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Exceptional Scholarship and Democratic Agendas: Interviews with John Goodlad, John Hoyle, Joseph Murphy, and Thomas Sergiovanni

Module by: Carol A. Mullen. E-mail the author

Summary: This portraiture study of four exceptional scholars in education—John Goodlad, John Hoyle, Joseph Murphy, and Thomas Sergiovanni—provides insight into their scholarly work and life habits, direction and aspirations, assessment and analysis of major trends in the profession, and advice for aspiring leaders and academics. Telephone interviews with the leading scholars (4) and their referral colleagues (8), in addition to document analysis, validated the following criteria for the selection of exceptional scholarship previously generated via survey respondents (educational leadership professors): The scholar (1) publishes widely, (2) has broad impact, (3) has multiple spheres of influence, and (4) has established mentoring systems. Democratic concepts and agendas for education emerged from the interviews focused on exceptional scholarship, an outcome incorporated within the results.



This module has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and sanctioned by the National Council of the Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a scholarly contribution to the knowledge base in educational administration.

The subject of exceptional scholarship in the field of leadership has received greater attention outside education, especially in the corporate world. Although the research on the topic of distinction, achievement, and impact in education is modest, conceptual frameworks and empirical data have been emerging. Kiewra and Creswell’s (2000) study of educational psychology, Gambrell’s (2000) work in literacy research, Sirotnik and Soder’s (1999) biographical analysis in teacher education, Havighurst’s (1971) collective account of leaders in American education, Tschannen-Moran and Nestor-Baker’s (2004) interviews with productive scholars in education, and Murphy’s (1999) portrait of the educational leadership profession have all expanded what is known about eminence relative to education and particular disciplines.

This study advances a conversation about what exemplary leadership really means, identifies habits and practices of leading scholars, and informs the professional development of educational leaders. Democratic agendas for education that emerged from the interview data are described. To help build a strong knowledge base in leadership education, I provide sketches of the lives of four leading educational scholars, including ideas that should benefit rising leaders.

Background and Methodology: Study Design and Procedures

Adapting Kiewra and Creswell’s Methods

Inspired by Kiewra and Creswell’s (2000) recognition of leading scholars in educational psychology—Richard Anderson, Ann Brown, Richard Mayer, and Michael Pressley—I created a survey-based, interview study of exceptional leaders. However, unlike Kiewra and Creswell, who generated names based on the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) Division C (Learning and Instruction) membership, I did not preselect scholars. Instead of surveying nominators via an association’s divisional membership, I distributed my survey nationwide to potential nominators (Mullen, 2004/2006). In other words, instead of relying solely on data from a single association, I expanded the focus across national associations, in addition to universities. I avoided tying the results to particular associations and their own star leaders.

In contrast with Kiewra and Creswell’s (2000) focus on cognition and learning, my survey provided no premapping of the discipline (educational leadership). The selection of supervision, policy, or any other focus seemed arbitrary, so I opted for openness, hoping for greater inclusivity. As additional distinctions, I discuss the demography of my respondents herein and obtained a higher response rate; Kiewra and Creswell’s results were based on 41 (out of 113) responses, whereas I received 233, comparable with Murphy’s (1999) 105.

My study further differs from Kiewra and Creswell’s in that I incorporated the perspectives of referral colleagues and triangulated my results using a survey/interview/document analysis design. However, my original interview questions benefited from several of their key constructs (e.g., work habits, scholarly work, advice to others).

Extending Murphy’s Publication Template

Murphy’s (1999) study explored professors’ concepts of important markers in the academy over one decade (e.g., reform efforts and publications and presentations). Interestingly, those authors and works cited as seminal from 1987 to 1996 overlapped with my own survey results carried out 7 years later. Building on Murphy’s template that identifies characteristics of outstanding scholarship in educational leadership, my recent results (Mullen, 2004/2006) expand the breadth of exceptional scholarship by including prolific mentoring and multi-authoring systems.

