Newly Funded Project: Cultivating Imagination in Educational Leadership for Social and Ecological Justice

by Gillian Judson & Meaghan Dougherty

Following the publication of our book earlier this year entitled Cultivating Imagination in Leadership: Transforming Schools and Communities (Teachers College Press, 2023), we have been looking for additional ways to get people thinking about the importance of imagination in responding to today’s educational challenges—among them, addressing students’ wide-ranging physical, emotional, social, and academic needs, and facilitating learning in contexts of inequity, violence, a world-wide pandemic, and the climate crisis. We recognize that entrenched processes, structures, and beliefs have shaped and continue to sustain inequitable educational systems that do not serve everyone equally. And we believe that educational leaders have a great opportunity and responsibility to lead in ways that disrupt the status quo that reproduces inequality; alongside students, parents, and community, educational leaders must imagine the ‘not yet’ of education.

We are pleased to share that our latest adventure—the Cultivating Imagination in Leadership for Social and Ecological Justice Project—has received SSHRC funding! This project is grounded in the belief that educational leaders require imagination to navigate complex and often contradictory pressures and envision new futures. As reflected in our book, the imaginED blog, and the CIRCE community, we believe imagination is required for meaning-making in a turbulent world; it allows for understanding of self and the development of empathy for others. Imagination enables unlearning and pushing beyond the ‘we can’t’ to open up new possibilities. In the ever-changing contemporary landscape for leaders, there are increased calls for developing and using imagination. And yet, there has been no engine to share how imagination contributes to leadership and the practical ways leaders can and do cultivate imagination to support social and ecological justice.

Through a 10-episode podcast series, 20-part blog series, and culminating virtual event that will launch what we are tentatively calling the Imagination and Social Justice Leadership Collective, this project will amplify practical and collaborative enactments of leadership that cultivate imagination and open up new possibilities for just education. Participants will be invited to explore the ways in which distinct tools of imagination—tools at the heart of an approach to teaching called Imaginative Education—shape their leadership. In this way, they will offer a critical, reflective examination of their imaginative practices and how those practices promote equity and social justice.

The podcasts and correlated blog series will gather emerging and established leadership researchers and practitioners together for knowledge exchange, creating accessible resources for educational leaders to cultivate their imaginations and to learn how imagination contributes to leadership. The virtual roundtable discussion at the end of the project will bring podcast guests together with interested school-based and community leaders for a dynamic opportunity to engage collectively with practical suggestions for imaginative leadership practices. Ultimately the Imagination and Social Justice Leadership Collective will stimulate dialogue across multiple perspectives and will open space for ongoing collaboration, support, and problem solving. (Want to be involved? Leave a comment or get in touch.)  

We are excited to get started! And we hope that you will engage along with us, listening to the podcasts and reading the blogs; using the resources to cultivate your imagination. Share this project with others and help us address misunderstanding of what imagination means by amplifying what it practically is and what it practically does to support leadership for social and ecological justice.

The education system must be a catalyst for changing inequitable relations. Imaginative leadership in education is needed to not only improve inclusion and accessibility, but to alter the relationships with each other and how humans live in relation to the living natural world.

Stay tuned for release of the project website and, in December, the first podcast in the Cultivating Imagination in Leadership for Social and Ecological Justice series.

Photo by Ismail Salad Osman Hajji dirir on Unsplash. (Sheeko xariiro are traditional Somali fantasy stories with an allegorical meaning.)



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