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Re-conceptualising reflective teaching in the 21st century: how do ‘Fast Track’ trainee teachers begin to link ideas about reflection and ideas about leadership?

Sue Swaffield and Paul Warwick
University of Cambridge Faculty of Education

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Manchester, 16-18 September 2004


At the beginning of the 21st century, the Department for Education and Skills (England and Wales) launched ‘Fast Track’ - ‘…a professional development programme providing teachers with the support they need to progress rapidly to leadership positions.’ (DfES, 2004). Currently, sixteen higher education institutions, including our own, offer enhanced initial teacher education provision for Fast Track trainees. We encourage the Fast Track trainees, along with all other trainee teachers, to develop a reflective approach to teaching; in addition we provide the Fast Track trainees with opportunities to gain insights into leadership.

Working with these trainees has caused us to extend our own thinking about the relationship between reflective teaching and leadership, as well as to wonder about their developing understanding. In this paper we begin by examining a framework for reflective teaching and another for leadership, noting congruencies between them. We then report a small scale study that explored Fast Track trainees’ developing ideas about reflection, leadership and the ways they see two explicitly expressed frameworks for understanding them as being connected.

A framework for reflective teaching

Pollard (2002) articulated a framework for reflective teaching comprising seven characteristics. The framework leans heavily on Dewey (1910, 1933, 1938), and attempts to synthesise his ideas about reflection with those of Schön (1983, 1987a, b), together with work that has built on Dewey and Schön (van Manen, 1977; Carr and Kemmis, 1986; Zeichner and Liston, 1987, 1996; Griffiths and Tann, 1992). Whilst not giving equal weight to all traditions (see Zeichner and Liston, 1996), Pollard’s seven characteristics nevertheless provide a clear basis for engaging with the issues implicit in the development of reflective practice. Reflective teaching, then:

1). ‘.. implies an active concern with aims and consequences, as well as means and technical efficiency.’ (Pollard, 2002, p14)

This is not limited to classroom practice, but also encompasses a responsibility for ‘speaking out’ (Pollard, 2002, p15) about wider educational aims and policies. This develops the Deweyan idea of professionals questioning received truths (van Manen, 1977). It highlights the centrality to reflective practice of a higher level of reflection, where the moral dimensions of actions (Zeichner and Liston, 1987) are addressed and ‘a critical educational science’ (Carr and Kemmis, 1986, p156) is developed.

2). ‘.. is applied in a cyclical or spiralling process, in which teachers monitor, evaluate and revise their own practice continuously.’

Reflective, as opposed to routine, action may derive from the need to solve a problem and involve ‘the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it’ (Dewey, 1910, p6). Furlong and Maynard (1995) see the distinction between routine and reflective action as limited, and take issue with problem solving alone as the basis for action. They point to the work of Schön (1983, 1987), which sees professionals as using their knowledge and past experiences as a ‘frame’ for action. This framing is an active, experimental and ‘transactional’ process (Schön, 1987, p22). With experience of the cyclical process of monitoring, evaluating and revising practice – involving setting as well as solving problems - the ‘frame for action’ develops.

3). ‘.. requires competence in methods of evidence-based classroom enquiry...’

This involves gathering evidence in a manner that is systematic and attempts to avoid bias and pre-judgement, uses objective and subjective data, engages in analysis and evaluation, and promotes judgements to be made that lead to decision taking. This component of Pollard’s framework clearly has substantive links both to the notion of reflective teaching being based on informed teacher judgement and to the idea of reflection as a cyclical process.

4). ‘.. requires attitudes of open-mindedness, responsibility and wholeheartedness.’

Open-mindedness ‘is an active desire to listen to more ideas than one … and to recognise the possibility of error even in beliefs that are dearest to us’ (Zeichner and Liston, 1996, p10). Pollard and Tann (1993) note that responsibility involves thinking about three central kinds of consequences of teaching – personal, academic, and social and political. In referring to wholeheartedness, Dewey (1933) argued that open-mindedness and responsibility should be central to the professional life of the reflective teacher.

5). ‘.. is based on teacher judgement, informed by evidence-based enquiry and insights from other research.’

