Concept note of Taxonomy

Last Updated On August 14, 2018
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Some conceptual clarifications of the field of educational leadership:




The body of work on educational leadership is extensive. Over time, there has been some consolidation of key knowledge ‘facts’ around the field of educational leadership. These knowledge facts are now seen as settled in the field and researchers, academics, practioners take these as granted in the study and understanding of educational leadership. Given below are some of these key conceptual issues. The taxonomy for ShikshaLokam needs to be understood in this context.




  1. The term educational leadership is used in a specific way. It refers to leadership within K-12 school education and does not encompass leadership in higher educational (for e.g. university) settings.


  1. Educational leadership is not generic leadership in educational settings. It is leadership that is focused and committed to key educational matters of teaching and learning and is itself educational through its intention, process and outcomes. It has specific theories, perspectives, models and frameworks that may borrow from, but are distinct from generic ideas of leading and managing organisations.


  1. The purpose of educational leadership is not just about particular tasks and behaviours, but also seeks to understand social relationships and the settings in which leadership is enacted.


  1. The scope of educational leadership is wider than those who are formally designated leaders (role-bound leadership) and necessarily includes teachers, children and reaches beyond the organisation to include parents and the wider community.


  1. Research and understanding into educational leadership is a mediated activity, i.e. a field of knowledge that borrows, as necessary, key concepts, theories, and models from a variety of forms and disciplinary areas.


  1. As a field of knowledge, research in educational leadership is also essentially practical (like engineering) rather than theoretical (like geography). As such, it is justified ultimately by the extent to which it enables practice and contributes to its betterment. However, this should not be interpreted to mean that only research that has an immediate, calculable, identifiable and specific pay-off is legitimate.


  1. Educational leadership as a field is constantly in a state of tension between being conditioned to doing things in one way, being able to conceive of doing them differently and actually doing them differently and any work on educational leadership must acknowledge these tensions.




The LE team attempted a review of the current ShikshaLokam taxonomy. As part of the review the following processes were attempted:


  1. Review of the literature on mapping the field of educational leadership and taxonomies available1


  1. A deeper understanding of the issues and contestations within the field in terms of mapping the domain


  1. A review of partner content and curriculum and an attempt to map partner content to the existing framework


  1. Review of and discussions of conceptual issues and challenges with the existing taxonomy


  1. The resolving of some of these issues and the extension and modification of the existing taxonomy


  1. The creation of an alternate taxonomy for consideration and adoption


  1. The completion of the new taxonomy with vocabulary, descriptions and keywords


This document elaborates on the concepts associated with creating an educational leadership taxonomy for ShikshaLokam. It presents some details of the process followed for reviewing the current taxonomy, provides an overview of some models and approaches by which the field has been mapped, and elaborates on the new, proposed taxonomy for ShikshaLokam.

  • A note on the review. The literature on how to map the domain or build a taxonomy on educational leadership is from literature outside of India. There is no literature on how to build an educational leadership field of study available within the context of India. However, all of the comparative models and approaches, including knowledge concepts have incorporated developing countries as well, including India.


Section 1: The question of a taxonomy for educational leadership



The mapping of the field of educational leadership can be seen as an attempt to resolve a series of ‘tensions’ in the field. For example, much of educational leadership has focused on resolving the differences (or similarities) between what is educational administration and management, educational governance and policy, between who leaders are and what leaders do, between instrumental projects promoting efficiency and effectiveness of practices (via training and development) and emancipatory projects promoting ideas of educational values, agency, and the inclusion of voices in leadership to change educational status quo, the tension between ideas of knowledge for understanding and knowledge for action. Mapping the terrain of educational leadership has been a process of looking at contestations and examining ways in which multiple perspectives can co-exist while informing the field both for a deeper understanding of the concepts that form the sub-terrain of the field as well as for being able to practice leadership in a way that makes the field of educational leadership an essential component of the discipline of education itself. Therefore, the multiple historic exercises to map the field of education has been a complex and contested endeavour.


As part of the attempt at ShikshaLokam to develop a taxonomy that ‘represents’ the field of educational leadership and to some extent provides a map of the space, it is useful to look at some previous models of how knowledge within this field has been attempted to map. This exercise provides some clarity on the dominant methods of mapping the knowledge spaces in the field and to also understand pitfalls to be avoided while developing a taxonomy for ShikshaLokam.


