A Must: Turning leadership action inside-out on Indigenous children's literacy
The focus for this paper is the study of an Australian Government funded project titled ‘Principals as Literacy Leaders with Indigenous Communities (PALLIC) - a closing the gap’ project. Forty-eight schools with significant proportions of Indigenous children were involved. At least half were in very remote Indigenous communities in central Australia where most children were not meeting national benchmarks in literacy. The project was designed to enhance principals’ literacy leadership capabilities, but particularly so in partnership with local Indigenous people. This course of action was taken following a focussed review of scholarly writing and empirical research into leadership and literacy learning with Indigenous people (Bishop and Berryman, 2011; Priest et al, 2008; McNaughton and Lye, 2009). Taking account of the findings of Priest et al. (2008) and Frawley and Fasoli (2012), a model of leadership ‘both ways’ was proposed, bringing together a principal and at least two Indigenous Leadership Partners as a team in each of the project schools. This leadership partnership underpinned the project through the partners’ participation in a shared professional learning program. The hope was that they would work together locally, to engage teachers, parents and community members in supporting children learning to read. One year on, principals and their ILPs were surveyed to gather views about the leadership actions the project had brought into prominence. In the body of the article, we explain the research purposes on which the study was centred, the survey methods and items used. Two survey instruments were administered, one online with principals, the other ‘face-to-face’ in print form with principals and ILPs. A discussion of the results highlights the growth of partnership relationships between principals and their ILPs and the difficulties in extending the benefits of their collaborative work beyond the school. The findings are used to problematize the efficacy of a ‘both ways’ model of leadership and to put forward issues for the further study of school leadership with local Indigenous people. The overall conclusion reached suggests that on matters as important as literacy learning which is so subject to home and community influences, leadership approaches need to be turned ‘inside-out’ – that is, action on literacy considered important by parents and community members must be brought to bear on literacy leadership within the school – circumstances not yet the case.