In 2006, the Women’s Special Interest Group (SIG) of the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) recognized that no single world-wide venue existed whereby interested researchers, policy makers, practitioners and others could obtain an understanding of the underrepresentation of women in the highest levels of educational leadership across the globe, nor the social and educational impact. UCEA, a premiere organization of the top 10% of US and some international universities, and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), recognized the same need. Dr. Helen Sobehart (Associate Academic Vice Present for Graduate Education) was chair of the UCEA Women’s SIG and long time member of AASA, so began work on the charge.
Scholars across the globe created the Women Leading Education Across the Continents (WLE) group at a conference held in Rome in 2007. The goal was to fill a vacuum of information – an understanding of the status of women in educational leadership, in both basic and higher education, from both a qualitative and quantitative view. The group emerged with the following goals: to gather data from an increasing number of countries across all continents regarding the number of women represented in positions of leadership in both higher and basic education; to describe issues which either are barriers or facilitators regarding the ability of women to attain the highest levels of educational leadership; to bring those issues to life through an analysis of the lives and stories of women within the group; to impact research, policy making and practice through wide presentation, publication and an online gender audit.
The second conference was held at the University of Augsburg, Germany in 2009. Researchers and practitioners from an increasing number of countries were invited to this conference so that we might discuss the issues, clarify understanding, and determine the means by which we can most effectively illuminate this incredibly important aspect of social justice. Our first book, Sharing the Spirit, Fanning the Flame: Women Leading Education Across the Continents, provides the content from the first conference. We would like to bring to life the quote from St. Hildegard of Bingen from Germany in the 12thCentury, “The woman was in the flame but not consumed by it. Rather it flowed from her.” Go forth from here and fan the flame of social justice which so powerfully impacts those who lead the education of our future leaders – our children. The second conference at the University of Augsburg, Germany, outlined more specific research and dissemination themes discussed in the following sections.
The third conference was held at the University of Thessaly in Volos, Greece in 2011. The goal was to continue a research-based global conversation about the status of women in educational leadership and to develop consensus about systematic collaborativ research to be conducted across continents. We believe that these conversations will have an impact on policy development around the globe and move forward women's educational leadership as a social justice issue.
The fourth conference took place in Apam, Ghana in September 2013.
The fifth conference will take place in New Zealand in 2015.
"We do mean, however, that an issue seen trough varied eyes and intellects is an issue better understood. An issue better understood makes us better able to make strategic impact on the condition of the underrepresented and the underreserved.
We chose a goal to stay together while ever increasing our collegial atmosphere. Like the vapor rising from a steaming cauldron, our energy could easily dissipate in a thousand directions. WE MADE A PROMISE TO EACH OTHER NOT TO LET THAT HAPPEN. At the end of the day, we gave each other a lapel insignia as a gift, pinning it on each other's collars as we read,
'I pass this symbol of friendship on to you. Sharing our profession as educators has given us common ground. As a team, we have become better than we are alone. I hope you will remember the things I have passed on to you and you to me. Working together has created a bond between us that will always remain.' (The Master Teacher Inc.)
Tears of joy and kinship were shed." (Excerpted from the Epilogue of our first book, Sharing the Spirit, Fanning the Flame: Women Leading Education Across the Continents, pg 218).
Hildegard von Bingen wrote (in Latin) about her vision of wisdom as a woman in a flame, but letting it flow through and from her. She also wrote music to accompany the words. Though the musical accompaniment on the You Tube video below is contemporary, the latin words and melody come to us across the centuries from Hildegard to inspire us with the wisdom and beauty which we possess.