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.
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