• Kirsten Osbæck Mogensen
4. term, Master of Learning Processes (Continuing education) (Continuing Education Programme (Master))
This Master Thesis is linked to the Master program in Learning Processes, Management and Psychology of Organization, Aalborg University. The master thesis is an existential-philosophical study of being a school leader.

The main question is:
What is it like to be a school leader at the moment? And how can it be connected to existential horizons of understanding that might nourish the human sustainability of the school leader?

The scientific theoretical approach is a phenomenological hermeneutic approach, applied in a way which is close to the fourth paradigm of science. This is characterized by an open, wondering, conversation-based approach to knowledge and cognition. Finn Thorbjørn Hansen gives inspiration to the selected methodology that in contrast to the descriptive nature of classical phenomenology, emphasizes the value of the researcher's dialogical, co-interpretative and resonant relationship with the subject matter (Hansen, 2015). Furthermore, the thesis can be seen as a methodological example of a research approach that seeks to allow knowledge to emerge through a wondering, narrative style in which a personal first-person voice is given space rather than aiming for objective and distanced research communication.

The thesis is empirically based on interviews with three Danish school principals. In these interviews the school leaders are asked questions about “the why” of being a school leader? what is difficult about being a leader? and how does the leader deal with challenges?

This empirical data is brought into a “dialog” with the existentialists philosophers and phenomenologists, Søren Kierkegaard and Viktor Frankl, in a conversation about purpose, values, meaning, freedom, sense of being and Martin Heidegger’s thoughts of being "thrown" into world. Hartmut Rosa joins the discussion with perspectives on the nature of society today, alienation, acceleration and the absence of resonance due to societal efforts to control and manage everything. Lotte Lüscher's perspectives on the paradoxes of personal leadership are also brought in as a perspective on the leader as being stretched between himself and the outside world, stretched between power and powerlessness, aloneness and connectedness. Related to this, the thesis concludes that school leader's making sense of being a school leader is stretched between relating ethically to what is good for the child and then the politics that the school leader is “thrown” into and has to manage. The school leaders are aware that this sense making is an ongoing process, and the inner dialog about this stretchedness is part of being school leader.

Through the dialog between the school leaders and the philosophical theory of existence, the aim is to understand, discuss and connect to ‘being-ability’ – the sustainability of human being and being-in-world. The UN Sustainable Development Goals describe action goals for how to make our planet and society sustainable. The Danish Center for Sustainability (2021) (da. Center for Væredygtighed) argues that goals for the human part of sustainability should be added. The inside element of sustainability is about human being and becoming. It is more than mental health, identity, motivation or life skills. It is an existential way of being in the world. The concept blends philosophy, education, existential becoming, ethics, self-awareness, and well-being.

As a contribution to the emerging concept of sustainability, the attempt has been to bring classical (and recent) philosophy of existence into the theoretical conceptualisation and interpretive horizon of the concept of sustainability.

The conclusion is that school leaders' experiences and understandings of themselves as school leaders can be related to philosophy of existence. The derived hypothesis is that the philosophy of existence of Kierkegaard, Rosa, Frankl and Lütscher could contribute to an increased language for the stretchedness experienced by school leaders. As well as providing renewed nourishment for the sustainability of school leader through increased focus on facilitating existential philosophical conversations between school leaders and integrate this in leadership learning, training, development activities and leadership support.

These conclusions are close to the conclusion of the Norwegian study (Aas, Andersen, & Vennebo, 2020). It says: Leadership learning programmes should focus on how the programmes can contribute to helping the school leaders to understand and construct their leadership roles and grow their leadership identities.
SpecialisationLeadership and Organizational Psychology (LOOP)
Publication date5 Jan 2023
Number of pages50
ID: 508863172