Letter from Stratford-upon-Avon

I have just left Stratford-upon-Avon, where I was attending the annual conference of BELMAS, the British Educational Leadership, Management, and Administration Society. BELMAS is the British equivalent of CASEA, our Canadian association, and serves to being together university academics who study and theorize about educational administration, management and leadership with those who actually practice it – school heads (principals), system leaders, and so forth.

The theme for BELMAS 2017 was Educational leadership for a global society: Challenges, dilemmas and ways forward. I was honoured and privileged to have been invited as the keynote speaker tasked with opening the conference, setting the stage for the sessions to come. The title of my talk was ‘When the horizon is behind you: Global leadership in a flat earth world.’

I started off by noting that one of the major dilemmas facing many educational leaders in Canada is how best to recognize, value, and respect the fact that we were and are a colonized nation. When we talk about Indigenous rights we also talk about settler obligations. After all, it takes two sides to sign a Treaty, and these only work if both sides honour the details of the agreement. In Canada, alas, this hasn’t really been the case, and we are now reaping the results as our Aboriginal people have significantly higher rates of poverty, incarceration, suicide, addiction, homelessness, and other indices of poor social health than other citizens, both settler and newcomer. When we speak of Educational leadership for a global society we have to recognize that the whole concept of globalization is one which resonates both locally and nationally, as well as internationally. Indeed, in an article I wrote some years ago I used the term glocalization to define this melange of global and local, and I think the concept still applies today.

We are living in an increasingly bipolar world, where reactions to the results of globalization – economic integration, human migration, instantaneous communication – are leading to the rebirth of tribalism. As people try to make sense of who they are and how they are positioned on this planet, so the politics of difference are becoming exclusionary rather than inclusionary.

Such questions of individual and collective identity are important to educational leaders, for they run directly counter to the globalized world in which we work. It is in schools that these issues come together. Schools are one of the few societal institutions which nearly everyone experiences. We don’t all go to hospital, or to jail, or become members of Parliament. But we all go to school.

It is important, therefore, that the work of school leaders and, by extension, those of us who help mentor and develop those leaders, is guided and informed by critical reflection on questions such as: how do schools position themselves, culturally and socially? Whose languages are heard in the classrooms and the corridors and the playgrounds? Whose definitions of success drive the curriculum and the assessment protocols? Whose beliefs and values are represented in the policy and procedures of the school system?

Educators are concerned with how they respond to the influx of children from non-dominant cultures, the marginalized and minority populations of the world, the dispossessed and the disenfranchised.  What are the ways in which school leaders with a strong commitment to the principles of social justice celebrate the diverse ethnocultural nature of schools, develop an acceptance of difference and the capacity to work across various cultures, and set high learning expectations for all students?

In my talk I tried to examine some of these and related questions, as an attempt to identify and consider potential distractions on our horizons. I’m still working on those ideas, and hope to put them together in article form in the near future. Watch this space for details!

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