Researchers from a wide range of experiences and disciplines came together to provide valuable insights into leadership practice in schools.

And while ACER cast a wide net – speakers travelled from as far as San Diego and London – there were some clear threads throughout the research.

One underlying theme was the need to re-imagine the conception of a ‘leader’ in the education space.  

Leadership is not the sole province of principals and traditional management positions, and leaders are not just those in positional roles, driving change from the top down, Associate Professor Susan Lovett said.

Moreover, as the challenges schools face  become increasingly complex, it's unfair to lay all responsibliitlies at the feet of principals. 

“...We’re expecting our leaders to be heroes,” Professor Toby Greany from the University College London Institute of Education told the audience in the Karmel Oration.

The way forward is to reconceptualise the notion of leadership as a shared activity, understood collectively amongst teachers and the school community.

The research presented by Dr Peter McClenaghan and Dr Ikin from the University of New England suggested that shared leadership practice, where school staff have a sense of ownership over the direction of the school, would go a long way to improving student learning outcomes.

In fact, as Professor Simon Clarke from the University of Western Australia argued, leading and learning are inextricably linked – and not just in students. Clarke said teachers who are given opportunities to learn are better leaders. He called for teachers to be more involved in research – an opinion shared by Professor Amanda Datnow from the University of California, San Diego, who wants to see teachers build their capacity to use data more effectively and thoughtfully to improve student learning.

But a successful shared leadership model requires a set of shared values and a common language for talking about school practices. And while Datnow thinks ‘equity’ should be one of these values, Professor Chris Sarra from the University of Canberra preferred to call it ‘humanity’. 

Sarra threw down the gauntlet to education researchers to engage with Indigenous communities, both to provide insights into the challenges affecting them, but also to highlight what are already successful examples of shared leadership in action. He called for a greater co-operation between educational research and teachers working in the classroom to “enhance practice rather than hinder it”.

And greater co-operation naturally begins with trust, something all of the speakers agreed should be a defining feature of leadership practice going forward.