative use spans a continuum of standards from weak to strong. Weak-normative leadership is ascribed according to the extent to which a leader has been able to influence others to pursue a goal. Strong-normative leadership is ascribed according to the extent to which the leader's ends and means are worthwhile. It is argued that, in general, people who want educational administrators to exercise leadership want strong-normative leadership, i.e., they want administrators to envision worthwhile goals and to use morally appropriate means to influence their colleagues to pursue these goals. Thus, the sense of leadership upon which the conception of educational leadership is based is the strong-normative sense. The ideals taken to be fundamental to a liberal democracy are: (1) equal respect for persons, (2) use of intelligence in problem solving and promoting change, (3) cooperation and pooled experience in setting values and solving problems, and (4) respect for individual rights. The ideal of the educated person is characterized in terms of the acquisition of worthwhile knowledge through means which respect rational autonomy. A conception of educational leadership compatible with these ideals is explicated and defended. Rival conceptions of educational leadership are examined. It is argued that the conception of educational leadership developed here is preferable to its rivals in that it incorporates their strengths and avoids many of their weaknesses. Leadership theory and research are examined and shown to be generally incompatible with the conception of educational leadership explicated and defended in this thesis, and with the ordinary language concept of leadership. The thesis concludes that it is probably not appropriate to make such theory and research the central component of courses which aim to foster or improve the exercise of educational leadership; rather, study of works which attempt to clarify and justify educational goals and means would seem to be more promising.

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