You are here

Using Theory to Improve Practice

15 January, 2016 - 09:23
Available under Creative Commons-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Download for free at

The six models present different approaches to the management of education and the syntheses indicate a few of the possible relationships between them. However, the ultimate test of theory is whether it improves practice. There should be little doubt about the potential for theory to inform practice. School managers generally engage in a process of implicit theorising in deciding how to formulate policy or respond to events. Facts cannot be left to speak for themselves. They require the explanatory framework of theory in order to ascertain their real meaning.

    The multiplicity of competing models means that no single theory is suficient to guide practice. Rather, managers need to develop “conceptual pluralism” (Bolman & Deal, 1984, p. 4) to be able to select the most appropriate approach to particular issues and avoid a unidimensional stance: “Managers in all organizations. . . can increase their effectiveness and their freedom through the use of multiple vantage points. To be locked into a single path is likely to produce error and self-imprisonment” (p. 4).

    Conceptual pluralism is similar to the notion of contingent leadership. Both recognize the diverse nature of educational contexts and the advantages of adapting leadership styles to the particular situation rather than adopting a “one size fits all” stance. Appreciation of the various models is the starting point for effective action. It provides a “conceptual tool-kit” for the manager to deploy as appropriate in addressing problems and developing strategy.

    Morgan (1997, p. 359) argues that organizational analysis based on these multiple perspectives comprises two elements:

  • A diagnostic reading of the situation being investigated, using different metaphors to identify or highlight key aspects of the situation.
  • A critical evaluation of the significance of the different interpretations resulting from the diagnosis.

    These skills are consistent with the concept of the “reflective practitioner” whose managerial approach incorporates both good experience and a distillation of theoretical models based on wide reading and discussion with both academics and fellow practitioners. This combination of theory and practice enables the leader to acquire the overview required for strategic management.

    While it is widely recognized that appreciation of theory is likely to enhance practice, there remain relatively few published accounts of how the various models have been tested in school or college-based research. More empirical work is needed to enable judgements on the validity of the models to be made with confidence. The objectives of such a research programme would be to test the validity of the models presented in this volume and to develop an overarching conceptual framework. It is a tough task but if awareness of theory helps to improve practice, as we have sought to demonstrate, then more rigorous theory should produce more effective practitioners and better schools.


Baldridge, J. V. (1971). Power and conflict in the university. New York: John Wiley.

Baldridge, J. V., Curtis, D. V., Ecker, G. and Riley, G. L. (1978). Policy-making and effective leadership. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Ball, S. (1987). The Micropolitics of the school: Towards a theory of school organization. London: Methuen.

Beare, H., Caldwell, B., & Millikan, R. (1992). Creating anexcellent school. London: Routledge.

Bell, L. (1980). The school as an organisation: A re-appraisal. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 1(2), 183-92.

Bolman, L. & Deal, T. (1984). Modern approaches to understanding and managing organizations. San Francisco:Jossey Bass.

Bolman, L.G. & Deal, T.E. (1991, 1997). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice and leadership.San Francisco: Jossey Bass

Brundrett, M. (1998). What lies behind collegiality, legitimation or control? Educational Management and Administration,26(3), 305-316.

Bush, T. (1986). Theories of educational management. London: Harper and Row.

Bush, T. (1995). Theories of educational management: Second edition. London: Paul Chapman.

Bush, T. (1998). Organisational culture and strategic management. In D. Middlewood and J. Lumby (Eds.), Strategic Management in Schools and Colleges. London: Paul Chapman.

Bush, T. (1999). Crisis or crossroads? The discipline of educational management in the late 1990s. Educational Management and Administration, 27(3), 239 _ 252.

Bush, T. (2003). Theories of educational management: Third Edition. London: Sage.

Bush, T. (2006). The National College for School Leadership: A successful English innovation, Phi Delta Kappan, 87(7), 508-511.

Bush, T. & Glover, D. (2002). School leadership: Concepts and evidence. Nottingham: National College for School Leadership.

Campbell-Evans, G. (1993). A values perspective on school-based management. In C. Dimmock (Ed.), School-based management and school effectiveness. London: Routledge.

Chapman, J. (1993). Leadership, school-based decision-making and school effectiveness. In C. Dimmock (Ed.). School-based management and school effectiveness. London: Routledge.

Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2000). Research methods in education (5th Ed.). Routledge-Falmer: London.

Cohen, M. D. & March, J. G. (1986). Leadership and ambiguity: The American college president. Boston: The Harvard Business School Press.

Copland, M., Darling-Hammond, L., Knapp, M., McLaugghlin, M. & Talbert, J. (2002). Leadership for teaching and learning: A framework for research and action. New Orleans: American Educational Research Association.

Cuban, L. (1988). The managerial imperative and the practice of leadership in schools. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press

Davies, J.L. & Morgan, A. W. (1983). Management of higher education in a period of contraction and uncertainty. In O. Body-Barrett, T. Bush, J. Goodey, J. McNay & M. Preedy (Eds.). Approaches to post school management. London: Harper and Row.

Dimmock, C. (1999). Principals and school restructuring: Conceptualising challenges as dilemmas. Journal of Educational Administration, 37(5), 441-462.

Dimmock, C. & Walker, A. (2002b). School leadership in context _ societal and organizational cultures. In T. Bush and L. Bell (Eds.). The principles and practice of educational management. London: Paul Chapman.

Dressler, B. (2001). Charter school leadership. Education and Urban Society, 33(2), 170-185.

Enderud, H. (1980) Administrative leadership in organised anarchies, International Journal of Institu-tional Management in Higher Education, 4(3), 235-53.