Schön suggests that teachers engaged in reflection-in- and reflection-on-action interpret and frame their experiences through ‘repertoires of values, knowledge, theories and practice’ called appreciative systems (Zeichner and Liston, 1996, p16). In coming to see a problem differently these appreciative systems are themselves challenged, modified or strengthened; in other words, re-framed. Such re-framing is seen by Pollard as founded principally on the outcomes of evidence-based classroom enquiry and on an awareness of alternative perspectives from other research.

6). ‘.. is enhanced by dialogue with colleagues.’

This refers to dialogue with specific individuals in school, to collaboration across staff groupings – an integral aspect of the ‘intelligent school’ (MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed, 2004) - and to cooperation with individuals, organisations and agencies beyond the school. Critics of Schön highlight his lack of attention to the discursive or dialogic dimension of teacher learning (Day, 1993). Solomon (1987) in particular makes a powerful case for reflection as a social practice, raising the importance in this context of communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Implicit in this is the idea that trust between teachers and other practitioners must be firmly embedded.

7). ‘.. enables teachers to creatively mediate externally developed frameworks for teaching and learning.’

Here, Pollard refers to the reflective teacher as being able to justify protective mediation to defend existing practices, engage in innovative mediation, contribute to collaborative mediation, or even engage in ‘conspirational mediation’ (Pollard, 2002, p22). All of these actions both use and challenge teacher’s appreciative systems. This element of the framework - highlighting in many cases the teacher’s engagement with the wider social setting - links strongly back to a concern for aims and consequences.

A framework for Leadership

Fullan (2001) has argued that there is ‘…a recent remarkable convergence of theories, knowledge bases, ideas, and strategies (about leadership)…’ (p3) which he has used to create ‘a framework for thinking about and leading complex change’ (p3). Here we briefly outline some of the issues in school leadership so as to provide a rationale for using Fullan’s framework.

Leadership itself is a contested notion. Discussions have centred on whether it is best understood as a role or a function. Reviewing many definitions of leadership Southworth (1998) concludes ‘They suggest that leadership is concerned with achieving goals, working with people, in a social organization, being ethical, and exercising power.’ (p9, italics in original). We believe that leadership is most usefully conceived of as a function, and find Southworth’s statement helpful in charting the scope of its concerns, yet recognise that many studies of leadership focus upon the individual leader.

A well-established approach is to identify leaders’ traits (Hill, 1928; Stodgill, 1948; Gardner, 1997; Burns, 1978; and Hay Management Consultants, 2000). Studies that identify and describe ‘desirable/good/successful/effective/exemplary’ leaders typically produce lists of personal characteristics. Research that concentrates on the qualities of leaders suggest that there is a single formula for a leader, and takes insufficient account of context. Also, important aspects such as the actions that leaders take, and the outcomes of those actions, may be overlooked. So a related but slightly different approach is to focus upon what leaders do. For example, Southworth (1998) tracing the changing work of English primary head teachers in the preceding ten years, pointed out that the context of major externally imposed reforms greatly influenced how head teachers spend their time.

Associated with a focus on leaders’ qualities and behaviours is the identification of leadership styles, such as visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and commanding (Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee, 2002). These ‘menu of approaches’ (Leithwood, Jantzi and Steinbach, 1999, p6) or ‘alphabet soup’ (MacBeath, 2004) of leadership, suggest conceptual models of leadership, and are typified by classifications such as instructional, transformational, democratic, teacher, and distributed leadership. Some of these theories of leadership take it beyond being perceived as a role borne by a single person, to a function performed by a number of people, not necessarily carrying designated titles (Hallinger and Heck, 1996).

This summary illustrates that leadership and research into leadership are complex fields. We have chosen to use Fullan’s framework since it synthesises and renders manageable a huge and intricate body of work, whilst retaining the inherent complexity of leadership; it forefronts ‘the moral imperative of school leadership’ (Fullan, 2003); and it takes account of the continually changing context in which leadership occurs. The framework consists of five components of leadership that Fullan (2001) argues ‘…represent independent but mutual reinforcing forces for positive change’ (p3). These are:

and are related to the personal characteristics of energy, enthusiasm and hopefulness.

