Educational Leadership: Culture and Diversity

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Clive Dimmock & Allan Walker

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  • Dedication

    Clive Dimmock is Professor of Educational Leadership and Director of the Centre For Educational Leadership and Management (Celm) At the University of Leicester, Uk. He Has Previously Lectured At Cardiff University, and Held Professorial Positions At the University of Western Australia and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

    Allan Walker is Professor and Chair of the Department of Educational Administration and Policy At the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He Has Previously Worked As a Principal and Lectured in Australia and At the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore.

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    Foreword

    Just a decade ago a book that focused on culture and educational management would have belonged in the domain of social-anthropologists. Cross-cultural analysis was simply outside the field of vision of scholars in educational leadership and management. As Dimmock and Walker explain in this volume, the emergence of culture as a conceptual framework for theory building and the analysis of practice in educational leadership and management is a recent phenomenon.

    Paradoxically, its emergence has been fostered largely by the same forces of globalization that some observers view as the ‘enemy’ of culture. Starting in the early 1990s, globalization began to alter the social, political, economic, and cultural fabric of societies throughout the world. Changes in economic structures, political systems and social lifestyles during the past decade have been far-reaching (Drucker, 1995). Yet, as Ohmae has observed: ‘The contents of kitchens and closets may change, but the core mechanisms by which cultures maintain their identity and socialize their young remain largely untouched’ (1995, p. 30).

    Ohmae's assertion highlights the role that education has always played as a process of cultural transmission. Culture resides in the background and represents the assumptions, values and norms that underlie our daily activities. Educational institutions are responsible for passing the values, norms and traditions of the particular society on to future generations. The process of changing a society's values and traditions is, however, slower and more difficult than changing social fashions or economic treaties. Educational change always has and always will lag behind the pace of change in the world outside of schools (Tyack and Hansot, 1982).

    In prior eras, the practices of cultural transmission that comprised what we termed ‘education’ were viewed almost entirely within the frame of our own particular society. Education was a national industry. Nations often prided themselves on the uniqueness of their education systems. National education policy-makers saw little need to be informed about never mind emulate the educational policies and practices of other nations.

    Today, however, the same change forces that drive globalization – communication, economic scarcity and competition, technology, transportation – are also spurring on the study and practice of education as a social-cultural process. Global competition has raised the importance of education in the eyes of government policy-makers. Education is increasingly viewed as a key lever for national economic competitiveness and development. For example, the Asian economic crisis of 1997 has been cited as a salient example of what happens when social systems fail to adapt to changes in a globally interdependent economy. This was noted at a seminar on social and educational reform in Thailand:

    Mr. Amaret Sila-on and NEC [National Education Commission] secretary-general Rung Kaewdaeng were in complete agreement that Thailand's decline in global competitiveness was mainly due to poor quality of education and graft. The IMD's (International Institute for Management Development) study said Thailand's education system did not live up to global economic challenges …

    (Bangkok Post, 1998a, p. 3)

    Similarly, Professor Kriengsak Charoenwongsak of Thailand's Institute of Future Studies for Development noted: ‘increasing the quality of Thai products also involves improving the quality of education. The current emphasis on rote learning does not help students assume positions in the workplace which stress problem-solving and other analytical skills’ (Bangkok Post, 1998b, p. 2).

    Education policy-makers are actively seeking out the optimal mix of policies that will foster the achievement of national goals. Less than a generation ago it would have been rare to see education policy-makers attending and speaking at policy forums and research meetings across the globe. Today it is commonplace.

    Moreover, in the age of the Internet, policy-makers find it much easier to find out about the education policies and practices of other nations. Consequently, we find that the policy du jour adopted in London or Sydney is quickly taken up in Malaysia, Hong Kong and South Africa. As a case in point, take the development of the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) in the UK during the late 1990s. Before the NCSL had actually delivered its first training programmes, policy-makers in Malaysia were already making arrangements to import and deliver its programmes.

    Other policy reforms spawned in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere have sped across the globe in a similar fashion. In under a decade, student-centred learning, school-based management, parental involvement and standards-based education have become the lingua franca of education almost regardless of the national context. The globalization of educational policies and practices, well described in this volume, is a ‘done deal’. Education is today a global enterprise.

    Yet as my former colleague, Terry Deal, used to observe, cultures function much like ‘living organisms’. As such they do not respond well to the introduction of ‘foreign bodies’. Whether the intruding element is a virus or an education policy of foreign origin, the instinctive reaction of the organism is first to resist its entry and then attack and kill if it makes it past the initial defences. In the human body the white blood cells are the relevant agents of resistance; in the culture of societies and schools the agents of resistance are people.

    Dimmock and Walker highlight the fact that globalization has fostered a ‘cultural convergence’ of values and norms across societies. In education, we see for example that the introduction of student-centred learning in Asia initially generated a strong negative reaction from teachers, students and parents. This approach to learning conflicted with strongly grounded local norms of what it meant to be a teacher or a learner. The widespread resistance that resulted from this policy change actually sensitized the local Asian societies to their own unique cultural values and norms (Hallinger, 2004).

