A Circle of Empowerment

Women, Education, and Leadership

By Rita L. Irwin

Subjects: Women's Studies
Paperback : 9780791424421, 206 pages, July 1995
Hardcover : 9780791424414, 206 pages, July 1995

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Table of contents


1. A Personal Introduction

The Supervisor's Experiential World--A Biographical Sketch

2. Charismatic and Transformational Leadership within a Community of Women Arts Educators

An Introduction to the Role of Supervisor
Women and Leadership
Being a Leader While Teaching Leadership--The Findings of the Study
In Conclusion

3. The Basis and Content of Ruth's Personal Practical Knowledge

The Need for a Dialectical Perspective
The Five Content Areas of Ruth's Practical Knowledge


Knowledge of Self--Mentor, Colleague, Christian, and Artist
Knowledge of Subject Matter--"You can only teach what you have a passion for."
Knowledge of Instruction--"The Art of Teaching" and "People Follow Passion."
Knowledge of Curriculum Implementation--"Enlarging the Circle of Professionally Developed Colleagues."
Knowledge of the Milieu--Images of the "Cactus Club" and "Dance Partners."



4. The Contexts of Ruth's Practical Knowledge as Fine Arts Supervisor

The Six Knowledge Contexts Found in Ruth's Practical Knowledge


Theoretical Knowledge Context--An Articulation of Voice and Vision
Situational Knowledge Context--Building Community Through a Colleagual Model
Social Knowledge Context--The Act of Raising Consciousness
Political Knowledge Context--The Powers of Motivation, Persuasion, and Participation
Personal Knowledge Context--The Courage of One's Convictions
Experiential Knowledge Context--The Rhythms of Life



5. Ruth in Educational Change

A Discussion of the Findings
Ruth's Practice as Interpreted through Research on Curriculum Implementation
Ruth's Practical Knowledge
Ruth's Consultative Style
The Research Questions Revisited

6. Reconstruction and Reflection

A Reconstruction of Leadership
Reflections on the Research

Appendix: A Field Research Orientation

Overview to Field Research
Theoretical Underpinnings
Case Study Research
Gaining Entry
The Researchers as Participant-Observer
Qualitative Data Collection and Ongoing Analysis


This book presents a feminist perspective on educational leadership, and demonstrates that women conceptualize leadership differently than men.


A Circle of Empowerment describes two studies. The first is a single case study which interprets the practical knowledge of an exemplary fine arts supervisor. An analysis of ethnographic data portrays the supervisor's practical knowledge as constructed around a dialectical orientation between two constructs or landscapes of imagery: the empowerment and power of teachers, and bureaucratic power and control of administration

The second and extended study describes the supervisor's influence on the practical knowledge of the consultants and specialists with whom she worked. Through in-depth interviews with five women, it became apparent that feminist principles were emerging. The supervisor's transformational and charismatic leadership style was characterized through four dimensions: visionary qualities, communicating a vision, creating trust and commitment, and empowering others. These dimensions propelled the supervisor's commitment to teach leadership through mentoring.

The results of these studies suggest that consultants and supervisors develop a unique form of practical knowledge geared to the political context of curriculum reform, and the practical knowledge of consultants and supervisors may influence the practical knowledge of teachers, specialists, and consultants. The studies suggest reconstructing leadership in favor of a role that is dedicated to commitment, caring, and collaboration within the circle of empowerment.

Rita L. Irwin is Assistant Professor of Visual and Performing Arts in Education at the University of British Columbia.


"Irwin offers an excellent portrayal of a school district's instructional supervisory responsibility. The topic is significant on two bases: women's issues and school administration. It is important in itself because of the methodology employed in the study, but is also important for educational administration and curriculum and instruction because of its detailed description of school district supervision. The additional insights regarding women's ways of leading are particularly intriguing, since most central office staff positions are filled by women. This is the first work I know of that highlights this role." — Flora Ida Ortiz, University of California, Riverside