Of the top nominees—in alphabetical order, John Goodlad (University of Washington, retiree), John Hoyle (Texas A&M University), Joseph Murphy (Vanderbilt University), and Thomas Sergiovanni (Trinity University)—all but one (Hoyle) appeared in Murphy’s results. Educational leadership faculty were asked, “Who’s the most exceptional living scholar in the field of educational leadership and why?” (Mullen, 2004/2006) Since my survey did not specify what “exceptional living scholar” means, the naming of individuals was not restricted to publications and citations. However, despite differences between the two studies (e.g., my participant pool was greater, nomination list longer, and survey open-ended), Murphy’s core selections mirrored my own. Like Murphy, I opted for purposeful sampling, an exploratory tool allows for the selection of cases that are information-rich with respect to the purposes of a qualitative study (Creswell, 1998).

The Four Selected Scholarsfrom a Cultural Perspective

The four top scholars constitute a white male sample. Readers have not found this surprising, as this anonymous reviewer’s comment shows, “Given the historic underrepresentation of women and people of color in the educational leadership professoriate, one might understand how a survey focused on identifying long-term productive scholars in the field might end up with these results” (personal communications, March 2006).

A few females and minorities were nominated, but not selected as finalists. However, the demographics of educational leadership today are certainly more diverse than this sample would suggest. Male scholars may be publishing more often (Engstrom, 1999) and receiving greater recognition for their efforts, and because women have not been faculty in this field as long as men, they need time to catch up. These academic trends and possibilities need closer attention.

Survey Background Context

In addition to identifying top leaders in education, the survey study also addressed which attributes and characteristics of outstanding scholarship matter most to us as a professoriate, and so faculty respondents were urged to explain their votes. From 2002 to 2003, nominators provided these criteria for their selections: The scholar (1) publishes widely and is highly recognized and cited; (2) has broad impact on scholarship and the field; (3) has developed national spheres of public influence; and (4) has established prolific mentoring and multi-authoring systems. The interview protocol was informed by these norms.

The Current Study: Biographical Methods

Biography as Qualitative Methodology

The biographical method has roots in sociology, psychology, and anthropology. Denzin’s (1989) life-story approach places value on individual lives and on the researcher’s construction of scripts. This method now appears in the educational leadership literature (see Shamir, Dayan-Horesh, & Adler, 2005). Biographers construct “a study out of stories,” “situating them within a broader context” and revealing their own “presence”; from participants’ theories about their lives, “patterns of meaning” are identified (Creswell, 1998, p. 31-67). Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis (1997) add that guiding questions and a research-based framework are needed. All of these elements influenced this work. As I interpreted the data, I grappled with what stories to tell and what insights to share about exceptional scholarship and democratic agendas.

Participants and Research Questions

For this follow-up study I conducted in-depth interviews of the four selected scholars and their referral colleagues—individuals who know the scholars. In spring of 2005 I interviewed the scholars and their colleagues who corroborated the accounts, without knowledge of the scholars’ reactions. The referrals were not unbiased—only informed persons could have answered the demanding questions. No major inconsistencies occurred between the two sets of reports.

The two interview sets (see Tables 1 and 2) emerged from these research questions:

  1. What insights can be gleaned from the top scholars’ academic work or life habits, direction and aspirations, and perception or analysis of major trends in the field?
  2. What can these scholars share that might enhance the professional development, academic success, and contributions of aspiring leaders, students, and faculty?
  3. What might referral colleagues share to inform the top scholars’ portraits?

Procedures: Interview Questions and Data Analyses

Using research questions 1 and 2 as a guide, I created an interview protocol consisting of seven questions and conducted a 1-hour telephone interview with each top scholar.

Table 1

Telephone Interview Questions for Top Scholars (C. A. Mullen, May-June 2005)

1. How would you describe your scholaraly work or life habits, as well as your daily routines? Are they similar to or different from the habits of others you know well?

2. Where is your scholarly and practical energy directed and for purpose?

3. What difference do you believe you have made to the educational profession and on people, and what impact do you still wish to make?

4. What do you see as major trends in the educational leadership field?

5. What advice to you have for budding academics in the development of their scholarship and/or strategies for increasing productivity?

6. What insights or recommendations might you share with aspiring future principals, other leaders, and/or professors who are eager to make a significant contribution?

7. Would you like to add any final comments?

Interviews next occurred with eight colleagues, two per scholar, lasting up to 40 minutes each.

