Moosung Lee holds one of the University of Canberra’s prestigious Centenary Professor appointments, ten of which have been made across the University’s five strategic areas of research. Having been appointed tenured full professor within 4 ½ years of completing his PhD, Moosung is by far the youngest Centenary Professor. He currently leads a research group focusing on Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Canberra. He also holds a joint appointment as a professor of comparative education at Yonsei University in South Korea. Prior to joining the University of Canberra, he held appointments as Associate Professor and founding Deputy Director of the Education Policy Unit at the University of Hong Kong. His research areas are educational leadership administration, social contexts of education, and comparative education. He has published extensively in these areas. His scholarly productivity and quality output contribute to the research fields. This has been evidenced through a number of international scholarly communities’ recognition of his work; as examples, he received the Richard Wolf Memorial Award by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) in the Netherlands, and he was the first scholar in a non U.S. university to receive the American Educational Research Association’s Emerging Scholar Award (Division A – Administration, Organization, and Leadership). He was also chosen as a recipient for the University of Canberra Research Excellence Award in Social Sciences in 2018. He has been a Fulbright Scholar, UNESCO Fellow, Korean Foundation Fellow, Asia Pacific Center for Leadership and Change Senior Research Fellow, Erasmus Mundus Visiting Scholar (at UCL Aarhus University), YFL Outstanding Visiting Scholar (at Yonsei University), and Visiting Fellow (at Seoul National University Asia Center). His work has been funded by UNESCO, the European Commission, the Australian Research Council, the University Grants Council in Hong Kong, the Korea Foundation, the Academy of Korean Studies, American Educational Research Organization, Economic and Social Research Council (U.K.), National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services (U.K.), and the International Baccalaureate Organization. He has served on the editorial board of a number of international journals. Also, he is Co-Editor of Multicultural Education Review and Senior Associate Editor of Journal of Educational Administration. Having gained extensive academic networks and experiences as a researcher and teacher in South Korea, Hong Kong, the U.K., and the U.S., he has opened a new chapter of his career in Australia since 2014.
In this interview, part of the Lead the Change series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Lee discusses his work on educational leadership and increasing equity and rigor for students. As he puts it:
I have conducted my research mostly in Asia. I wish to share three lessons, given the limited space, from my work in the Asian context. First, continuity is important. Continuing organizational traditions, routines, rituals, and missions are necessary for sustaining organizational survival and stability. But the continuity of change is more important. For the long-lasting continuity and stability of organizations, paradoxically, organizational change is inevitable. Second, organizational change should start at the end users in an organization, if you like. Let me share a short story about Charlie Munger, the well-known American investor. He was at a local shop to buy a fishing lure and found a sparkling plastic fishing tackle. He asked the shop owner “My God, they’re pink and green. Do fish really take these lures?” The shop owner replied “Mister, I don’t sell to fish” (Griffin, 2015, p. 17). This story offers an analogy to the problems embedded in educational change in the era of accountability. A sparkling object (e.g., turnaround reform, NCLB) is viewed as a quick-fix measure for changing schools and is attractive to various institutional and organizational stakeholders such as policy makers (i.e., customers for the fishing lures). However, such educational changes (i.e., the shiny lure) are, in essence, not appealing to teachers and students (i.e., fish). In other words, it often seems that stakeholders involved in educational change and reform may have been more attentive to a seemingly sparkling tool than what will get teachers and students hooked, and how/whether they will bite. The most important stakeholder has been seriously overlooked (see Lee, 2018 for details). Third, tensions around school improvement and change have emerged between global grammar (a set of institutionalized rules that give legitimacy to certain discursive practices) and local semantics (active interpretations and sense-making processes by local agents or communities in particular societal contexts) in Asia (Cha, Gundara, Ham & Lee, 2017, p. 217). For example, we know that instructional leadership has been integral to school improvement (cf. Hallinger, 2005; Robinson et al., 2008). As a highly rationalized global education discourse (given its strong association with student learning outcomes), instructional leadership is widely accepted as a sort of universal policy instrument for school effectiveness and improvement (cf. McEwan, 2008). In this regard, instructional leadership can be called global grammar in “making sense of what and how leadership practices ought to be embodied in school improvement” (Lee, 2018, p. 468). At the same time, however, as local semantics, the enactments and effects of instructional leadership on student learning outcomes can vary across schools and schooling systems in Asia, since local agents articulate, interpret, and make sense of the concept of instructional leadership differently in the local setting in which they work (cf. Lee, Walker, & Chui, 2012). This is where tensions and dynamics between global grammar and local semantics emanate when it comes to educational change. Research is much needed to understand them better.
This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently, Lead the Change has also interviewed Kristin Kew and Christina Dobbs.