More than the power of two: leading school improvement in Indigenous education

Wilkinson, Eleanor Louise (2019) More than the power of two: leading school improvement in Indigenous education. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Australian schools are now under constant pressure to improve their schools for students to have increased achievement and wellbeing outcomes, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners. This thesis has investigated the professional relationships of Indigenous Education Workers/Community Education Counsellors (IEWs/CECs) and principals and how they can lead together to improve their schools for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Until now, their professional relationship has not been well understood or documented. This thesis captures the research that has sought to examine, interpret and transform the ambiguity of the professional relationship between IEW/CEC and principal. On another level, the study has aimed to highlight effective practice, inform future improvements for Indigenous education within the schools studied and for those in the greater region, and finally, provide a call for change of policy and practice within the wider school system of Queensland.

Informed by a plurality of paradigms, that of transformation and pragmatism and a tripartite of theory—critical theory, Indigenous standpoint theory and relationship leadership theory—this investigation was conducted across a large state educational region in Queensland. Using a mixed methods approach, quantitative and qualitative data were concurrently and sequentially collected over two phases in a four-year process. Each phase provided a collection of data that contributed to the separate and integrated, consecutive analysis of the core research questions. In Phase 1, 41 principals and 35 IEWs/CECs were surveyed for the broad analysis of the region's schools and contributed answers to the first core research question. In Phase 2, an instrumental case study was then undertaken in four schools with five exemplar IEW/CEC and principal pairs within the same region. The predominant methodological orientation for the case study was participatory and an adaption of critical participatory action research (CPAR) was conducted in three cycles over three years. Case study data were collected from a partnership assessment questionnaire, nine hours of responsive interviews, school documents and descriptive field notes from 13 site visits. This provided data for a holistic and detailed analysis of the IEW/CEC and principal professional relationship to answer all of the core research questions. Overall three rounds of data analysis occurred, multiple logics were employed together, with abduction, deduction and induction of descriptive statistics and thematic analysis of documentation.

Results of this study indicate while similar conditions were experienced by most schools across the region, the IEW/CEC and principal relationship was variable and fragmented for many and the role of IEW/CEC was underestimated and underutilised. The case study pairs presented differently and of the six relational dynamics evident between every pair, the most highly enacted was that of trusting interpersonal communication. Their strong relationships were created through certain personal predispositions and deliberate practices, but these occurred more by chance and less by systemic design. Strong relationships between IEW/CEC and principals showed they could mitigate detrimental contextual features like racism, perceived or actual uncertainty of funding and insufficiency of system support, while they ameliorated school members' capacity so leader agency, student success, parent engagement and staff cultural competency growth could occur. This study revealed that the IEW/CEC and principal relationship was not only microcosmic to school-community partnerships, but was also that of the greater project of national reconciliation.

This thesis provides implications that call for a change of policy and practice within the wider school system in the state of Queensland. It concludes that if educational outcomes for Indigenous students and engagement their families are to be maximised, professional relationships between IEWs/CECs and their principals need to exist and then expand beyond the pair through deliberate and greater systemic support. The position of IEW/CEC needs to be guaranteed in schools, training for Indigenist perspectives must be promulgated and systemic provision of resources for IEWs/CECs and principals in schools to grow their professional relationship must occur. A strong IEW/CEC and principal relationship can lead to less a transactional and different type of leader collaboration, one that creates a 'vorticity' of influence that enrols others into taking on the responsibility of supporting every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student succeed, something that is more than the power of two.

Item ID: 62101
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: community education counsellor, Indigenous Education Worker, school principal, Queensland schools, school policy
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2019 Eleanor Louise Wilkinson.
Additional Information:

For this thesis, Eleanor Wilkinson received the Graduate Research School Medal of Excellence.

Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2020 02:21
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education @ 100%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9304 School/Institution > 930401 Management and Leadership of Schools/Institutions @ 100%
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