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Essential readings for doctoral students in educational leadership

By LeaderTalk Contributor — March 20, 2009 3 min read

In my post last month I posted my “Fav Five” of readings for principal candidates. The list included:

#1 Educational History:

Tyack, D., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

#2 Distributed Leadership IN Practice:

Halverson, R. (2003). Systems of practice: How leaders use artifacts to create professional community in schools. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 11(37), 1-35.

#3 Leadership Skills (I cheated and have two listed):

Elmore, R. (2000). Building a new structure for school leadership. Washington, D.C.: Albert Shanker Institute.

Wheatley, M. J. (2006). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

#4 Management Skills:

Gosling, J., & Mintzberg, H. (2003). The five minds of a manager. Harvard Business Review, 81(11), 54-63.

#5 A Little Theory:

Cohen, D. K. (1988). Teaching practice: Plus que ca change... In P. Jackson (Ed.), Contributing to educational change: Perspectives on research and practice (pp. 27-84). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing Corporation.

So what are my recommendations for doctoral students? Theory. Unlike principal preparation programs where students seek and need practicality, students in doc programs stumble when asked for theoretical understandings, analysis, and implications. Theory should be treated as an analytical tools to provide a lens to understand and analyze what has, is, and might happen. Here I offer readings that I believe, and have seen, help advanced doc students.

#1 Refresher. See nos. 1-5 above. That’s right, the principal preparation Fav Five is strong enough to appeal to doc students as well. All of these readings provide

#2 Organizational Learning Theory. When thinking about organizations names like Peter Senge and Bolman and Deal and Barry Oshry. However, for a short (but very thick) reading of how organizations learn check out the work of James March. One example of Marchian theory is the equilibrium between how organizational codes are determined through exploration and exploitation and the socialization of individuals who comprise the organization.

March, J. G. (1999). Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning. In J. G. March (Ed.), The pursuit of organizational intelligence (pp. 114-136). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

#3 Institutional Theory. How an institution was created and behaves can have great powers of prognostication on the traction of reform efforts. I suggest an edited book by DiMaggio and Powell. If you do not have time to read the entire book, check on this chapter.

DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. W. (1991). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. In W. W. Powell & P. J. DiMaggio (Eds.), The new institutionalism in organizational analysis (pp. 63-82). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

#4 Change Theory. There are lots of books about change theory. From Marris’ analogue of change and Kubler Ross’ death and dying stages to Popkewitz’s “ruptures in time” to Rogers’ “Diffusion of Innovation” a number of theories exist to explain how change happens (or does not) in educational settings. For my money, you cannot go wrong with Michael Fullan’s survey of educational change theory.

Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4th ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

#5 Implementation Theory. Understanding how policy impacts folks on the ground is the focus of a book with the longest and coolest title of all time. In this book the authors highlight the importance of “street level bureaucrats” to the success of policy implementation efforts.

Pressman, J., & Wildavsky, A. (1984). Implementation: How Great Expectations in Washington Are Dashed in Oakland; Or, Why It’s Amazing that Federal Programs Work at All, This Being a Saga of the Economic Development Administration as Told by Two Sympathetic Observers Who Seek to Build Morals on a Foundation (3rd ed.). Berkeley: The Oakland Project.

Finally, let me offer one more reading. Often students are not knowledgeable about the construction of a conceptual framework. On of the best examples of the construction of a framework (including a visual representation) and the use of a framework (in this case to explain data collected on site-based school management) check out this article by Carol Weiss.

Weiss, C. (1995). The four I’s of school reform: How interests, ideology, information and institution affect teachers and principals. Harvard Educational Review, 65(4), 571-592.

Of course there are other theoretical readings out there, but this is my FavFive. What’s in your FavFive? If you have other readings pass them along.

Matt Militello
North Carolina State University

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