Table 2

Telephone Interview Questions for Referral Colleagues (C. A. Mullen, May-June 2005)


In each of the blanks, the name of one of the exceptional living scholars (Goodlad, Hoyle, Murphy, or Sergiovanni) was inserted.

1. For how long have you known _______________?

2. In what capacity or capacities do you know (or have you known) ______________.

3. How would you describe _______________'s scholarly work or life habits? Are they similar to or different from the habits of others you know well?

4. In your opinion, how is _______________'s scholarly and practical energy directed and for what purpose?

5. What difference do you believe that _______________ has made to educational profession and on people, and what impact do you think he still wishes to make?

6. What do you think _______________ sees as major trends in the educational leadership field?

7. Have you or anyone else you know ever received any advice from _______________ to help in the development of one's scholarship and/or strategies for increasing productivity?

8. What insights have you gained from your association with _______________ for aspiring future principals, other leaders, and/or professors who are eager to make a significant contribution?

9. Would you like to add any final comments?

After I coached a doctoral assistant in transcription analysis, we each then coded the 12 transcribed texts (12 to 26 double-spaced pages per interviewee). We developed thematic codes for each transcript, discussing these after the independent analyses were completed: Metacode “EDL = Educational Leadership,” for which such subcodes as “DIS = discipline,” “PRE = preparation,” “STA = standards” were generated, proved relevant across the transcripts.

After comparing the results, I developed the portraits and cross-case comparisons. The biographical sketches grew out of the results triangulated from the interview transcriptions, survey results, and salient documents (i.e., scholars’ publications and vitae). Consulting with an expert qualitative analyst, I decided which stories and quotations to highlight. Crowning metaphors (i.e., sage) were also consensually identified. Triangulation procedures were combined with interrater-reliability, establishing the trustworthiness of the data and its analysis.

Exemplary Leader Portraits: Impact Across the Four Scholars

The leaders’ scholarly and practical efforts significantly impact educational leadership, and education more generally, with works featured in leading academic and practitioner journals. Their publications, often reprinted, are translated into non-English languages, as in Sergiovanni (e.g., Chinese, Italian) and Goodlad’s (e.g., Hebrew, Japanese) books.

Popularity is another indicator of impact: Prestigious keynote addresses include Goodlad’s 1981, Hoyle’s 2002, and Sergiovanni’s 1996 National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) Walter Cocking Distinguished Lecture and Murphy’s 1999 AERA address. For years the World Future Society featured Hoyle’s (1995) bestseller.

Tables 3, 4, and 5 provide information about the top scholars’ achievements. The first snapshot numerically displays each scholar’s major publications.

Table 3

Numerical Listing of the Four Scholars' Major Publications (C. A. Mullen, May 2005)


*These include sole-authored, coauthored, and edited volumes with major publishing presses, including those belonging to national associations.


Not included in this chart are monographs, edited journals, guest editorials, forewords, and introductions, in addition to review essays, newspaper and newsletter articles, and reports, including task force, program evaluation, and other significant rsearch reports, as well as commissioned and occasional papers, in-house publications, and clearinghouse proceedings.

Citations of the scholars’ published works are included. Citation counts are estimates only, not absolutely accurate indicators (University of Texas Libraries, 2005). For Table 4, only the top five citations and their totals are given, not totals for all works cited.

Table 4

Citations of the Four Scholars' Top Five Publications (C. A. Mullen, May-June 2005)


Sources and databases: Using various databases and Internet search strategies, only the top five cited works (books, journal articles, book chapters, or monographs) for each scholar were recorded and totaled. (Hence, an underestimate of total citations is clearly evident for each of the scholars.) These databases were cross-referenced using the Web of Science (WOS) Basic Search, Web of Science (WOS) Cited Reference Index, Google Scholar (, and the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) Web of Knowledge (WOK) CrossSearch ( The Web of Science is an expanded database incorporating the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Sciences Citation Index, and the Arts and Humanities Citation Index. The Web of Knowledge CrossSearch includes the ISI Web of Knowledge products, Current Contents Connect, and all External Collections. Information supplied from the Web of Science Cited Reference Index was cross-referenced with title and author searches using Amazon ( to clarify book titles.

Table 5 presents a breakdown of the works cited and references the citation indexes consulted.

