Developing a knowledge base for educational leadership in East Asia
Philip Hallinger (Hong Kong Institute of Education)
One way to assess the value of something is to put a price on it.
That might seem materialistic if not obvious but what if the thing we are assessing is an amorphous concept such as leadership?
Or more precisely, school leadership?
In other words, how much are school leaders worth in terms of annual salary? And what does this value say about the importance of school leaders to the quality of a school?
For example, a Headteacher in Inner London at the top of the scale, will be earning £100k -£125k.
That might seem a lot if you are the school cleaner but it is peanuts compared to what some private US Heads are earning: a few over US$1 million with other compensation factors added in, and many earning US$500k pa. The average salary for the Head of a US private School is about US$200k.
It gets a lot more complicated when you look at salaries for international school heads – much depends on your skills of negotiation and where the school is located, as it does on your experience. Certainly, you wouldn’t want to take over the Headship of a large and well-known K-12 international school in the UAE for less than US$150k, but don’t expect to be earning five times that no matter how big and grand the school is.
A rule of thumb is that as a Head, you’ll earn more working in the private (including international) sector than you’ll earn in any state system, though don’t forget the pension!
To many people reading this, such salaries may sound enormous and enormously attractive.
In reality, they are not.
Given the level of responsibility that goes with running a private (international) school, which is in reality also a commercial operation, the salaries are paltry. You’d be far better off in industry. Some of these private schools are multi-million-dollar businesses even if the leaders’ salaries don’t reflect that.
Which is interesting given the way in which school leadership has, over the past few decades, been talked up as the key determinant for a school’s failure or success.
‘The role of school leadership in educational reform has reached the status of a truism, and led to major changes in school leader recruitment, selection, training and appraisal…There is today a widely accepted belief among policy-makers and practitioners that effective school-level leadership is necessary in order to attain the desired effects of reform policies’ (p. 305-306)
But where does the assumption that school leaders are the signal factor in school effectiveness come from?
According to this article, not from the East.
‘While similar policy trends [in school leadership reform] are evident in East Asia, the empirical knowledge base underlying these measures is distorted and lacking in validation…The rationale for focusing on leadership in the global movement towards the reform of education systems lies in the emergence of an empirically supported knowledge base for the field as practiced in Western societies.’ (p. 305-306)
Hallinger’s research is not based on field work but documentary analysis going back to the early 1980s when major educational policy reforms were initiated in the West and quickly grew to become global educational reforms.
One consequence of these reforms was to present (Western) school leadership (discourse) as the key factor in educational success, the best model to follow; thus asserting that successful school leadership needed to reflect Western views of leadership and Western (educational) culture. When you think about it, the idea that one can take a school leader (or leadership discourse) from one part of the world and deposit them in a very different spot – and get the same results – has to be complete and utter nonsense.
What emerges in this article are some really interesting observations, especially for international education leaders, and this EDDi piece just gives you a taster.
1. School leadership is not a ‘one size fits’ all practice and has to be interpreted and applied according to the local culture. The values and norms of behaviour which vary across social cultures shape leadership practices and expectations. Thus, the same leadership practices demonstrated in one culture could be interpreted quite differently in another culture and thereby produce difference effects on people and the organisation.
2. The above perspective (of leadership-cultural relativism) is not apparent in the textbooks used in education management training programmes for school leaders in East Asia.
3. The Professional Development given to school leaders in East Asia continues to reflect perspectives and practices derived from North America, Europe and Australasia.
4. When compared to the ‘sister discipline’ of business management, the perspective of scholars in educational leadership and management could be considered more local and less international in orientation. Education scholars have been much slower to embrace international or cross-cultural perspectives. Academic research into school leadership has, consequently, been largely informed by a Western gaze.
5. A ‘global knowledge base’ has emerged in educational leadership and management over the past 50 years but it is increasingly seen as a problem, not a solution. The reason being, it is a distortion of the global diversity of knowledge and not the only knowledge which is valid.
6. While some parts of the global (i.e.Western) knowledge base for school leadership and management are relevant and valid, it is dangerous to assume they are universally applicable.
As a Westerner and an academic, one who set up arguably the most successful MBA Educational International programme ever to be offered in Asia (Keele University, 2010-2016), I have to recognise the truth in this article.
What did myself and my co-professors draw on in our lectures?
Yes, mostly Western research papers, articles, books, concepts and theories.
No surprise there.
After all, that is what we’d taught back in the UK and what we’d personally researched over many decades. So why would we not deliver the same in S.E Asia?
But not all my MBA EDi students were Western, they were an impressive global mix of identities and nationalities. I have since kept in contact with a good many of them and I know they’ve gone on to the highest-level positions in international school leadership around the world. No doubt they took something from the MBA EDi but in time added their own unique subjectivity, cultural understandings, and intercultural knowledge/experiences. They must have done otherwise they couldn’t have been successful.
But that is the trick, don’t you think?
To take the best of all worlds and coalesce it into your own unique mix, reflecting who you are, where you are, and what you want to achieve.
There is no ‘one-size fits all’ when it comes to leadership and anyone who images there is will be doomed to failure. School leadership especially demands high levels of emotional intelligence combined with a remorseless dedication to global humanist values.
Can you put a value, a price on that?
Obviously, school owners and governing bodies must try to. And market forces largely dictate what that price (salary) will be.
But all I can say is that the best international school leaders, those who are truly international and global in their outlook and practice, able to successfully operate in very different cultural locations, are, in reality, priceless.
 If there are any international school Heads/Principals out there reading this and who are earning more than US$500k basic pa then please let us know.