Personal identity, a school leader’s essential sensemaking construct

In a leadership context, this sensemaking strategy describes a school leader’s sense of who they are, recognising their threats or enhancements in their school community. Loosening occurs when their ‘identity is threatened or diffused’ (Weick, 1995, p. 461), such as in the early stages of their leadership position or their position being downgraded without warning (p. 461).

There are numerous research studies regarding a school leader’s identity construction in preformative cultures. You are invited to make comments on those you have found appealing or pertinent to school leadership.

Weick, K. (1995). Sense-making in Organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Threads, bricoleurs, leadership and leaders

Having a blog that just posts about everything and anything about educational leadership probably is far too broad, not useful for anyone and results in a huge time drain. The is about the interior world of educational leaders. By education we are meaning school settings. This blog may be of interest to the practitioner leader such as principals, assistant principals, coordinators and teacher leaders along with students from masters programs of educational leadership, management and administration.
The content  of this blog privileges the psycho social processes of educational leaders. By ‘psycho’ processes we mean the way a leader individually constructs meaning of events and experiences – through cognition i.e. speech acts, feelings and moods and body (Sieler, 2015). With regard to ‘socio’ processes we mean how leaders construct meaning in social relationships with and through others – again this co construction may be through cognition, mood and body (Fairhurst & Grant, 2010). Such psycho social processes contribute to educational leaders’ professional identities. While teacher identity is a common and essential emphasis in initial teacher education programs little has been researched about the educational leader’s or principal’s professional identity (Danielewicz, 2014). Moreover there is a paucity of research about the internal world of educational leaders in a general sense. As external pressures press down on leaders it raises the question to what extent these pressures influence leaders’ own sensemaking, carving out educational leaders’ identities and inducing enactments – such as how leaders build coherence in their learning communities from such pressures.
The purpose of this blog is to connect and weave others thoughts together about this particular aspect about educational leadership – hence the namesake of the blog which is borrowed from the Chinese proverb: ‘The invisible red thread connects those irrespective of circumstance or place. The thread may stretch or tangle but will never break’ (author unknown). Resembling the red thread, this blog may expand to other knowledge areas, our thread may become interwoven and on occasion dormant however the blog will endure. However the goes further than connecting it weaves ideas, concepts and theories. I draw on Jill Koyama’s (2014) metaphor of the educational leader. In Jill’s research the principal is the bricoleur. She situates the bricoleur within the actor-network theory. The bricoleur within the assemblage aligns with the ANT by focusing analytic attention on disparate members and practices to form dynamic associations (Koyama, 2014). In this sense, we can equate the blogger as the bricoleur weaving ideas together to form a bricolage. The bricolage is the construction of an array or diverse range of thoughts, often what just happens to comes to hand or available at the time (Thesaurus).
Those who study, research and practice leadership undisputedly would argue that there is a plethora of meanings, theories and adjectives about leadership However, for this blog and the blogger defining terms may be helpful – even if for provocative purposes. To establish this platform I would like to make several comments about the term itself. First, the concept of leadership can be broader than, yet at the same time can be inclusive of, the concept of leader. Second, leadership may be referred to as a noun, an adjective as well as a verb. As a noun leadership could be referring to a position – for example the leadership of the organisation ‘the leadership of this school community is awe inspiring’. As an adjective it may describe the person or team – for example the leadership team. As a verb leadership may be referred to as the enactments of the ‘doing’ – for example a reasonable ‘doing’ of leadership could be mobilising or influencing.
There are several reasons for privileging the verb idea. The first is that leadership as a verb diminishes the seduction of narrowing leadership to a hierarchical position. The second reason is that leadership could belong to the ‘doing’ between and with people. The third is that conceptualising leadership as a verb frees us from possible binary thinking, such as ‘leading or managing’ (Bloxham, Ehrich, & Iyer, 2015) or between ‘transforming or transacting’ (Jung & Avolio, 2000).
Let’s apply the verb concept to the mobilising and influencing idea of leadership. While mobilising has various meanings when referring to leadership it could also be likened to, yet not limited to, managing or organising. Importantly mobilising connotes moving from one position to another. Influencing could include meanings of, yet also not limited to, persuading, transforming or empowering. If we continue thinking that leadership being enacted between and with people it can be viewed as a relationship. If we add to the recipe the reasonable notion that leadership is mobilising and influencing we could say that leadership is a mobilising and influencing relationship. This definition holds elements of similarity with Patrick Duignan’s ideas (2008; 2015) where he describes leadership as an ‘influence relationship’ and Branson, Franken, and Penney (2016 in Press) who examine the relationships of middle leaders as up and down – notably a trans relational approach of middle leaders. Eacott (2015) examines leadership relationally yet in my interpretation Eacott’s conceptualisation is as distinct from or different lens to Duignan and Branson, Franken and Penny.
To this point this discussion has led to our thinking of leadership as a verb with a certain mission – one of mobilising – one point or positon to another point or position and one of influencing. Mobilising and influencing is in the context of between and/or with people. Hopefully you will find this a useful orientation for engaging in the One other area however that requires deliberation is the educational bit of the leadership. Education can be quite a broad term. We leave such definitions to the blogger to describe their context of education or educational.

Bloxham, R., Ehrich, L. C., & Iyer, R. (2015). Leading or managing? Assistant Regional Directors, School Performance, in Queensland. Journal of Educational Administration, 53(3), 354-373.
Branson, C. M., Franken, M., & Penney, D. (2016 in Press). Reconceptualsing middle leadership in higher education: A transrelational approach. In J. McNiff (Ed.), Values and Virtues in higher educaiton: Critical perspectives. Abington, Oxon: Rutledge.
Danielewicz, J. (2014). Teaching selves: Identity, pedagogy, and teacher education: SUNY Press.
Duignan, P. (2008). Leadership: Influencing Relationships and Authentic Presence: Centre for Strategic Education.
Duignan, P. (2015). Authenticity in educational leadership: History, ideal, reality. Leading and Managing, 21(1), 1.
Eacott, S. (2015). Educational leadership relationally: a theory and methodology for educational leadership, management and administration: Springer.
Fairhurst, G. T., & Grant, D. (2010). The social construction of leadership: A sailing guide. Management Communication Quarterly, 24(2), 171-210.
Jung, D. I., & Avolio, B. J. (2000). Opening the black box: An experimental investigation of the mediating effects of trust and value congruence on transformational and transactional leadership. Journal of organizational Behavior, 21(8), 949-964.
Koyama, J. (2014). Principals as Bricoleurs Making Sense and Making Do in an Era of Accountability. Educational Administration Quarterly, 50(2), 279-304.
Sieler, A. (2015). Ontology: A Theoretical Basis for Coaching, from