In mapping the field (i.e. dimensions of leaders, leading and leadership) key themes relating to agency (i.e. participation and choice of actors) and the impact of structures (structural-functional analysis with a focus on roles and rules) consistently emerged. These themes are also representations of how the field itself has examined the ‘tensions’ within the field and an attempt to resolve the tensions through ways of organising and mapping the field2:


  1. Structure-Culture: How and why leadership can be about organisational structures and roles in tension with organisational cultures built on beliefs and values and why leadership is about this


  1. Internal-external: How and why leadership can be shaped by the goals of the organisation in tension with compliance of legislation, contracts, policies and the wider environment


  1. Direction-discretion: How and why leadership can be about direct control of others and their work, and the extent to which leadership is about enabling others to exercise leadership choices


  1. Roles-relationships: How and why leadership can be about role incumbency within a structure in tension with the division of labour where sources of leadership are located in multiple sites within and outside the organisation


  1. Prescription-person: How and why leadership can be about what a leader ought to be in tension with the personal values and experiences of the person who inhabits the leader job description


  1. Privilege-participation: How and why leadership can be about the identification of a particular type who because of their attributes is and should be the leader in tension with the plurality of teacher lives and experiences from where future educational leaders will come




2Adapted from Gunter and Ribbens, 2002



  1. Outcomes-processes: How and why leadership can be about the impact of the leader on organisational outcomes in tension with valuing the network of relationships that develop within organisational processes


  1. Training-development: How and why leadership can be about training for task completion in tension with the need to develop judgement, discretion and humanity


  1. Theory-theorizing: How and why leadership can be described and understood through theories from the social sciences and philosophy in tension with theorizing from contextualised practice


  1. Research-researching: How and why leadership can be based on research developed in non-educational settings in tension with the need to describe and understand localised and educational leadership


  1. Is-ought: How and why leadership can be understood and practiced as it is in tension with how it could and should be practiced


The above themes within the field of educational leadership repeat themselves in a few key mapping models undertaken previously. Five such models are very briefly described below:


  1. Bolam’s (1999) category of four kinds of ‘projects’ that educational leadership undertakes that defines the knowledge in the field. He refers to these as:


  1. The knowledge for understanding project – usually research and theorizing work that leads to describing, analysing, explaining and criticising knowledge on educational leadership.


  1. The knowledge for action project – usually to inform policy makers and practioners about the nature, processes, and effectiveness of educational administration in order to promote its improvement


  1. The instrumentalist project – usually knowledge endeavours to improve the practice and effectiveness of education managers and leaders via training, development and consultancy, usually by providing structured schemes, programmes or projects and practical tools, instruments and methods


  1. The reflexive action project – where the aim is for practioners to improve their own action, their teams’ or their organisation’s performance and effectiveness via self-evaluation for school improvement, feedback, action research, organisational development, reflective practice etc.


  1. Bush (2001) Provides a model of educational leadership and management around seven themes along which knowledge about educational leadership can be organised:


  1. The purpose of education


  1. The leadership sequence (beginner, intermediate, advanced etc.)


  1. The nature of leadership


  1. Tasks and processes


  1. Structure and outcome and the linkages between some of them


  1. Southworth (2001) Provides a model with seven main areas in which different ideas of leadership are at the centre and knowledge can be organised around:


  1. Who leads


  1. The exercise of leadership (how is leadership enacted)


  1. Impact and performance


  1. Context


  1. Leadership and career development


  1. Personal factors and key linkages between the above factors



  1. Weindling (2001) Model is constructed around three main themes within educational leadership along which knowledge can be organised:


  1. Understanding contextual factors


  1. Internal school management factors and processes


  1. Outcomes and feedback) and the links between them


Another key approach taken to mapping the field, has been focused on the ‘practice of leadership’ i.e. primarily concerned with what leaders do and how does their practice connect with some forms of outcomes for schools, teachers, students and leaders themselves. For example, Day and others (2011) model of leadership primarily focuses on what they refer to as “effective leadership practices” that are causally linked to “improved student and school outcomes”. Their model describes a core set of practices that all effective leaders do irrespective of the context in which they operate. Knowledge on educational leadership can therefore be arranged along their five key practices:


  1. Category 1: Setting Directions


  1. Category 2: Developing People


  1. Category 3: Developing the Organisation (refining and aligning the organisation)


  1. Category 4: Improving the teaching and learning programme (Managing the instructional programme


  1. Category 5: Managing the external community


Models that have focused on leadership practices (what leaders do) have attempted to map “knowledge on practice” to key words such as:


  • Outcome evaluation


  • Causal effectiveness


  • Process evaluation


  • Economic evaluation


  • Intervention description


  • Methods


  • Needs assessment


  • Reviews etc.