Table 5

Breakdown of Works Cited Via Major Citation Indexes (C. A. Mullen, May-June 2005)

For this listing of the top five works cited (books and/or articles), 1 = the highest number of citations and 5 = the lowest. Books appear in lowercase and are indicated with an asterisk (*). Depending on the database consulted, the scholars’ top five publications or their respective priority positioning changed, underscoring the fluidity and inaccuracies of citation databases.

















Thematic Results: Remarkable Leadership Attributes

While no single characteristic represents the scholars, each embodies, despite his complexity, a remarkable quality that pulled together the multiple data sources. As sage, Goodlad has led the initiative of renewing schools in the effort to develop a democratic citizenry. Hoyle, an optimistic champion of the cause, engages in intellectual debate with cynics. Murphy, the architect, produces alternative blueprints of the profession to rebuild school administration. And Sergiovanni, the shepherd, upholds the moral covenant of caring for one’s “flock.”

John Goodlad—Sage


A sage exhibits wisdom and calm judgment, and is a solemn and farsighted mentor.1 Goodlad, a world-renowned sage, is recognized for his large-scale expeditions in education.

Continuing Expeditions: Habits and Routines

Goodlad’s commitments as professor emeritus reveal that he has in no way retired as a major driving force in the academy. He remains active in his university directorship roles, despite illness: “I am beginning the process of healing and getting back into my work routines.”

Large-Scale Initiatives: Energy and Purpose

Goodlad continues to be “connected to the independent, nonprofit Institute for Educational Inquiry” that he founded in 1992. The “central work” of his team involves advancing the “Agenda for Education in a Democracy.” Its mission centers on leaders providing all students with the opportunity to fully participate in a democratic society, implementing a “caring pedagogy” to which all teachers will adhere as morally committed educators, and demonstrating “moral stewardship” within the school (Goodlad [Stephen John], 2004, p. 20).

Specifically, Goodlad “conduct[s] research into the change process itself and the effectiveness of different models or paradigms.” He also “inquire[s] into the several disconnected subcultures of schooling we now have.” He wondered whether the subcultures of educational policy and school reform could ever be united around “a common mission,” believing they “follow their own misguided models.” Good ideas have failed, he claimed, “to enter practice on any large scale,” furthering democratic aims in education. Those who study schooling and cite John Dewey were encouraged to pay attention to his claim that “educational research must arise out of the conduct of practice and results must be fed back into practice.”

Improving Schools: Sources of Contribution

Like the other top leaders (e.g., Hoyle, 2003; Murphy, 2005; Sergiovanni, 2000) and the growing numbers of academics who seek democratic change predicated upon social justice values, Goodlad has long been pushing for school renewal. Unlike school reform, it is not ensnared in means/end outcomes and punitive ideologies leading to corrective courses of action (Goodlad, 1999). He has “put forward ideas that practitioners see as offering something better for our schools and led projects designed to get these into practice.” Romances with Schools (Goodlad, 2004) tells this story, he explained, speculating that because large-scale research grounds it like his other works, researchers across fields “might think of these efforts as providing leadership.”


Goodlad was astonished that his work has had such an impact on educational leadership: “I must have gotten my message across to a much greater degree than I have realized.” He attributed this outcome to the phrasing of the survey question, which “allowed those you polled to use their own concepts of leadership.” Leadership is not limited to administration departments.

Creating Partnership Structures: Major Trends

Concerning major trends as related to his own efforts, Goodlad envisioned “much of the same: writing, speaking, and advancing change strategies.” It takes enormous energy to implement change within and across networks, and so he expects the impact of new work to lessen, alluding to his health. Because of policymakers’ control over education, he thinks that “it is much more difficult for democratic leaders to be heard today and for their inquiry-based ideas to shape schooling enterprises.” While “optimistic during the 1990s,” he now believes “it’s unlikely that school improvement will be influenced by our ideas.” He hopes that “the subcultures of schooling will unite around the only one that counts: the individual school with its community,” emphasizing that this culture must become inquiry-driven.

Hard at work at implementing school–university partnerships, Goodlad’s National Network for Educational Renewal now embraces more than 40 institutions of higher learning, over 100 school districts, and roughly 800 professional development schools. While proud to “have such partnerships in nearly half of the states,” he wishes to accomplish a nationwide trend.