Fullan’s framework not only integrates the many different approaches to leadership, but it also provides a tool to aid reflection about leadership. Moreover, we noted ‘a remarkable convergence’ between Fullan’s elements of leadership and Pollard’s characteristics of reflective teaching. It is to this convergence that we now turn.

Connecting Leadership and Reflective Practice

Working with the notion that the frameworks seemed strongly linked, we found it useful to set out the characteristics and elements of the two frameworks in a table (Figure 1). This helped us identify points of convergence, some of which appeared particularly strong. We appreciate that this approach risks fragmenting the holistic intentions of each of the frameworks, and that a case can probably be made for linking all of the elements. Below we sketch what for us are the strongest convergences (marked *) between the two frameworks, using Fullan’s elements as section headings.

Fullan →

Pollard ↓

Moral Purpose

Understanding change

Relationship building

Knowledge creation and sharing

Coherence making

Hope, enthusiasm and energy

Active concern with aims and consequences





Cyclical process of continuous monitoring, evaluations and revision of own practice






Competence in methods of evidence-based classroom enquiry






Open-mindedness, responsibility and whole-heartedness







Application of judgement based on enquiry and use of research





Collaboration and dialogue with colleagues






Creative mediation of externally developed frameworks






Figure 1: Convergence of Pollard’s framework for reflective teaching and Fullan’s framework of leadership (* represents very strong conjunctions; + represents less strong but still significant conjunctions)

Moral Purpose

To us reflective teaching and leadership are both imbued with moral purpose, and with an active concern for the aims and consequences of classroom practice and beyond. The notion of moral purpose expressed by Fullan (2001, 2002, 2003) in our view relates to all seven areas of reflective practice, although the link is strongest in relation to an active concern with aims and consequences (Pollard, 2002).

Moral purpose is concerned with making a positive difference - to the lives of students, colleagues, and to society as a whole. Making a difference implies effecting change directed by a vision of a preferred future (Block, 1987). We suggest that everyone exercising leadership, not just teachers, must have ‘an active concern with aims and consequences as well as means and technical competence’ (Pollard, 2002, p14). Schön’s notion of reflection-on-action (Schön, 1983) requires teachers and others to stand back and evaluate their aims and actions with respect to wider societal issues, and not simply to seek the most efficient means of attaining unquestioned ends. A concern with means as well as ends is central to Fullan’s notion of moral purpose, and is expressed by Zeichner and Liston (1996) - ‘responsible teachers ask themselves why they are doing what they are doing in a way that goes beyond questions of immediate utility…to consider the ways in which it is working, why it is working, and for whom it is working’ (p11).

Understanding Change

From their titles alone, Fullan’s understanding change bears a close relationship to Pollard’s cyclical process of evaluating and revising practice. They both directly address the issue of how to do things differently. On closer inspection though there is a fundamental difference. Pollard presents seven stages in the cycle of reflective teaching (essentially an elaboration of plan-do-review) whilst, one of Fullan’s pointers to understanding change is ‘never a checklist, always complexity’ (2001, p41). Fullan’s arguments may be summarised as recognising that factors such as context, culture and history all influence the change process, and that relationships play a crucial role. He adopts a complexity theory stance (Morrison, 2002) and so rejects linear models of change. It seems to us that Fullan is also implicitly wary of cyclical or spiralling models.

So where does this leave the convergence between the two frameworks on the issue of change? The key may be in the stage that Pollard puts at the top of his cycle - ‘reflect’ (Pollard, 2002, p16). Reflection involves a recognition that the goal is not one of maximising innovation, nor simply having the best ideas, but recognising that there is typically an implementation dip, that redefining resistance can be constructive, and that cultures may need to be changed. These are Fullan’s other pointers to understanding change. The two frameworks strongly suggest that a re-framing of appreciative systems [or, if preferred, practical theories (Handal and Lauvas, 1987), or teacher’s strategic knowledge (Schulman, 1986)] is necessary for leaders and reflective teachers if change is to be understood and implemented. Pollard argues for a cycle of ‘plan, do, review’ as a practical methodology for developing a frame for action. Fullan argues that in this process wider complex variables and components must be brought into play. We are not, therefore, suggesting that Pollard’s characteristic and Fullan’s element are the same, but we do suggest that they are linked through the idea of engaging in the active and transactional process of developing frames for action in understanding, and implementing, change.