English, F. (2002). Cutting the Gordian Knot of educational administration: The theory-practice gap, The Review, XLIV (1), 1-3.

Glaser, B. G. and Strauss, A. L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.

Greenfield, T. B. (1973). Organisations as social inventions: rethinking assumptions about change, Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, 9: 5, 551-74.

Greenfield, T. B. (1975). Theory about organisations: a new perspective and its implications for schools, in M. Hughes (Ed.) Administering Education: International Challenge, Athlone Press, London.

Greenfield, T. B. (1979). Organisation theory is ideology, Curriculum Enquiry, 9: 2, 97-112.

Griffiths, D. (1997). The case for theoretical pluralism, Educational Management and Administration, 25 (4), 371-380

Handy, C. (1993). Understanding Organizations, Penguin, London.

Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing Teachers, Changing Times: Teachers” Work and Culture in the Post-modern Age, Cassell, London.

Hargreaves, D. (1999). Helping practitioners explore their school’s culture, in J. Prosser (Ed.). School Culture, Paul Chapman, London.

Hodgkinson, C. (1993). Foreword, in T. B. Greenfield and P. Ribbins (eds.). Greenfield on Educational Administration, Routledge, London.

Hoyle, E. (1986). The Politics of School Management, Hodder and Stoughton, Sevenoaks.

Keough, T. and Tobin, B. (2001). Postmodern Leadership and the Policy Lexicon: From Theory, Proxy to Practice, Paper for the Pan-Canadian Education Research Agenda Symposium, Quebec, May.

Leithwood, K., Jantzi, D. and Steinbach, R. (1999). Changing Leadership for Changing Times. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Levacic, R. (1995). Local Management of Schools: Analysis and Practice, Open University Press, Buckingham.

Levacic, R., Glover, D., Bennett, N. and Crawford, M. (1999). Modern headship for the rationally managed school: combining cerebral and insightful approaches, in T. Bush and L. Bell (Eds.). The Principles and Practice of Educational Management, Paul Chapman,London.

Lindle, J. (1999). What can the study of micropolitics contribute to the practice of leadership in reforming schools, School Leadership and Management, Vol.19, No.2, pp.171-178.

Little, J. (1990). Teachers as colleagues, in A. Lieberman (ed.). Schools as Collaborative Cultures: Creating the Future Now, The Falmer Press, Basingstoke.

March, J. G. (1982). Theories of choice and making decisions, Society, Vol. 20, no. 1, copyright ©by Transaction Inc. Published by permission of Transaction Inc.

March, J. G. and Olsen, J. P. (1976). Organisational choice under ambiguity, in J. G. March and J. P. Olsen, Ambiguity and Choice in Organisations, Universitetsforlaget, Bergen.

Miller, T.W. and Miller, J.M. (2001). Educational leadership in the new millennium: a vision for 2020, International Journal of Leadership in Education, 4 (2), 181 - 189.

Morgan, G. (1997). Images of Organization, Sage, Newbury Park, California.

Morrison, M. (2002). What do we mean by educational research?, in M. Coleman and A. Briggs (Eds.). Research Methods in Educational Leadership and Management, Paul Chapman, London.

Newman, J. and Clarke, J. (1994). Going about our business? The managerialism of public services, in Clarke, J., Cochrane, A. and McLaughlin, E. (Eds.). Managing School Policy, London, Sage.

Owens, R. and Shakeshaft, C. (1992). The new “revolution” in administrative theory, Journal of Educational Management, 30: 9, 4-17.

Ribbins, P. (1985). Organisation theory and the study of educational institutions, in M. Hughes, P. Ribbins and H. Thomas (eds.). Managing Education: The System and the Institution, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, London.

Ryan, J. (1988). Science in educational administration: a comment on the Holmes-Greenfield dialogue, Interchange, 19: 2, 68-70, Summer.

Sackney, L. and Mitchell, C. (2001). Postmodern expressions of educational leadership, in K. Leithwood and P. Hallinger (Eds.). The Second International Handbook of Educational Leadership and Administration, Kluwer, Dordrecht.

Samier, E. (2002), Weber on education and its administration: prospects for leadership in a rationalised World, Educational Management and Administration, 30(1), 27-45.

Schein, E. (1997). Organizational Culture and Leadership, Jossey Bass, San Francisco. Sergiovanni, T. (1984). Leadership and excellence in schooling, Educational Leadership, 41(5), 4-13.

Sergiovanni, T.J. (1991). The Principalship: a reflective practice perspective, Needham Heights, MA, Allyn and Bacon.

Simkins, T. (1999). Values, power and instrumentality: theory and research in education management, Educational Management and Administration, 27 (3), 267-281.

Theodossin, E. (1983). Theoretical perspectives on the management of planned educational change, British Education Research Journal, 9 (1),81-90.

Walker, A. and Dimmock, C. (2002). Introduction, in Walker, A. and Dimmock, C. (Eds.). School Leadership and Administration: Adopting a Cultural Perspective,Routledge Falmer, London.

Wallace, M. (1989). Towards a collegiate approach to curriculum management in primary and middle schools, in M. Preedy (ed.). Approaches to Curriculum Management, Open University Press, Milton Keynes.

Webb, R. & Vulliamy, G. (1996). A deluge of directives: conflict between collegiality and managerialism in the post-ERA primary school, British Educational Research Journal,22 : 4, 441-458.

Weick, K. E. (1976). Educational organisations as loosely coupled systems, Administrative Science Quar-terly, 21: 1, 1-19.

Willower, D. J. (1980). Contemporary issues in theory in educational administration, Educational Ad-ministration Quarterly, 16: 3, 1-25.

Yukl, G. A. (2002). Leadership in Organizations, Fifth Edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice-Hall.