Other models that have mapped the field of educational leadership have attempted to ask the question “how is knowledge produced” and then categorise the field based on frameworks that answer questions around – who is creating the knowledge, how is it applied, who benefits from it, where is it produced and who consumes it. These models of mapping, move away from structural-functional methods to focusing on knowers, knowing and knowledge, i.e. to actors, places and purposes for which and through whom knowledge is created. One example of such a model is given below (Ribbins, 2007):


Producers The people and their roles (school leader, teacher, policy maker, inspector,
parent, student etc) who are knowers through producing and using what is known
about educational leaders and leadership at various levels
Positions The places and events (classrooms, staff rooms, parent meetings, administrative
meetings) where knowers use and produce what is known about educational
leaders and leadership at various levels


Provinces The claim to knowledge regarding the ways in which educational leaders and
leadership at various levels are conceptualised and engaged with
Practices The practice in real time/real life contexts of all those individuals and groups who
are involved in educational leadership at various levels
Processes The research processes used to generate and legitimate knowledge, knowing and
knowers in educational leadership at various levels
Perspectives The understanding of those involved in educational leaders and leadership at
various levels, created as processes and products (e.g. training manual, books,
teaching practices) from the inter-play of producers, positions, provinces,
practices and processes.



Gunter and Ribbins (2002) model suggests that all knowledge in the field of educational leadership can be developed as six key knowledge domains. Their taxonomy framework lists out these knowledge domains as:


  • Conceptual: Research in the field that is concerned with issues of ontology and epistemology (what is real and how do we know what we know) and focus on conceptual clarifications (for e.g. the difference between the concepts of administration and management or leadership and leading). It also focuses on the complexities arising from values and conflicts in values that emerge in this space.


  • Descriptive: Research that is concerned with providing factual details, explaining in some depth factors that are seen to be related to leading, leadership and leaders. These are descriptive, attempting to highlight specific factors or spotlight one or two such factors.


  • Critical: Critical knowledge is concerned with issues of power, social injustice, the oppression of established but unjustifiable structures and processes of power. Understanding leadership here is how the practice of leadership can lead to emancipatory consequences for individuals and institutions.


  • Humanistic: This kind of research and knowledge seeks to gather and theorise from the everyday experiences, biographies, in-depth ethnographies of those who are leaders and those who are led. It focuses on people, their everyday experiences within and outside schools and what a deeper understanding of the lives of leaders and followers can inform about educational leadership


  • Evaluative – In its broadest sense in the field of educational leadership, evaluative knowledge is any research that seeks to abstract and measure the impact of leadership and its effectiveness at micro, meso and macro levels of social interactions (people, roles, structures and processes). In general, this knowledge is concerned with measuring effectiveness and conditions for improvement.


  • Instrumental: This kind of research and knowledge production seeks to provide leaders, policy makers, administrators, academics and others with effective strategies and tactics to deliver organisational and system-level goals. This is the form of research that policy makers, educational managers and leaders most seem to want and there is a plethora of work that focuses on how and what leaders should do to produce these outcomes.



Preliminary guidelines for the creation of an educational leadership taxonomy for ShikshaLokam



A broad analysis of the various ways in which the domain has been mapped shows that there are certain fundamental issues that have been settled as ways in which the field should be mapped. It provides some pointers for avoiding pitfalls in the creation of taxonomies and helps in the development of a more robust ShikshaLokam educational leadership taxonomy:


  1. The establishment that knowledge can be produced through multiple means and by multiple actors. Therefore, any taxonomy on educational leadership must provide a skeletal structure where all the six kinds of knowledge expanded by Gunter and Ribbens (2002) can be tagged and located.


  1. False dichotomies (for e.g. an artificial separation between knowledge produced by academics and knowledge produced by practioners) should be avoided, i.e. taxonomies must not have hierarchies of knowledge based on who is producing them. Hence the separation between knowing and doing, theory and practice in taxonomies should be avoided. Instead the taxonomy should be polyhierarchical, allowing for interconnections between concepts, and have parent-child relationships that show inter-domain relationships.


  1. Excessive structural-functional typologies with a focus on roles, administrative structures, functions and processes should be avoided as this creates taxonomies that are deterministic and rigid. It is possible for structures to change, roles to be modified or cease to exist, geographies may change and newer structures may emerge within the K-12 systems. Instead taxonomies that allow for content on understanding structures, functions and roles should be created.


  1. Educational leadership is ultimately about the influence of leading, managing and leadership on schools, their functioning, effectiveness and outcomes. Therefore, the pragmatic and practical aspects of the field means that the taxonomy cannot be pedantic but heuristic, allowing for knowledge generated to be dynamic, experimental, practical and useful for members within the field of educational leadership.