Relationship Building

Fullan’s highlighting of the importance of relationship building links directly with Pollard’s collaboration and dialogue with colleagues. Learning, and action associated with learning, are at the heart of both reflection and leadership, and we regard collaboration and dialogue as crucial to these process. Fullan writes ‘relationships…you can’t get anywhere without them’ (2001, p51) while Pollard states that ‘The value of engaging in reflective activity is almost always enhanced if it can be carried out in association with other colleagues …’ (2002, p20). Both refer to the central importance to both leadership and reflection of access to a ‘situated learning discourse community’ (Hoffman-Kipp, Artiles & Lopez-Torres, 2003). We agree with Fullan’s statement that ‘relationships are (almost) everything’ (2001, p74). It is as simple, and as complex, as that.

Knowledge creation and sharing

Fullan’s ‘knowledge creation and sharing’ element of leadership also implies collaboration and dialogue with colleagues. As with learning, much knowledge creation takes place through communication and interaction with others. Hargreaves’ notion of the ‘knowledge creating school’ (Hargreaves, 2001) rests upon making use of a school’s social and intellectual capital which reside in and among its members, necessitating collaboration and dialogue. Brown and Duguid (2000) argue that knowledge, as distinct from information, is inherently a social phenomenon, and Fullan baldly states ‘Information is machines. Knowledge is people.’ (Fullan 2001, p78). Knowledge sharing, if it is to mean anything more than making information available impersonally such as by posting it on the web, necessitates active recipients who, through dialogue, make sense of what is being shared.

Along with collaboration and dialogue with colleagues, the other very strong link in the ‘knowledge creation and sharing’ column of figure 1 is with Pollard’s ‘competence in methods of evidence-based classroom enquiry’. A commitment to the constant generation and increase of knowledge is the essence of classroom enquiry and enquiry itself makes use of previously created knowledge. Once created, knowledge needs to be shared with others and, most importantly, used as the basis for informed action.

Coherence making

Fullan’s depiction of leadership entailing ‘coherence making’ is echoed most strongly in reflective practice by the need to mediate externally developed frameworks. Creative mediation involves ‘the interpretation of external requirements in the light of a teacher’s understanding of a particular context and bearing in mind his or her values and educational principles’ (Pollard 2003, p22). Coherence across a school will not be achieved if individual teachers act in isolation, each individually interpreting external requirements. Those in leadership positions with an overview of subjects, year groups or the whole school are probably in the best position to make sense of the many, often disconnected, initiatives to which schools are required or invited to respond.

Hope, enthusiasm and energy

In Fullan’s framework for leadership hope, enthusiasm and energy are seen not as another element of similar order as the previous five (the columns in figure 1), but as a set, or constellation, of personal characteristics that all effective leaders possess. This resonates with the leadership studies that focus upon traits. Unlike many of the studies alluded to earlier, Fullan does not imply a causal relationship between personal qualities and effective leadership, but argues instead that there is a dynamic, reciprocal relationship between the two. Similarly, the characteristics of open-mindedness, responsibility and wholeheartedness in Pollard’s framework, which are drawn directly from Dewey (1933), refer to attributes essential to reflection.

Whilst there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the personal attributes listed in the two frameworks - and indeed we are not arguing this for any of the congruencies between the two frameworks - there is a common recognition that personal qualities matter, and that they strongly influence actions and outcomes. We suggest that taken together hope, energy, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, responsibility and wholeheartedness could only enhance any leader or reflective teacher.

By noticing and examining an apparent convergence of Pollard’s and Fullan’s frameworks, we re-conceptualised aspects of reflective teaching as being closely related to elements of leadership. However we were interested to what extent, if at all, the Fast Track trainees - who were being encouraged to explore both reflective teaching and leadership - might make connections between these ideas? To answer this we undertook a small-scale empirical study.


Our research questions were:

- To what extent had the trainees developed notions of reflective practice?
- To what extent had they developed notions of leadership?

In what ways, if at all, did they connect these two?

