Social Justice Leadership Strand – ECER 2013 Proposal

4151326adcBelow is the proposal we have submitted to ECER 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey.  The proposal is based on a similar format to that which the group presented at UCEA 2012, but with all new case studies, and two countries (Turkey and Israel – Arab and Jewish schools represented) that have not featured in our work before. Results of the proposal process will be released in early April.

Symposium title: Making sense of social justice: an international exploration of school leader perspectives.

Symposium Abstract:

Presenters are engaged in an international project that seeks to understand how school leaders enact ‘social justice leadership’ in a variety of different regional and national contexts. This presentation will adopt a workshop format to present data generated from three countries (Israel, Turkey and England). Presenters will work with attendees to share early research findings from Principal interviews and explore how school leaders ‘make sense of social justice leadership’.

Key words:

School leadership, social justice, international perspective.


Paper presenters:

Kadir Beycioglu, Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey

Izhar Oplatka, Tel-Aviv University, Israel.

Kalid Arrar, Centre for Academic Studies, Jaljoulia Home of Education and Sciences High School, Israel.

Alison Taysum, University of Leicester, England.


Howard Stevenson, University of Nottingham, England.


Katarina Norberg, Center for Principal Development, University of Umea, Sweden

Symposium Proposal:

The papers in this symposium reflect work undertaken as part of the International School Leadership Development Network, a collaborative research initiative sponsored by BELMAS and UCEA.  Papers here are drawn from Phase 1 work of the Network’s Social Justice Leadership strand.

This work has been guided by a desire to address two over-arching questions.  At this stage, these remain tentative, but can be expressed as:

  • What is ‘social justice leadership’, and what does it look like when we see it?
  • How can an international and comparative methodology enhance our understanding of what social justice leadership means in different national contexts?

Within the parameters of these questions a set of four provisional research questions have been formulated:

1)    How do social justice leaders make sense of ‘social justice’?

2)    What do social justice leaders do?

3)    What factors help and hinder the work of social justice leaders?

4)    How did social justice leaders learn to become social justice leaders?

The material presented in this symposium is based on 5 in-depth interviews conducted with Principals in each of the countries represented in the symposium (see individual abstracts for details). These 5 cases form part of a wider project involving 24 researchers undertaking work in 14 different countries.

The term ‘social justice’ is so widely used, in such diverse contexts, and by those holding such divergent views, that it might be argued that it has become meaningless.

Within education there have been some notable attempts to frame a notion (or notions) of social justice in ways that can help to explain and understand the practices of those working in schools, and especially school leaders.  For example, Cribb and Gewirtz (2003) have sought to build on the work of Rawls (1972) and others to develop an approach to social justice that emphasises three elements – a sense of distributive justice (focused on the allocation of resources), associational justice (with a focus on the distribution of power) and cultural justice (with a recognition of the need to reflect a broad range of identities).

The framework provided by Cribb and Gewirtz (2003) is helpful at two levels. First, it draws attention to the need to explore processes as well as outcomes. Put simply, it is not enough to only look at what Principals do, but also how they do it. Do ‘social justice leaders’ work in ways that might be described as more inclusive, participatory or democratic? (Woods, 2005).  Moreover, how do they reconcile the outcome of democratic processes when they conflict with their own aims and value positions?

Such questions highlight the second issue that arises from the framework provided by Cribb and Gewirtz (2003) – how do ‘social justice leaders’ navigate their way through a world riven by tensions and contradictions?  At one level this can be a conflict between the values of individual Principals and the values embedded in dominant policy discourses. However, these issues can shift considerably over time, and they also play out differently in different regional and national contexts.

The research contained in this proposal seeks to enhance our understanding of school leaders’ actions as they work to promote socially just practices and/or outcomes in a range of different national contexts.

Individual presentation abstracts:

Making Sense of Social Justice: School Leader Perspectives In Turkey

Kadir Beycioglu, Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey


Turkey has been rated as an economically developing country. Although the country, with its 10.500 dollars GDP (rated 65th in the U.N. list), has not been in the list of underdeveloped countries list for the last 10 years the country faces significant challenges.  These are principally ones of substantial inequalities in wealth.  However, and additionally, the country’s recent and longer term history ensures that issues relating to democracy, human rights, ethnicity and language rights are also significant issues in society, and therefore in schools.  While the country’s public education system has to challenge these inequalities it can also have a role in reproducing them.

This presentation seeks to understand how school leaders enact ‘social justice leadership’ in the Turkish context, and to better understand how they articulate notions of social justice. Two elementary school principals were interviewed.

One of them was a male principal in a state school. The school has 1400 students. It is situated in a region where middle income families are predominant.

The second interviewee was a female principal in a school with 480 students. Her school is in a region where low income families are dominant.

Preliminary findings:

Initial findings showed that the ‘social justice’ sense of principals is generally focused on issues of economic injustice and the problems of poverty. However, findings also indicated that principals sought to challenge authoritarian practices and that they sought to create a democratic school in order to act as a social justice leader.

Making Sense of Social Justice: Jewish and Arab School Leader Perspectives In Israel

Izhar Oplatka, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Khalid Arrar, Centre for Academic Studies, Jaljoulia Home of Education and Sciences High School, Israel


The research aims to trace the perceptions of two high school principals in Israel towards social justice in education: one Arab and one Jewish.  More specifically, it clarifies how principals’ perceptions towards social justice are expressed in their school and management. The uniqueness of this study can be seen in its ability to clarify difficulties encountered in the promulgation of social justice in a multicultural reality suffused with ethnic and religious differences in a country split by political and religious conflicts.

Expected outcomes:

Several levels and issues for social justice exist in each school: at the national level, social justice relates to a discourse of co-existence within a context of inter-national conflict; including Jewish-Arab student encounters in the context of majority-minority relations; within the Jewish education system, social justice is expressed in the integration of students from weaker socio-economic strata or immigrants from Africa, and in the Arab education system relates to students from border regions or from the West Bank under the Palestinian authority or from Gaza, and to equal gender access to educational resources overshadowed by a culture that might discriminate women.

Making Sense Of Social Justice: School Leader Perspectives In England

Alison Taysum, University of Leicester, England.


The paper presents a case-study of how an English principal enacts ‘social justice leadership’ in a secondary school with students recognized as low-income, and/or cultural, racially and linguistically diverse.

The educational landscape in England is framed by rapid educational reforms of the educational market including the introduction of academies, free schools, private contracts between schools and the Secretary of State for Education, and accountability for the public purse to Parliament and the public. The result is an educational environment in which market pressures, and their tendencies to inequality, exert a powerful influence within the school system.

Expected outcomes:

The findings generate new understandings of what social justice means to the leader, including the role and purpose of education, what the leader values about education and the school, and how causes of social injustice are described and understood. Further, the findings reveal types of commitment to tackling social injustice, how these commitments are realized, the potential role of organizational culture, and how situations are mediated when values and policies conflict.


Cribb, A. and Gewirtz, S. (2003) ‘Towards a sociology of just practices: an analysis of plural conceptions of justice’ in C. Vincent (ed.) Social Justice, Education and Identity, London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Rawls, J. (1972) A Theory of Justice, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Woods, P. (2005) Democratic Leadership in Education London: Sage.

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