Apart from the broader conceptual ideas embedded in creating taxonomies for educational leadership, there were a few additional criteria that the LE team developed for evaluating the taxonomy. These include:


  1. The taxonomy must be reasonably intuitive for users; i.e. it must provide for vocabulary and groupings that are fairly familiar to individuals in the field of educational leadership and is representative of universal knowledge about the field.


  1. The taxonomy must be easy to navigate. Too many levels and very detailed taxonomies make it difficult to navigate and tag. Reducing number of levels (for instance to see if the taxonomy is comprehensive enough with two levels (parent-child) rather than three levels (parent – child


– child) was one approach taken to check for ease of navigability of the taxonomy and had implications for the current taxonomy.


  1. Increasing the possibility for content creators to select the right concept to tag their content to (for e.g. having several levels may be comprehensive conceptually but may not be viable as multiple users will come onto the platform to create content and users may not be inclined to go through lots of details before making the choice of most appropriate concept to tag or select).


  1. Fairly broad and comprehensive without becoming prescriptive and rigid.


  1. Removing artificial dichotomies such as theory and practice, knowing and doing at the level of the taxonomy while providing enough flexibility in the framework to include all kinds and categories of knowledge.


  1. Thinking about the domain of educational leadership both at the individual level of leadership development as well as at the institutional and organisational level of leadership development


  1. Thinking about the flexibility and future growth of the taxonomy. For example, can an additional curriculum or framework sit alongside the existing frameworks?


Ultimately the act of creating taxonomies and frameworks for the field is really a way of understanding what is the intellectual territory that all members of the field inhabit and that the map provides enough spaces for members of the field of educational leadership to locate themselves and their work; that they are able to see some boundaries which demarcate their work from those who are outside of the field and yet provide sufficient navigatable spaces to develop the domain further and re-establish the boundaries of the field. Unlike other disciplines that are ‘sure and certain’ about their knowledge and can have deterministic ways of showing a taxonomy, educational leadership is multi-faceted and any taxonomy must reflect the contested nature of the field and yet provide opportunities for dialogue between perspectives, approaches, models and be able to generate new forms of knowledge.


Section 2: The Preliminary ShikshaLokam taxonomy



The creation of a taxonomy for ShikshaLokam has to be seen both within the context of the field of educational leadership as well as in the context of ShikshaLokam as a societal platform that is technologically enabled. As a societal platform in education, ShikshaLokam is a digital infrastructure that sits alongside DIKSHA (a technology infrastructure for teacher development) and shares a number of technical features and characteristics of DIKSHA. Broadly a taxonomy for such a digital infrastructure can be considered to be an overarching infrastructure that helps to categorise and tag knowledge within a domain (or field of study) in a specific way. Taxonomies make it easier to navigate, search and discover content related to the very specific domain in the system using different types of categories and tags. Taxonomies also help to identify categories, concepts that are under represented in terms of knowledge pieces/ content on the platform, help identify content that have high reusability value and over time, and well-built taxonomies can provide data on key leverage points for change and growth in the domain. The taxonomy is therefore the broader map in which the specific pieces of knowledge of the domain has been organised to make it meaningful for all users of the platform.


In general, the creation of a taxonomy involves the meaningful grouping of knowledge into categories. These categories are the first level of breaking open of the knowledge in the domain. For a domain like educational leadership the categories themselves can lend themselves to the creation of frameworks – i.e. the organisation of the vocabulary of the domain into meaningfully grouped pieces. Each framework could slice, present, or organise the domain itself in different ways that are each meaningful in themselves.


The creation of a taxonomy of ShikshaLokam has been influenced by the multiple ways in which the field of educational leadership can be categorised or the multiple frameworks which already exist in the domain. In addition, the first framework created or ShikshaLokam was deeply influenced by the stage of platform development, i.e. the conceptualisation and the progressive development of the ShikshaLokam platform itself. The first framework was developed in October 2017. During this period,



the initial conceptualisation of the platform was of two inter-connected but distinct components in the platform – a learning management space and a program design and management space. There was greater clarity around the learning management space while the conceptualisation and imagination of the program design and management space was still nascent and emerging. The taxonomy created at that time therefore had two frameworks – Leadership professional development (framework 1) and School Improvement (framework 2). There was a separation between the two frameworks in that LPD focused on content (knowledge) around the learning (knowing) space of educational leadership while School improvement focused on content (knowledge) around the intervention or doing space in educational leadership. Consequently, the taxonomy developed had three deeper levels of interconnected concepts in the LPD framework and two deeper levels of interconnected concepts in the School Improvement framework. The original taxonomy is available on the landing page provided as “original taxonomy”.