The research took place during the Spring and Summer terms 2004. Our sample was the entire group of eight Fast Track trainees on the Early Years and Primary PGCE programme. These trainees were aware of the existence of Pollard’s framework of reflective teaching, but had not studied it in depth, and while they had been introduced to various models of leadership, Fullan’s was not among them.

We interviewed the trainees in pairs because we hoped that they would engage in dialogue in the light of their varied experiences in schools. This proved to be a highly successful approach with the interviews developing into rich conversations between the trainees, prompted by questions from us, each lasting over an hour. We asked the trainees in advance to think about exemplary school leaders, and reflective professional educators. The interviews themselves were structured around a series of questions and probes that related to Fullan’s elements of leadership and Pollard’s components of reflective practice. The detailed probes were deliberately constructed as a tool for raising the specifics of the frameworks with the trainees. We were particularly looking to see the extent to which the characteristics and elements of these frameworks seemed to resonate with the trainees’ experience.

The interviews were audio taped, and transcriptions checked with the trainees. We undertook a content analysis of the transcripts, and present the findings below in three sections corresponding to the research questions. It is not possible to generalise from the sample, but the study has helped us re-conceptualise reflective teaching and has led us to revise the programme for Fast Track trainees.

Findings and commentary


All the Fast Track Trainees related reflection to the process of teaching, with most of them suggesting that it is difficult to distinguish between being reflective and being a ‘good teacher’. The trainees seemed to equate reflection with thinking about teaching, but as Zeichner and Liston (1996) comment ‘…not all thinking about teaching constitutes reflective teaching’ (p1). The trainees’ responses throughout the interviews gave further insight into their conception of reflection, which did indeed go further than a generic ‘thinking about teaching’.1

The most frequently expressed form of reflection was the constant review, evaluation and revision of practice, which mirrors the second characteristic of Pollard's framework. Some of the trainees talked in terms of self-assessment, and one related it to the evaluation of lessons that they have been encouraged to undertake throughout their training. Some distinguished between the on-going, moment by moment evaluation and adjustment of practice (Schön’s ‘reflection-in-action’, 1987), and the more measured, standing back and analysing (‘reflection-on-action’). For most trainees the difference was one of timescale:

Where you would do it from table to table, in the classroom, you are doing it overnight for the next day.

and context:

It’s just that the kids aren’t around when you do one (form of reflection).

Several of the trainees referred to the time necessary for reflection after the event.

With all the other things they have to do there isn’t always that much potential for taking a step back and thinking.

They all agreed that it was important to find the time to do so because in the long run it may save time - the equivalent of Covey's (1989) ‘sharpening of the saw’.

Many of the trainees related reflection to aims and consequences, underpinned by principles and values:

You need to have something to refer to when you are evaluating what just happened.

I am assessing whether or not I’ve achieved what I am trying to achieve, and that is measured by my values.

There was a recognition that the aims guiding the reflection needed to be ‘desirable’ and translated into ‘acceptable practice’. One trainee disapprovingly described teachers who were concerned with aims in the form of externally imposed targets, which they attempted to achieve through strictly controlling the children.

Beyond a concern with aims and consequences, and the cyclical process of continuous monitoring, evaluation and revision of practice, the third of Pollard’s characteristics of reflective teaching which featured quite strongly in the trainees’ responses was collaboration and dialogue with colleagues. Thinking about a reflective educator, one of the trainees immediately introduced the idea of dialogue with colleagues. For some the point was that other people aided one’s own reflection:

I would find it much easier to sit down with someone and talk about it… while reflecting on your own is important, it is easy to miss points and someone else will see things in a different light.

Two of the trainees likened involving others in the reflection process to the evaluation with a mentor that they were accustomed to through their training. It was in this context that they concluded that the order in which you form your own opinion and hear another’s views made a difference, and that it was better to delay the dialogue because otherwise ‘before you have done your own evaluation you have got their thoughts in your head’.

Some of the personal qualities and attributes that trainees associated with reflective practice align with Pollard’s open-mindedness, responsibility and whole-heartedness. They also mentioned resilience and humility as being characteristics of reflective educators.

