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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Pedagogic leadership: putting professional agency back into learning and teaching

Neil MacNeill and Steffan Silcox
Neil MacNeill is the principal of Ellenbrook Primary School in Western Australia (Neil.MacNeill@eddept.wa.edu.au). Steffan Silcox is the principal of Ballajura Community College in Western Australia (Steffan.Silcox@eddept.wa.edu.au)


The focus of education is moving from the way teachers teach and establish relationship-based classroom learning cultures, towards compliance with external curriculum dictates. The holism of the relationship between the teacher and student is increasingly threatened by teacher specialisation, external accountability testing, targets, standards, and a variety of implications from the inexorable drive toward individuation and accountability.

Teachers and schools can reverse these managerialist and clinical tendencies and re-establish the importance of relationships between teachers and learners. The key concept in this process is pedagogic leadership, which contrasts with the instruction-based or curriculum-based models of educational leadership that hold sway in schools today.

Pedagogy and instruction

Some writers use instruction as a synonym for teaching or pedagogy. In reality, instruction is a limiting, clinical term that relates to only one part of the teaching and learning cycle. Instruction does not encompass the formative or summative assessment that effective teachers use as a matter of course. Instruction does not consider the effect that a teacher's human-ness and discourse has in facilitating risk-taking in the learning environment. Instruction is unlikely to influence the class culture and students' understanding of democratic decision-making. As van Manen (1993, p 9) noted, 'It is possible to learn all of the techniques of instruction but remain pedagogically unfit as a teacher'.

The meaning of pedagogy

Pedagogy is derived from paidagogos, a Greek word meaning teacher of children. The term 'pedagogy' is being used more frequently in publications and teachers' discourse, a change that van Manen (1993, p 11) attributed to an upsurge of North American interest in Western European philosophy and educational theory.

The deliberate, informed use of pedagogy is seen to cover a wider range of aspects of the teaching act than instruction, and represents a different way of looking at teaching and learning practices. Pedagogy appears to have four inter-related clusters of meaning in educational literature:

  • pedagogy as a synonym for teaching but not instruction (Mortimore, 1999; Newmann & Associates, 1996)
  • pedagogy as a political tool for the enculturation of students and others (Freire, 1977; Smyth, 1988)
  • pedagogy as student-centred learning and teaching, and specifically excluding didactic teaching (Hamilton & McWilliam, 2001)
  • pedagogy as student-teacher relationships (van Manen, 1999).

van Manen (1999, p 14) emphasised the moral and problematic nature of pedagogic practice but limited pedagogy to the adult-child domain:
... pedagogy problematizes the conditions of appropriateness of educational practices and aims to provide a knowledge base for professionals who must deal with childhood difficulties, traumas and childrearing. Central to the idea of pedagogy is the normativity of distinguishing between what is appropriate and what is less appropriate for children and what are appropriate ways of teaching and giving assistance to children and young people.

For the purpose of this paper, the working definition of pedagogy is 'reasoned, moral, human interaction, within a reflective, socio-political, educative context that facilitates the acquisition of new knowledge, beliefs or skills'.

The key points of the working definition are that:

  • pedagogy is a result of human agency, which includes the design and learning associated with computer software
  • pedagogy is an action that allows, or causes, the learner to acquire new knowledge
  • pedagogy is not an age related act
  • pedagogy is not the exclusive domain of formalised institutions of learning.

Pedagogic leadership

Pedagogic leadership has a place in the constellation of skills and knowledge required by effective school leaders. It is a broad, overarching factor that defines school leaders' roles. As prerequisites to being recognised as pedagogic leaders, a principal must be leading an effective school, and a teacher must be effective in all aspects of the teaching act.

Credibility in the eyes of others is the key to pedagogic leadership status. Once the vision and direction of the organisation are established, a leader aligns people to them and communicates a sense of direction. Such an outcome can only be achieved by a leader who is seen to have an understanding and working knowledge of successful and informed pedagogic practice.

Consequently, pedagogic leadership must take a broader view of the learning and teaching acts than instructional leadership, taking into account the 'Why?', 'How?' and 'When?' of learning, and not just the 'What is taught?' of instructional leadership. Pedagogic leadership is based on dialogue with learners - essential participants in the discussions about learning. Evans (1999, p 11) made the point that principals who are not guided by pedagogic choice '... resort to a thoroughly bureaucratized way of relating to teachers' and as a result teaching becomes an occupation defined by expectations not dialogue'.

Pedagogy and curriculum

An interesting area of discussion is the interface between curriculum and pedagogy and, subsequently, the distinction between current concepts of curriculum and pedagogic leadership.

Major conceptions of curriculum have been categorised as follows:
(a) curriculum as content or subject matter, (b) curriculum as a program of planned activities, (c) curriculum as intended learning outcomes, (d) curriculum as cultural reproduction, (e) curriculum as discrete tasks and concepts, (f) curriculum as an agenda for social reconstruction, and (g) curriculum as 'currere' (interpretation of lived experience).
(Schubert, 1986, quoted in Curriculum Approaches and Definitions, n.d.)

The definitions fall into two camps - the minimalist view (equating curriculum to the syllabus, or more often 'a course of study') and the expansionist view (covering most aspects of learning and teaching).

The problem is that curriculum, however conceived, does not match the rich human-ness of pedagogy. Pedagogy recognises the professional primacy of the stakeholders. As defined in this paper, pedagogy connotes active and reflective learning and professional, consultative decision-making at the school and classroom level. Pedagogy represents a more global, human way of looking at the teaching act and interactions.

Curriculum, on the other hand, is tainted by being, more often than not, the domain of experts in District and Central Offices who use curriculum and policy interchangeably. The term 'curriculum leader', at the school level, is being reduced to an oxymoron as most curricular tasks are, at best, managerial. Hargreaves (2003, p 90) supported this observation when he pointed out the dangers for teachers and students in the micro-management tendencies of standards-based curriculum reform. Many school leaders and teachers are now equating curriculum with compliance.

Pedagogy, as a theoretical perspective, is a more appropriate, more democratic and inclusive description of the learning environment. And, consequently, pedagogic leadership in schools is more appropriate than both instructional and curriculum leadership.


Curriculum Approaches and Definitions (n.d.). Retrieved April, 2003 from http://www.coe.ufl.edu/Courses/TODD/GailRing/curriculum.html.

Evans, R 1999, The pedagogic principal, Qual Institute Press, Edmonton.

Freire, P 1977, Pedagogy of the oppressed trans M B Ramos, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth.

Hamilton, D & McWilliam, E 2001, 'Ex-centric voices that frame research on teaching' in V. Richardson (ed), Handbook of research on teaching, 9th edn, American Educational Research Association, Washington DC, pp 17-43.

Hargreaves, A 2003, Teaching in the knowledge society: Education in the age of insecurity, Teachers College Press, New York.

Mortimore, P. (ed) 1999, Understanding pedagogy and its impact on learning,
Paul Chapman Publishing, London.

Newmann, F M & Associates 1996, Authentic achievement: Restructuring schools for intellectual quality, Jossey Bass, San Francisco.

Smyth, W J 1988, A 'critical pedagogy' of teacher evaluation, Deakin University, Geelong.

van Manen, M 1993, The tact of teaching: The pedagogical meaning of thoughtfulness, The Althouse Press, London, Ontario.

van Manen, M 1999, 'The language of pedagogy and the primacy of student experience' in J Loughran (ed), Researching teaching: Methodologies and practices for understanding pedagogy, Falmer Press, London, pp 13-27.


Subject Headings

Teaching and learning