This taxonomy has been used by partners as well as ShikshaLokam to create and tag content and to enhance discoverability and searchability of the content being created and uploaded on the platform.


Section 3: Reviewing the existing taxonomy



Based on an understanding of the various maps, mapping and taxonomies available in the field of educational leadership, the requirements of the ShikshaLokam platform as well as additional criteria developed by the LE team, the current framework was reviewed. The first step in the process was to do a broad level mapping of the content and curriculum of partners to see if they fit into the overall taxonomy. The mapping indicated that the framework itself allowed for almost all partner content to be mapped across the two frameworks – LPD and School Improvement.


Deeper analysis of the mapping revealed certain tensions in the way the framework was organised. The division between the LPD and School Improvement frameworks was suggestive of an artificial divide between knowing and doing, that emerged from the early conceptualisation of the ShikshaLokam platform and was not in any way representative of the way the domain had been mapped historically, nor was it in line with how the domain had re-shaped itself and currently situated. A lot of research in the space, including elaborate works on mapping the space and consistently pointed out the fallacy of such an approach and it violated more fundamental aspects of educational leadership itself as a “field of practice”, i.e. one that was essentially practical and placed its value essentially on its ability to influence practice and contribute to its betterment. Further, knowledge pieces in the domain, in however different ways it was sliced, essentially combined both ways of knowing as well as practicing.


For the ShikshaLokam platform, enhancing leadership capacity included, but was not limited to the idea of individual development alone. Instead, ShikshaLokam seeks to build capacity of both individuals as well as institutions for better educational outcomes. This is also in line with discourses in the field of educational leadership that have included individuals, groups and organisations as encompassing the range or actors, entities and processes that the field pays attention to. The LE team began to reimagine the two frameworks (LPD and School improvement) not as knowing and doing frameworks, but as frameworks representing knowledge around individual knowing and doing and organisational/institutional knowing and doing, including knowledge of interventions. As the framework was examined, other questions began to emerge as to the viability of the first taxonomy.


The question of whether the framework allowed for multiple knowledge perspectives, multiple knowledge projects (Bolam’s taxonomy for instance) to exist while still being intuitive, comprehensive



and yet navigable was examined in depth by the LE team. While there was an overall sense that the framework allowed for multiple knowledge perspectives, there were questions raised as to the intuitiveness of the framework, and whether a more comprehensive way of mapping the space and its overall navigability could be constructed out of the first taxonomy/framework. As these questions emerged, alternate conceptualisations of the taxonomy were constructed. These alternate ideas consolidated as Alternate framework of the taxonomy which was then built and expanded and a new taxonomy for ShikshaLokam was constructed and adopted.


Section 4: The proposed new taxonomy for ShikshaLokam



The new proposed taxonomy provides a different way of thinking about and mapping the field of educational leadership. The division between knowing and doing, between individuals and institutions have been removed. The taxonomy has been conceptualised as five interconnected sub-fields of educational leadership (Self, Schools, School Systems, School Eco-systems and the broader concept of educational change). The taxonomy combines structural/functional with agency and participation while acknowledging knowledge as being constructed through the continuous interaction of concepts and contexts. Concepts in this sense, refer to knowledge (ideas, models, theories, frameworks, practices) that have broad generalisable applicability. Context refers both to the space in which generalised knowledge is applied; it also refers to how new knowledge emerges from its specific application, that lends itself to generalisation and changes over time into conceptual knowledge. Context knowledge also refers to knowledge that goes beyond the field of education to encompass knowledge of other disciplines as well as factor outside of education, such as social, cultural, economic or political factors, that have an impact on education. By combining the notion of concept and context into “knowledge or content” the new alternate framework provides an intuitive, comprehensive, flexible and meaningful taxonomy for ShikshaLokam to consider.


The new taxonomy has five sub-domains/categories at the level 1 of the framework and each sub-domain/category has its own children or level 2 categories. Taken together, they encompass bodies of knowledge around developing self (irrespective of the location of the agent – roles/structures/functions), leading and managing schools, leading and managing K-12 school support systems, leading and managing K-12 eco-systems and leading and managing educational change. The vocabulary for this framework has also been expanded and built including descriptions and synonyms.


The LE team has also mapped the new taxonomy against some known leadership curriculums and partner content. We find that the alternate framework lends itself very well to the various curriculums on educational leadership and content in the space. It is also a flexible and robust taxonomy, allowing for the additions of other curriculums (such as NCSL) or frameworks that may emerge in the future.






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Glossary of commonly used words :

© 2018 ShikshaLokam . This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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