Trainees only mentioned the creative mediation of externally developed frameworks when specifically asked about this characteristic of reflective practice. They then talked about judging any such framework against a range of factors that could be summarised as principles, context and experience. Pragmatically they would look for the flexibility, opportunities and constraints within which they could locate a creative, and appropriate, response. Undoubtedly the trainees were alert to the possibilities of ‘creative mediation’, but without prompting they did not connect this with the idea of reflective practice.

There were two other characteristics in the Pollard framework of reflection that the trainees practically ignored. These were competence in methods of evidence-based classroom enquiry, and application of judgement based on enquiry and use of research. This is the more surprising since as part of their training they are required to carry out a school based research project. There was some mention of ‘being able to see things from another person’s point of view’ and the insights that can be gained from giving children the opportunity to self-assess and share their understanding, which could be interpreted as being associated with evidence-based classroom enquiry, but - even with direct questioning - it was certainly not central to the trainees’ conception of reflection.

It seems that most of the writers in the Deweyan tradition argue that learning to reflect is a central part of learning to teach. This mirrors our experience with these trainees, who were clearly already building a reflective orientation into their conception of their craft. Our experience also, however, mirrors the note of caution sounded by McIntyre (1993), who suggests that the comparatively scant experience that most teacher trainees have may limit their reflective practice. Our findings suggest that it is not at the higher level of the ‘moral craftsperson’ (Zeichner and Liston, 1987, p27) – implying engagement with broader aims and consequences – that these trainees are somewhat lacking in understanding, but rather at the ‘operational level’ of competence in methods of evidence-based classroom enquiry and application of judgement based on enquiry and use of research. These vital elements of re-framing were given scant attention by the trainees.

It seems to us, then, that with respect to understanding reflective practice these trainees were operating more as ‘alert novices’ rather than as ‘common sense thinkers’ (LaBoskey, 1993). Working with trainee teachers, LaBoskey found that the alert novices were able to engage in reflective thinking primarily because they displayed modes of thinking that mirrored Dewey’s open-mindedness, responsibility and whole-heartedness. They seemed driven by a will to know, were always on the look out for something better, and were questioning of their premise in situations not only where they were tentative, but also where they were confident.


When first articulating their thoughts about leadership, the Fast Track trainees tended to equate it with those in formal leadership positions, especially the head teacher. However, in discussion and when prompted, they readily acknowledged that everyone, including teachers, governors, other adults, and children, may have some leadership role. They argued that different people could take the lead on different things. One said ‘I don't think it’s a position that you can step into, I think it’s what you do that defines you as a leader rather than a particular status’. The trainees, even with their limited experience, reported that the extent to which leadership is distributed varies from school to school, with the head teacher having a significant influence.

The trainees concluded that leadership is about setting the direction of the school, knowing when changes are needed, and taking responsibility for making change happen. Their comments included:

You can’t lead unless you know where you are going; that person …feels that there is a need to change things for the better (and has) a sense of responsibility.

Others talked about the leader ‘being more of a service and a support’ (to the children) and being ‘responsible to those people rather than for them’. Taken together their comments indicate that at least part of the trainees’ conception of leadership includes what Fullan refers to as ‘moral purpose’. Interestingly, when introduced to this phrase two of the trainees took particular objection to it:

I am not comfortable with the word; ‘moral’ bothers me.

As they talked it became clear that they interpreted the notion as leaders being moralistic, and offered another word instead - ‘I vote benevolent purpose, rather than moral purpose’ - or to put it another way, being committed to betterment. So it was the word, not Fullan’s concept, to which they objected. Genuineness was a trait that, in one way or another, a number of the trainees valued in leaders, and this is also associated with moral purpose, which according to Fullan is about means as well as ends.

Along with clear values and a benevolent purpose, the trainees regarded developing relationships and good communication as key elements of leadership. They emphasised the importance of being a ‘people person’, being approachable, of showing respect and fostering a caring atmosphere, being easy to talk to, and listening. One trainee was particularly interested in the role of emotional intelligence in relationships.

