Dear Global Ed Readers,
A few years ago, I started following the work of Dr. Nicola Sum on social media. I became intrigued by her passion and focus on improving school leadership preparation utilizing her unique background and interests in culture. Dr. Sum is an early career researcher in Educational Leadership within the Faculty of Education at Monash University, Australia. She teaches courses in the postgraduate Masters of Educational Leadership program in Melbourne and Singapore, the Unlocking Potential Principal Preparation Program, and professional engagement programs for International Principals and School Supervisors. Her research interests include educational leadership, principal preparation, global and local implications on school leaders, international education frameworks, and education systems.
- Can you tell us about how you first became interested in glocalization? What made you decide to study local and global considerations of school leadership?
As the daughter of a migrant family, I grew up with one foot in multiple cultures and a sense of belonging/not belonging to different communities. My experiences as a teacher and school leader have provided a backdrop to the everyday aspects of these global-local entanglement across educational contexts and demonstrated the need for a deeper consideration of school leadership which navigates such tensions. When I decided to pursue a Ph.D., my hope was that my research would provide me with some answers to my questions regarding this phenomenon which I would be able to incorporate into my practice,
- Were there any particularly formative experiences which impacted your journey to studying school leadership, such as in some of your roles as a teacher or school principal?
My first teaching role at a Catholic school in Melbourne, Australia was incredibly impactful. The school’s positive and welcoming environment filled me with confidence and pushed me to try new things and trust my relationships with students in the classroom, all of which have informed my pathway and pursuit of alternative ways of thinking about schools and school leadership. When I left to work in London, I became immersed in new education formats, such as the UK national curriculum, the A Level review, and later, the International Baccalaureate (IBO) and international school models. I think that along the way, every classroom, student, colleague, and school setting has taught me something unique about the places we find ourselves in, the spaces we share, the cultures we bring with us, the different ways we say the same words, the limits of patience, and the reasons why we need to care about what we do in education.
- Are there any particular examples you can share regarding the lessons you have learned through your experiences focusing on educational leadership in the Global South?
One example comes from when I moved to work at an NGO non-profit in Bangladesh, I worked in English Medium Schools (EMSs), alongside locally trained and highly skilled educators, who delivered international curriculum to students of local families. EMSs in Dhaka were established after the country’s independence and share a rich history and deep sense of local tradition and identity, focusing on providing opportunities for the local community. Local families send their children to these schools because they know that the government school system is overstretched and under-resourced. In the EMSs, school principals, leadership teams, curriculum leaders, and teacher developers work to bridge the global and local in all aspects of their work, while also reflecting and honoring what it means to be Bangladeshi. Coming from teaching the GCSE and A Levels in the UK, I observed how this translated for the teachers, students and families in Dhaka. Local expectations are always high, as education is seen as a pathway to opportunity. Families work hard to ensure their children can secure a place and complete their education in an EMS. This provides an opportunity to attend universities overseas and to compete on the global stage. In England, teachers tried to ensure that students reached the benchmark at the time of 5A*-C at GCSE level, however, in Dhaka, students were completing 8-11 IGCSEs and most of these would be at A* or B. Students balance enormous workloads with a vibrant program of extra-curricular activities. All the while, time is always set aside for local events such as Mother Language Day, reflecting the bridging of global and local considerations.
4. How do you connect these lessons to your work researching school leadership in the context of glocalization?
As my previous example illustrates, political, cultural, social, and economic changes and intersections, which drive livelihoods and family aspirations, continue to have direct and complex implications for school leaders (Sum, 2020). Global-local boundaries are often blurred. Students, families, communities, curriculum and educational models involve overlapping aspects of the global and local. In order to design and implement effective educational policies in countries such as Bangladesh, as well as within the Global South, we need to first ask more questions about how school leaders are working within these spaces. Additional consideration is needed for the ways in which school leaders embrace the local and transpose the global, to co-construct a meaningful experience for their teams and their students (from my forthcoming book). This includes the instructional leadership around imported curriculum, resourcing and contextualising learning, celebrating aspects of culture and history to remember the story of Bangladesh, among others. Improving our understanding of school leadership in such contexts can inform the design and implementation of leadership preparation programs and policies.
5. How can our readers incorporate what you are discovering into their own practice as educators and leaders?
School discourses are built on expectations of change, excellence, improvement, growth, and the contribution to shifting economic models and temperamental politics. This leads to school principals’ journeys being represented in the cycles of change, steps to improvement, formulas for excellence, pathways to economic development, and swing of political tides. Top-down measures often leave practitioners ill-equipped for the positions they step into. Instead, what educators and school leaders need to be asking is: What informs the journey to and through leadership? How could we better equip the traveller? Where and how do we ensure the welfare of those who commence the journey? We need to ask and listen. Without school leaders’ voices, there is limited opportunity for the change or evolution of their roles in keeping with the change and evolution of their context.
To learn more about Dr. Sum’s work, please visit https://research.monash.edu/en/persons/nicola-sum or contact Dr. Sum directly at Nicola.Sum@monash.edu
Sum, N. (2021). Glocalization: issues and strategies for school leadership. In J. S. Brooks, & A. Heffernan (Eds.), The School Leadership Survival Guide: What to Do When Things Go Wrong, How to Learn from Mistakes, and Why You Should Prepare for The Worst (1st ed., pp. 117-130). Information Age Publishing.