Researcher of the month

Professor Jill Blackmore

Professor Jill Blackmore

Becoming an academic was a radical shift in identity after 15 years being a secondary state school teacher in history, mathematics and general studies during the 1970s. My research training since the 1966 was strongly interdisciplinary, with an honours degree in history and mathematics and Diploma of Education at Melbourne University, followed by a Masters degree at Monash University in gender and comparative studies. And another Masters in Administration and Policy Analysis completed by a PhD in history and sociology at Stanford University. I entered the academy passionate about education as a force for social change, due to the influence of feminism as a social and epistemological movement during the 1970s and 1980s and my own experiences as a teacher with the desire to make a difference.

I was fortunate enough to join the Faculty of Education at Deakin in 1987 after two years at Monash University to teach in the Administration and Policy Masters off campus Program. Deakin Education became known for the concentration of like minds around critical theory, action research, feminism and multiculturalism. The 2000 DETYA report on The Impact of Educational Research on Policy and Practice cited Deakin's Faculty of Education at the forefront nationally and internationally for its critical research and scholarship. From this group of researchers and doctoral students, over 30 Professors are now dispersed nationally and globally, referred often to as the Deakin Diaspora within the educational community. This intellectual diaspora is a phenomenon now being revisited in a collection edited by a former Deakin Professor now at University of Queensland, Richard Tinning that charts the various intellectual trajectories arising from that period. This early period in Deakin's history imparted to me an understanding of the conditions of work that nurture academic research and excellence: - collegiality, interdisciplinarity, dialogue, collaborative projects, reflection and a strong focus on theory- practice synergies. As a feminist scholar I have always considered what this means for equity and difference. Feminist theory has also led me to explore the changing relations as articulated through education between the individual, the state, the market and families.

Because of my focus on social justice and inter-disciplinarity, I have worked across a range of educational projects researching leadership and reform in universities, TAFE, schools and community education and how these have been restructured due to wider shifts including globalisation, education policy and governance. These projects were also influenced by my own career trajectory and experiences within Deakin, as I undertook a range of positions on Equal Opportunity Committees and worked with teams introducing Women and Leadership Programs. In particular, I gained a significant understanding of university governance more broadly when I was Deputy Chair of Academic Board from 2000-2004. This informed my research across other universities and in schools and technical institutes as I continued to explore organisational change and innovation and the changing nature of teachers' and academics' work.

Now, as a Professor of Education in what is now the School of Education with the Faculty of Arts and Education, and Director of the recently established Strategic Research Centre in Educational Futures and Innovation, I have continue to work on a number of research projects that explore global restructuring and how it articulates locally in terms of organisational change and the production of teacher, academic and student identities. These themes together with the focus on equity through education theoretically connect what are seemingly diverse and disconnected projects as indicated by my current ARC projects which are both interdisciplinary, with teams across different faculties and universities:

  • Redesigning Schools and Leadership (Discovery)
  • How Inter-agency collaboration supports resilient students, families and schools in disadvantaged communities (with Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Victoria and VicHealth)
  • Investigating the mismatch between Australian international graduate destinations and workforce shortages (with International Development Program Pty Ltd).

Throughout, my research life, promoting equity has been the common project underpinning my research as in Performing and Re-forming Leaders: gender, educational restructuring and organisational change (with Judyth Sachs 2007, SUNY). As from my earliest publications, I continue to use feminist theory to inform the field of leadership and educational administration, and now have a Routledge book series I edit with Pat Thomson (University of Nottingham) and Helen Gunter (University of Manchester) on Critical Theories and Educational Leadership.

Another driver has been to use research to inform policy and practice. The field of education has been undergoing radical changes as education has become central to knowledge-based economies. As a consequence of being president of the Australian Association of Research in Education in 2002 and Managing Editor of the Australian Educational Researcher from 1993-2001, I have been interested in mapping the changes in educational practice and governance arising from recent policies such as research assessment. Being on the Editorial Boards of 6 key international educational journals as well as assessor of grants for Swedish, Norwegian, Canadian, UK and South African research councils has provided me with a sense of how culture and the conditions of academic work inform research practice, but also how there is a convergence within global policy communities and due to international rankings towards standardisation around notions of quality. One product of this interest is a new text Repositioning the University: Changing governance and academic work (with Marie Brennan and Lew Zipin, Sense Publishers, 2010). I also work with and across other universities in Australia and elsewhere in teaching research methods and in doctoral research programs, most recently in the University of Nottingham where I am an Adjunct Professor, at the University of Arhus and Copenhagen Business School in January of this year and in August I will teach in a doctoral program offered by a Network of Norwegian and Swedish universities.

A key aspect of my research has been to work with schools, undertaking professional development and policy consultancies with professional and community organizations (principal, teacher and parents), government and NGOs (e.g. Victorian Council of Social Services, Oxfam International), and community organizations. I have served on the Post-compulsory Curriculum Committee of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority since 2000 and have been a critical friend in the recent Leadership Development Framework in Victoria and the Australian Education Unions Leadership for the 21st Century. Again, publications have derived from this work and also teaching Masters programs to teachers and school leaders in a new book exploring the theory-practice nexus in educational practice in Changing Schools through Systematic Inquiry (with Pat Thomson in press, Routledge). Teachers and leaders are now expected to be practitioner researchers and the School of Education is increasingly working through its teacher education program with clusters of schools in action learning programs.

With the recruitment of many new staff in the School of Education over the past 2 years, we are now in a period of research capacity building and growth which is exciting and invigorating of my own research as we build new teams and work to grow and enhance the Centre for Research In Educational Futures and Innovation. The enthusiasm to do research and work with policymakers and practitioners within the School is a reminder again of my first years at Deakin, although under arguably significantly different conditions of work. Throughout, feminist theory and politics, while often viewed as marginal to the academy and with a collective sensibility often difficult to maintain in increasingly competitive and individualistic universities, have shaped my intellectual work. Feminism as a social movement has provided a supportive and challenging global network of scholars as well as a sense of solidarity with like minded colleagues within Deakin.

Professor Jill Blackmore

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