Very closely connected with building good relationships and communication were the trainees’ observations about the personal qualities of leaders. They suggested a variety of attributes, some of which are congruent with Fullan’s ‘hope, enthusiasm and energy’. Hope was expressed in terms such as being confident that things can change, giving people hope in terms of both general optimism and a vision of something to hope for, and inspiring others. However, one trainee expressed reservations about hope, commenting that hope can cloud a leader’s judgement, which must always be based on the information available. Similarly, another trainee pointed out that while leaders’ role model functions make it particularly important for them to exemplify enthusiasm, it is necessary to engage people, not just to be ‘bouncy’, and that without supportive relationships enthusiasm could be counter productive. These reservations resonate with Fullan’s view that the personal characteristics are necessary but not sufficient, and the various elements of leadership in his framework operate together - so a hopeful orientation is balanced by knowledge that the leader is constantly seeking and generating. Some trainees listed characteristics such as being active, visible and involved in the school, which are similar to Fullan’s ‘enthusiasm and energy’. Some also suggested characteristics that do not fit the framework, for example being kind and organised.

There were three elements of leadership that figured much less prominently in the trainees’ deliberations about leadership. These were ‘understanding change’, ‘knowledge creation and sharing’ and ‘coherence making’. One trainee linked moral purpose and understanding change by stating:

Being a leader is very much about taking responsibility for change, but it’s also about knowing when to make those changes.

The trainees did talk about some actions that leaders undertake to assist change, for example prioritising, and delegating in a way that plays to people’s strengths. A number of them emphasised the influence of modelling, and it was particularly in this context that they saw leadership as a function carried out by a whole range of people, not just those in positions of formal responsibility. However, they made little or no reference to a number of Fullan’s key ideas about change, such as reculturing, complexity, or redefining resistance.

In relation to knowledge creation and sharing, one trainee talked about leaders ‘persuading you with some evidence’, and another referred to the influence of a powerful argument.

Coherence making had been discussed in relation to reflection and the creative mediation of externally developed frameworks. In relation to leadership, the trainees saw coherence making as rendering initiatives relevant, and taking into account the specific context of the school.

Reflection and leadership

Some trainees had begun to link reflection and leadership when they were first asked about leadership alone; others found they had more to say about leadership in its own right when they started thinking about the relationship between reflection and leadership. There were many similarities between trainees’ thoughts about reflection, leadership and teaching. They tended to regard all three as similar processes, requiring comparable characteristics on the part of the reflective practitioner/leader/teacher. One trainee talked about leadership and reflection being entwined, and emphasised this by entwining her hands to illustrate the point. This may, of course, be a result of our linking reflection and leadership, and the trainees knowing this was the focus of our interest. We have discussed earlier how the trainees thought that although you could be a teacher without being reflective, you could not be a ‘good’ teacher without being reflective. Similarly, they observed that although not everyone in a position of leadership is reflective, reflection is a defining characteristic of ‘good’ leaders.

More specifically, there were three ways in which the trainees thought reflection and leadership were particularly strongly related, and which correspond to the conjunctions between Pollard’s and Fullan’s frameworks set out above.

Firstly, a concern with aims underpinned by values was seen as a key element of both reflection and leadership. The trainees linked leading with moral purpose, and reflection related to a concern with aims and consequences. There was a clear consensus that in order to demonstrate leadership you need to know what you want to achieve, that your aims should be derived from values and principles, and that it matters how you achieve your aims.

The second conjunction concerned relationship building (including through collaboration) and dialogue with colleagues. The trainees emphasised the importance of leaders carrying people with them, of working with colleagues, listening to them, and considering other peoples’ positions and viewpoints. In describing leaders they had seen in operation, the trainees were particularly critical of those leaders who were remote and out of touch, and where there was a lack of respect between leader and colleagues, even if ‘good results’ were achieved. Having good relationships with, and working alongside colleagues, were particularly valued by the trainees. One trainee, however, made it clear that in his view – and despite good working relationships with staff – a leader must sometimes withhold information from colleagues in order to maintain morale.

Thirdly, the trainees equated the cyclical process of monitoring, evaluating and revision of practice that characterises reflective teaching with the change processes that a leader employs, even though ‘understanding change’ had been less prominent in their reflections about leadership per se. They talked about taking stock of the current position, deciding how to move things forward, implementing something, stepping back, listening, reflecting, and amending plans as necessary. One particularly pointed to the ability to recognise that something isn’t working, and of having the courage to acknowledge and act upon it.

