An Exploration of Individual Emergent Leaders' Identity Development Through the Use of Learning Biographies

Fox, Alison Ross Craven (2012). An Exploration of Individual Emergent Leaders' Identity Development Through the Use of Learning Biographies. PhD thesis The Open University.



The English National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services' (NCLSCS) framework for leadership development refers to 'emergent leaders', without being clear what 'emergent' means. This study explores the experiences of those considered as 'emergent leaders' to find out how 'emergence' might be understood. Their development is conceptualised as identity development, by adopting a socio-cultural understanding of the emergent leaders' learning.

The focus is on how individuals make meaning of their experiences once in formal leadership roles, so developing their identities. This is important to understand in a context in which schools are experiencing problems with both teacher retention and senior leader recruitment.

Five 'emergent' leaders from three English Local Authorities and from Primary, Middle and Secondary schools participated in a series of interviews and 'learning log' activities over periods of 14-36 months. Phase 1 focused on their experiences prior to the start of the study: Phase 2 on their current learning. From the accumulated data set learning biographies were generated.

Diverse and personal accounts of identity development were revealed. The study concluded that it was not appropriate to think of 'emergence' in terms of role progression into senior leadership positions, as the NCLSCS framework for leadership might imply. Individuals decided who they wanted to become by making sense of themselves in relation to judgments of their experiences. Whilst three participant leaders did develop identities as aspiring senior leaders, two talked instead of aspiring to be peers, rather than 'leaders'.

The study highlighted the central role of talk to identity development and the lack of opportunity for this in schools. This involved reflective 'self talk' as well as talk with others, with the study itself contributing to such 'identity talk'. It is important to develop opportunities (times, spaces, skills and relationships) for talk to support contemporary 'emergent' school leaders'.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions