Caring Leadership in Turbulent Times: Tackling Neoliberal Education Reform
reviewed by Helen Muyia - July 31, 2015
Title: Caring Leadership in Turbulent Times: Tackling Neoliberal Education Reform
Author(s): Mary G. Green
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623967295, Pages: 304, Year: 2014
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How should education leaders lead in the eye of an educational storm? Using her professional and personal experiences, Mary Green sets out to highlight the necessity for educational leaders to apply humanistic approaches in both education policy and practice. Caring Leadership in Turbulent Times: Tackling Neoliberal Education Reform, explores in depth the concept of care and caring within the context of neoliberal education reform, and argues for more socially just policy and practice for future educational organizations. This book is also aimed to evoke both thought and feeling, reflection, and self-awareness of the need to be more caring and respectful of people with whom we work.
Specifically, the book is divided into three parts, each subdivided into several chapters. Part One sets the scene by discussing theoretical perspectives of care and turbulence, and their application to education reform. To a large extent, the discussion presented in this section provides the foundation and theoretical base for understanding issues addressed later in the book. One of the most powerful chapters in this section of the book is Greens insight into her personal and professional experiences that highlight the power of personal writing that helps writers find out about themselves (p. 34). Her personal and professional narrative provides her readers with an opportunity to get to know her, and feel closer to her. Strong stories like hers have unique power to make sense of issues as they engage feelings and not just intellect. This section ends with a discussion on the impact of global and local neo-liberal policies on one school district in Canada. Many of these discussions focus on the historical, cultural, economic, political, legal, and social conditions of the time.
Part Two reports on one Canadian school districts turbulence reform experiences, thereby communicating the diversity of voices that were often silenced at the time of education reform. Without a doubt, the reflections and accounts of those who witnessed this turbulence provide the most effective way to learn about how people react, respond, and survive during turbulent times. Green likens this to contributing to a fuller understanding of the issues relating to practicing an ethic of care in educational work (p. 198).
Part Three outlines how caring leadership can empower leaders to thrive in challenging and complex environments. Green calls this section, Calming the Turbulence. She concludes with a call for organizations to change if caring leadership is to thrive. By applying her three-part structure to convey her message on caring leadership, Green succeeds in exploring this leadership concept, while still being highly accessible to a broad audience. For example, the entire book is fully comprehensive to policy makers, principals, teachers, administrators, graduate students, individuals, institutions, politicians, and organizational leaderswhile still capable of persuading skeptical, but open-minded non-experts and non-academicians. Furthermore, the manner in which the book is writtenwith a reflective section at the end of every chapteris an important and effective hook that draws the reader in. Reflective writing like hers can take her readers out of their own narrow range of experiences, and help them to perceive experiences from a range of viewpoints.
Before education leaders can practice caring leadership, the term caring needs to be defined with some precision. Green writes that, caring is a term with which everyone is familiar, and goes on to define care as a way of to energize, motivate and encourage employees, so they feel valued and believe their work is worth their effort (p. 9). Throughout the book, various forms of care and caring are identified as having a family resemblance. For example, caring educators, caring practices, caring action, caring relationships, philosophy of caring, caring as an attitude, ethics of care, expectations of care . . . (pp. 5-13), but not made clear is what caring leadership is.
As a result of this conceptual vagueness, readers are left for the remaining 260 pages to answer for themselves what caring leadership is. Is it an attitude, a philosophy, a moral value, a feeling, an ethical thing to do, a leadership style, or an ability/skill that one needs to possess to be effective? Also, not made clear is whether care and caring should be viewed as a responsibility only for leaders, or should it be everyones business in an organization.
The author succeeds in conveying her arguments on the need for practices of care and caring. In fact, several of the chapters in the book argue for leaders to act in more democratic, transformative, and socially just ways. For example, Green argues for caring in the decision making process, caring in policy-making, caring in practices of education, gender and caring, caring and power. Indeed, she calls for leaders in organizations to challenge their assumptions, ideologies, social and cultural biases, inequalities, and to question personal behaviors, which perhaps silence the voices of others, or otherwise marginalize them.
To what extent are the experiences from the perspective of an education reform in one Canadian province relevant to other districts in and outside of Canada? Green addresses this central question at several points. As noted in her introductory chapters, the experience of a district should provide opportunities for educational authorities, across the world to examine their policies and practices with caring intentions. The Newfoundland and Labradors policies have been influenced by global forces acting, not just on education policy, but affecting all social and economic policy (p. 73).
Green adds that, although her case situation may be local, the application is global because we live in a globalizing world, and must seek to establish structures and processes that advance democracy and democratic work environments at local and global levels. Green concludes that practicing care and caring within hierarchical, bureaucratic organizations is complexit requires attention, commitment, courage, and collective action (p. 254). To that end, Green offers practical advice in this area of leadership, while encouraging each leader to seize the opportunity to practice caring, if they want to make a bigger difference in the lives of others.
Overall, the book is effective because it does achieve the authors stated purpose of promoting more humanistic approaches to leadership predicated on social justice and the possibility of transforming the world of education into a better place (p. 32). With the latest trends and evolving dynamics in the workplace, there is no doubt that sound leadership should involve connecting leadership with our hearts and our minds (p. 240). In fact, this book resonates with Leaders Open Doors (Treasurer, 2015, pp. 1-120). This book should serve as a critical resource for all leaders and education leaders in particular, who want to succeed in the new world of leadership.
Treasurer, B. (2015). Leaders open doors: A radically simple leadership approach to lift people, profits, and performance (2nd Ed.). Alexandria, VA: The Association for Talent Development.