    For the first time in the short history of our field, scholars have become interested in how the practice of leadership and management in schools is influenced by culture. Since 1990, Dimmock and Walker have been among the most active international scholars in educational leadership and management investigating the application of cultural frameworks to our field (see also Bajunid, 1995; 1996; Cheng, 1995; Dimmock and Walker, 1998a; 1998b; Hallinger, 1995; Hallinger and Kantamara, 2000; Hallinger and Leithwood, 1996; Heck, 1996; Walker and Dimmock, 1999). This volume draws together much of their work and focuses it more specifically on the tensions inherent between globalization, cultural identity and the management of educational systems.

    The question whether the social processes involved in educational leadership and management are ‘culturally constructed’ seems to have been answered in the affirmative during the past decade. The manner in which schools are organized and managed is fundamentally related to the cultural values of a society. The terminal values of a nation that guide its educators to focus on holistic development of the child, student achievement on tests, reproduction of knowledge, ability to solve problems or social integration of ethnic groups vary demonstrably across societies. The instrumental values that describe the acceptable and unacceptable means by which people work together to achieve those ends are no less culturally determined.

    Initially, interest in cultural processes in educational leadership and management was stimulated by the apparent differences that exist between education in Asia and the West. Debates about ‘Asian values’ centred on their role in stimulating the economic and social transformation of Asia's dragons and tiger nations. Obvious differences in the practices of education and educational management in these nations were linked back to their cultural values and norms.

    Singapore, for example, stood out as a nation that had succeeded on Western terms in the construction of a modern educational system. Yet for many years Singaporean education resisted the value-driven policy associated with heterogeneous grouping of students. Singaporean policy-makers grounded their argument for ability grouping explicitly on a unique combination of Confucian values and meritocratic principles.

    Pressures for global convergence have more recently raised interest in cultural differences among nations that are at first glance much more similar than comparisons of the East and West. The integration of Europe has caused Europeans from many nations to reflect more closely on the cultural values and normative practices of their own societies. These differences extend to management and labour practices in the societies.

    For example, the inclination for workers to go on strike is clearly related to the national culture of European nations. France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands – all members of the European Union – have very different traditions with respect to the meaning and use of striking as a form of labour protest.

    A country like France treats a strike as a form of expression, whereas in the Netherlands, it is a last resort … In Germany, the most effective strike is the one that never gets called … it's the threat of the strike that produces the result … [In the Netherlands], we are more interested in ending the discussions in peace … We hardly strike and we are rather proud of it.

    (Fuller, 2004, p. C-1)

    Explanations for why the Dutch approach strikes in this manner are explicitly framed in the light of the labour union's Protestant roots. Indeed, union leaders even cite a biblical passage from Romans 13 that reads: ‘Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has instituted, and those that do will bring judgment on themselves … [While the union] no longer officially considers this passage as doctrine … [it] remains true to its Protestant roots’ (Fuller, 2004, C-1).

    Explorations of the processes of educational leadership and management demonstrate equally significant differences related to the cultural values of the society (Bajunid, 1995; 1996). The issues involved in understanding management in general or educational management as a cultural process are complex. As Dimmock and Walker delineate in this volume, there are numerous approaches to inquiry drawn from a cultural perspective. Religion, cultural values and norms as well as institutional traditions are all relevant to our understanding of educational leadership and management as a cultural process.

    As someone involved in the practice and study of educational leadership and management, I believe that this book makes three distinct contributions to the field. First, for those still unacquainted with the rationale for viewing management as a cultural process, it will provide a firm foundation. Second, the book provides a deeper analysis of this rationale in both theory and practice than has appeared in published journals. The authors critically assess competing perspectives on culture and its utility as a conceptual framework for understanding school leadership and management. Finally, the authors explicitly apply a cultural framework to current perspectives on school leadership and management in practice. In doing so they demonstrate the manner in which cultural values from one culture can be used – unwittingly – to define the discourse around administrative processes. The result, in this era of globalization, can be the untested application of normative practices defined as ‘preferred’ or ‘good’ in one culture to education in another culture.

    These contributions define the value of this volume. While the authors provide few empirically proven answers to important questions concerning school leadership, their discourse both drives forward the global debate and reframes key questions. In doing so, Dimmock and Walker are pressing scholars to address what Ron Heck and I have termed ‘blind spots’ in our field. These represent the unseen issues and assumptions that underpin our models and limit the potential of inquiry in educational leadership and management (Heck and Hallinger, 1999; in press). For helping us to see the field more clearly, the authors are due our debt of gratitude.

