This thesis explores the leading-for-learning practices of teachers and school administrators in a regional province in Central Vietnam, particularly in relation to two high performing/‘exemplary’ schools in that province. The research focuses on teacher leadership practices pertaining to teachers’ learning in a context of strong pressure and support for the teaching of English. This includes national educational reform initiatives that are part of the global spread of English as a necessary and desirable capital. The thesis draws upon Bourdieu’s theoretical concepts of field, habitus and capital in order to better understand the nature of these leading-for-learning practices. Specifically, the research reveals the complex and contested nature of these practices, the habitus of teachers and formal school leaders involved, the capitals accrued as part of this process, and whether and how these capitals contributed towards improved teacher learning. Two schools were focused upon most strongly specifically because they were considered ‘exemplary’ schools and the most prestigious academic schools in the province. The first was a school for mainstream students and the latter was for gifted students. Interviews with principals, teachers and administrators were conducted as well as observations of teachers working together, teacher workshops, professional activities and staff meetings.
This research provides new insights into the varied practices of leading-for-teacher-learning in these two high schools and district office, and in schooling settings more generally. The research also helps inform understandings of the leadership capabilities of teachers and administrators through a better understanding of the constraints and possibilities for action, and capacity building of teacher leaders. The research is significant beyond the specific case, making a substantial contribution to the existing literature on leadership practices in relation to teacher learning, not just the leadership practices of formal school leaders (especially principals) – a key focus of attention within the leadership literature – but also in relation to leadership practices of teachers and district personnel. The application of a Bourdieuian sociological approach reveals the practices of leading-for-teacher-learning as complex and contested, involving tensions, pressures and stress faced by teachers and associated educational professionals in their practices of leading learning as part of their professional work. Through this process, educators’ habitus is revealed as both shaped by and shaping changing relations in what is described as the field of leading-for-teacher-learning. The research also tries to capture the complexities of how teachers and administrators responded to these broader policy and institutional demands on teachers – evidence of the broader field of power upon the field of leading-for-teacher-learning. The thesis reveals the nature of this field, its dominant logics of practice and how these came to constitute and be constituted by those within its influence. This included a strong focus on English language learning, a key focus of the leading-for-learning practices within the province and schools. The research reveals how the field of teachers’ leading for learning is characterised by complex, contested practices of leading-for-teacher-learning evident both within schools and outside schools.
Specifically, the field of leading-for-teacher-learning within schools is characterised by the complex and contested practices of English teachers helping maths teachers in their subject department; teachers struggling to implement new curricula more broadly; and teachers in different subject departments learning through designing thematic lesson plans, and determining collaboratively how to teach teams of gifted students effectively. At the same time, the field of leading-for-teacher-learning is also characterised by contested practices of leading-for-teacher-learning in relation to practices outside schools. This included: contested responses from teachers taking the initiative to attend workshops and intensive courses in the region; and teachers’ struggles to respond to their own and others’ encouragement to develop their own learning by undertaking short- and long-term study abroad. Through these experiences, teachers faced many possibilities, challenges and pressures, reflecting competing broader and more localised policy and political and institutional demands. The research argues practices of leading-for-teacher-learning have potential to constitute and are constitutive of substantive teacher learning for education reform, but that these possibilities are heavily influenced by the broader and more localised pressures and demands that simultaneously co-exist and challenge these more productive practices. These pressures included more reductive approaches to English language learning, and approaches to English that do not value the multiple ways in which English is enacted in non-native speaking contexts.