What can Grassroots Leadership Teach us about School Leadership?

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Lisa Catherine Ehrich Fenwick W. English


This paper explores grassroots leadership, an under-researched and often side-lined approach to leadership that operates outside of formal bureaucratic structures. The paper’s central purpose is the claim that an understanding of grassroots leadership and tactics used by grassroots leaders provides valuable insights for the study of school leadership. In this paper, we present and discuss an original model of grassroots leadership based on the argument that this under-researched area can further our understanding of school leadership. Drawing upon the limited literature in the field, we present a model consisting of two approaches to change (i.e. conflict and consensus) and two categories of change (i.e. reform and refinement) and then provide illustrations of how the model works in practice. We make the argument that the model has much merit for conceptualizing school leadership, and this is illustrated by applying the model to formal bureaucratic leadership within school contexts. Given the current climate in education where business and management language is pervasive within leadership-preparation programs, we argue that it is timely for university academics, who are responsible for preparing school leaders to consider broadening their approach by exposing school leaders to a variety of change-based strategies and tactics used by grassroots leaders.

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Author Biographies

Lisa Catherine Ehrich, Queensland University of Technology

Lisa Catherine Ehrich is an Associate Professor in the School of Learning and Professional Studies, Faculty of Education, at Queensland University of Technology, Victoria Park Road, Kelvin Grove, Queensland, 4059, Australia. Email: l.ehrich@qut.edu.au.  Her research interests include the principalship, mentoring for professionals, and grassroots leadership.

Fenwick W. English, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Fenwick W. English is the R. Wendell Eaves Senior Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 121 Peabody Hall, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3500. Email: fenglish@email.unc.edu.  His research interests include the epistemology of leadership; social justice; socio-cultural reproduction theory and leadership as artistic performance.

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