    Professor Philip HallingerMahidol University Bangkok Thailand
    References
    Bajunid, I. A. (1995). The educational administrator as a cultural leader, Journal of the Malaysian Educational Manager, 1(1), pp. 12–21.
    Bajunid, I. A. (1996). Preliminary explorations of indigenous perspectives of educational management: the evolving Malaysian experience, Journal of Educational Administration, 34(5), pp. 50–73.
    Bangkok Post (1998a). Graft blamed for fall in world ranking: kingdom slides from 29th to 39th place, Bangkok Post, 3 November, p. 3.
    Bangkok Post (1998b). Higher-value products and better education seen as vital, Bangkok Post, 25 November, p. 2.
    Cheng, Kai Ming. (1995). The neglected dimension: cultural comparison in educational administration, in K. C.Wong and K. M.Cheng (eds), Educational Leadership and Change: An International Perspective (pp. 87–104). Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
    Dimmock, C. and Walker, A. (1998a). Comparative educational administration: developing a cross-cultural comparative framework, Educational Administration Quarterly, 34(4), pp. 558–595.
    Dimmock, C. and Walker, A. (1998b). Transforming Hong Kong's schools: trends and emerging issues, Journal of Educational Administration, 36(5), pp. 476–491.
    Drucker, P. (1995). Managing in a Time of Great Change. New York: Talley House, Dutton.
    Fuller, T. (2004). Differences in nations striking, International Herald Tribune, 6 October, p. C-1.
    Hallinger, P. (1995). Culture and leadership: developing an international perspective in educational administration, UCEA Review, 36(1), pp. 3–7.
    Hallinger, P. (2004). Making education reform happen: Is there an ‘Asian way?’paper presented at the international conference, Making Education Reform Happen: Learning from the Asian Experience and Comparative Perspectives.
    Hallinger, P. and Kantamara, P. (2000). Leading educational change in Thailand: opening a window on leadership as a cultural process, School Leadership and Management, 20(1), pp. 189–206.
    Hallinger, P. and Leithwood, K. (1998). Unseen forces: the impact of social culture on leadership, Peabody Journal of Education, 73(2), pp. 126–151.
    Heck, R. (1996). Leadership and culture: conceptual and methodological issues in comparing models across cultural settings, Journal of Educational Administration, 30(3), pp. 35–48.
    Heck, R. and Hallinger, P. (1999). Conceptual models, methodology, and methods for studying school leadership, in J.Murphy and K.Seashore-Louis (eds), The 2nd Handbook of Research in Educational Administration. San Francisco, CA: McCutchan.
    Heck, R. and Hallinger, P. (in press). Shifting perspectives on studying the role of educational leadersEducational Management and Administration.
    Ohmae, K. (1995). The End of the Nation State: The Rise of Regional Economies. New York: Free Press.
    Tyack, D., and Hansot, E. (1982). Managers of Virtue. New York: Teachers College Press.
    Walker, A., and Dimmock, C. (1999). A cross-cultural approach to the study of educational leadership: an emerging framework, Journal of School Leadership, 9(4), pp. 321–348.

    Acknowledgements

    We are indebted to a number of people who have helped bring this book to fruition. First, Michael Wilson has made a significant contribution in two ways: he has written Chapter 4 and contributed to Chapter 11, and he has read the manuscript through in its entirety. The authors, however, accept full responsibility for any errors that remain.

    We are also grateful for the unceasing diligence and effort of Anthon Chu Yan-kit and his assistant, Veronica Chan Sze-wei, whose technical support and efficiency towards the end of our writing were so admirable.

    Finally, we are most appreciative of the opportunity to publish this book afforded us by Sage, and especially Marianne Lagrange and her assistant Emma Grant-Mills, whose patience has been exemplary.

    We acknowledge the following publishers for their generous permission to quote from some of our previous publications:

    • Dimmock, C. and Walker, A. (2000). ‘Developing comparative and international educational leadership and management: a cross-cultural model’. School Leadership and Management, 20(2), 143–160.
    • Dimmock, C. and Walker, A. (2000). ‘Globalization and societal culture: redefining schooling and school leadership in the 21st Century’. COMPARE, 30(3), 303–312.
    • Dimmock, C. and Walker, A. (2002). ‘Connecting school leadership with teaching, learning and parenting in diverse cultural contexts: Western and Asian perspectives’. In K. Leithwood and P. Hallinger (eds), Second International Handbook of Educational Leadership and Administration (pp. 326–395). Dordrecht: Kluwer Press.
    • Dimmock, C. and Walker, A. (2004). ‘A new approach to strategic leadership: learning-centredness, connectivity and cultural context in school design’. School Leadership and Management, 24(1), 39–56.
    • Walker, A. and Dimmock, C. (2000). ‘Leadership dilemmas of Hong Kong principals: sources, perceptions and outcomes’. Australian Journal of Education, 44(1), 5–25.
    • Walker, A. and Dimmock, C. (2000). ‘Mapping the way ahead: Leading educational leadership into the globalized world’. School Leadership and Management, 20(2), 227–233.
    • Walker, A. and Dimmock, C. (2000). ‘One size fits all? Teacher appraisal in a Chinese culture’. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 14(2), 155–178.
    • Walker, A. (2003). ‘Developing cross-cultural perspectives on education and community’. In P. Begley and O. Johansson (eds), The Ethical Dimensions of School Leadership (pp. 145–160). Dordrecht: Kluwer Press.
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