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Our Project

The purpose of our project is to create a novel approach to leadership development that can can add value to the amazing work that is already happening in school leadership development.

Schools are complex organisations. Due to this complexity, wicked problems can be common. With the wide ranging amount of responsibilities that school leadership entails, it is likely that a lot of school leaders’ time will be take up by these sort of problems, compounded by the complex environment in which they serve.

Here are some of the features of complex problems (Rittel and Webber 1974).

A Complex Problem…A Tame Problem
Can be hard to define.

The people involved will often define it differently.

Can be unique.

Might be caused by many different factors, including another problem. 

Can be hard to provide a solution for. There is no solution which can easily be applied from a previous problem or experience. Solutions can cause unexpected consequences.

Can be hard to evaluate the solution applied. Some answers might be better or worse but cannot be judged as correct/incorrect.  

The problem can carry on after a solution has been applied. 
Can be straight-forward to define, and people can agree on what the problem is.

Can be similar to other problems. 

Can be more straight-forward to find a solution.

The problem is normally self contained i.e. has little affect on other problems. 

Can be straight forward to solve. A solution can be identified and evaluated clearly. The impact of the solution can be predicted. You can determine whether the solution was correct or incorrect.
Wicked and Tame Problems (Rittel and Webber 1974).

Helping school leaders to handle these responsibilities will help school leaders to influence their organisations and, therefore, to lead their schools.

Emerging evidence (Gilbride, James and Carr, 2020; Gilbride, James and Carr Forthcoming) suggests that

  1. Our stage of Adult Ego Development can shape how we handle these ‘complex’ responsibilities
  2. Later stages of Adult Ego Development might have some advantages for handling these types of problems. This includes in the extent to which they collaborate with others; conceptualise the problem and guide the response of the organisation.

There are some fantastic programmes which help school leaders in a range of ways. We believe they are all important and offer stepping stones to support school leaders in their environment. However, with this emerging evidence in schools and in leadership more broadly (also summarised in Gilbride, James and Carr, 2020) we believe it is time to consider how adult development theory could supporting school leaders with the responsibilities they face and organisations they work within.

Developing Adult Ego Development and wider sense-making capacity, we believe, requires an additional set of tools and a new paradigm which supports growth within an individuals stage of Adult Ego Development. This will mean building a model which incorporates:

  • wider adult development theory.
  • other areas of adult learning and psychology.
  • brought together with the day-to-day responsibilities and contexts that school leaders serve.

At the moment, a complete model (curriculum, support and resources) for supporting school leaders with this aspect of development does not exist and certainly not within the public domain.

Our work has three main outputs

  1. We are building a model of school leadership development focused around improving school leaders ways of understanding and responding to complex problems.
  2. Translating this model in to a full curriculum and resources, which will be available for free via this platform.
  3. Running a pilot of this new, innovative approach to school leadership development that builds on the work of Adult Development Psychology.

Working across our European partners is a major source of strength of this work. It is our ambition to use the variety within our contexts to increase the applicability of this model and its resources. We believe this will help our resources to be sustainable over the long term as well as supporting leaders in the widest range of contexts possible. We thank ERASMUS+ for their support of this project.