On the basis of our theorising we anticipated that the trainees might also identify other relationships between reflection and leadership. However, since these other conjunctions related to aspects of Fullan’s framework that did not figure in the trainees’ conception of leadership (knowledge creation and sharing, and coherence making), it is hardly surprising that they were missing from their linking of the two main themes.

Conclusion and implications

The Fast Track trainees interviewed for this study had quite well developed notions of reflection, which they equated naturally with teaching, and after a little thought with leadership. They may have felt comfortable with the concept of reflection, but in fact interpreted it quite liberally, probably because it is a term used frequently and probably rather loosely in their training. However, the trainees demonstrated through discussion that their conception of reflection corresponds with most, but not all, of the elements of Pollard’s framework. Competence in evidence-based classroom enquiry and the application of judgement based on research did not figure despite, as discussed earlier, being a significant feature of their training. Since the trainees did not seem to make the connection between reflection and research, we wonder to what extent, if at all, they consider structured reflection an explicit part of classroom based enquiry. We suggest that the widely encouraged practice of teachers researching their practice runs the risk of being a purely instrumental process unless undertaken with a genuine and consistent reflective approach. Consequently, in our own future work with trainee teachers we intend to clarify the meaning of ‘reflection’, and to refer explicitly to all of Pollard’s seven characteristics of reflective practice.

Some of the trainees’ observations on the role of others in assisting reflection have implications for the procedures adopted by mentors and lecturers in evaluating lessons. Hearing another person’s views before having formed their own was said to influence and curtail the trainees’ analysis, suggesting that there should be time for both parties to reflect individually before sharing perceptions. Research work on mentoring for the Teacher Training Agency (TTA), currently being undertaken by the Faculty, will help to promote such perspectives in our mentor training programmes.

The trainees had well-established views about two elements of leadership identified by Fullan - moral purpose (albeit some were not comfortable with the term) and relationship building. They expressed views about change which were very much along the lines of ‘plan, do, review’, and so - whilst acknowledging that managing change is an inherent part of leadership - their understanding of the change process lacked the depth and sophistication of Fullan’s representation of this element. ‘Knowledge creation and sharing’, and ‘coherence making’ seemed to be missing from the trainees’ conception of leadership. This realisation has led us to decide to present Fullan’s framework within our programme for the Fast Track trainees. We feel that this will alert the trainees to aspects of leadership that they may be missing through lack of awareness. It will also enable us to make explicit the connections between leadership and reflection, through consideration of the relationships between the elements of Pollard’s and Fullan’s frameworks.

A small-scale study that began with us noticing the congruence between these two frameworks, led us to find out how a group of Fast Track trainees conceive of and link reflective practice and leadership. It resulted in us revising our programme for the next cohort. In the process our own understanding has deepened, and we have become even more convinced that at the core of both reflective practice and leadership are values and relationships. The idea of fast tracking teachers into leadership positions is a new concept for the 21st century. Clearly, the ability to reflect and to the ability to lead are developed over time. Teachers undoubtedly require ‘a certain fund or store of experiences or facts from which suggestions proceed’ (Dewey, 1910, p30), and their ability to re-frame problems is very substantially reliant upon this ‘fund’. Thus it would be absurd to suggest that any programme of initial training could possibly bring into the profession a fully reflective teacher with a developed appreciation of the elements of effective leadership embedded in their practice. This study indicates that the current cohort of trainees seem to have developed reasonably sophisticated views with respect to reflection, leadership and how they may be connected. It also suggests that their developing understandings could be enhanced through a more explicit exploration of frameworks for reflection and leadership in their training.


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  1. It is worth noting here that we have chosen not to distinguish between the trainees as individuals in this paper.  We have used phrases such as ‘the trainees’ and ‘all of the trainees’ where there was general consensus on an issue, and ‘most trainees’ to illustrate that some may not have commented on a particular issue.  Where there was disagreement with respect to an issue, we have indicated the alternative perspectives.

This document was added to the Education-line database on 23 September 2004