Quality, Not Quantity: Advice for Budding Academics


Goodlad is adamant that strategies for increasing scholarly productivity are only worth considering if “productivity is defined in qualitative terms.” Most budding academics, he feels, will struggle to “become first-rate scholars,” largely because their preparation works against this. In addition to part-time degree programs, obstacles include online programs, inadequate funding for colleges of education, and chasms between education and behavioral sciences.

The educational research field needs a complete overhaul, Goodlad lamented: “Academics simply are not prepared for large-scale studies, which we badly need.” Because the reward systems for research “favor quantity over quality,” they are fundamentally flawed. He strongly believes that developing academics need to partner with experienced scholars on significant projects that include focus on the democratic renewal of school-communities.

Where’s the Aspiration? Aspiring Leaders and Academics

Goodlad has for years observed an “absence of aspiration” in education students. Compounding this problem, many are bent on being prepared for careers already familiar to them. Shaking up this situation, he urges their immersion in educational inquiry and democratic agendas. However, “the god of economic utility” now “runs the race to graduate degrees,” he lamented, and “things have deteriorated since Neil Postman’s [1996] The End of Education.”

Highlights From Goodlad’s Referrals

A renowned professor from a prestigious American university and a professor emeritus who is a former teacher reflected on Goodlad’s contributions.2 The former, who has known Goodlad for 20 years, and the latter, for more than 50, validated his claims.

Goodlad was described by one of his referral colleagues “as being very committed to public education both on a philosophical and daily practice level, as well as a daily practice level.” Beyond being seen as “extremely productive,” Goodlad, who was curriculum educator Ralph Tyler’s student, “has reached the stature in American, if not international, education of his mentor.” In addition to being “very prolific,” he has “helped many practitioners develop the best schools possible.”

About his scholarly habits, Goodlad writes longhand. He dictates his ideas and uses outlines: “He writes without producing much in the way of sketches ahead of time.” Goodlad has a tremendous capacity for writing alone and with others. The retired professor/teacher “greatly admire[s] John’s ability to write. I would conceptualize our curriculum projects and he would do the write up. I would never pretend to have tackled that level of writing.” The university professor, having worked more recently with Goodlad, has collaborated without “ever writing anything together jointly.” In their multi-authored works, “you can see the lines of demarcation,” with writers’ names on their own parts. Goodlad also collaborates by seeking and giving honest feedback on writing drafts, exclaiming, “Friends don’t flatter—enemies flatter.”

Importantly, Goodlad brings “a long-range view” to his writing, reflecting his ability to examine an idea with some distance: “He has double vision: Imagine looking at something through binoculars and then flipping it around and seeing the world small, from a distance.”

Portrayed also as a political activist, Goodlad has “never wavered from taking on the hard issues in American education.” The retired teacher explained: “John has challenged politicians who think they know exactly what schools ought to do to be successful and what the measures for success should be.” Goodlad himself expressed that educators should confront policymakers regarding their critical decisions about schooling. His fundamental belief that the empowerment of public schools resides in the democratic and the collective was also affirmed.

This down-to-earth visionary “has never been afraid to go into schools and grapple with their issues.” The retired teacher continued, “He has always had the well-being of pubic schools at heart and his philosophical writings assume a grounded basis in practice.” At one “extremely poor school,” he worked with the teachers to improve everything from curriculum to organization to administration. This referral’s exposure to Goodlad “in the trenches” of school life lasted 6 years, in which time he guided the faculty in developing child-centered curricula.

For decades, Goodlad has led practitioners in making the best schools possible by modeling inquiry with teacher groups. The retired teacher explained that “John would examine what teachers were doing and then help them to discover the next steps to take.” Goodlad validated her questions; she concluded, “He has wonderful people, not just inquiry, skills.”

In reminiscing about his character, Goodlad’s colleagues found his qualities and values to be major attractors. As testimony of her esteem for his leadership strengths and democratic vision, the teacher resigned from her position, moving out of state to become Goodlad’s doctoral student. The other professor admired how he “resists getting into bed with prevailing winds” or operating from expediency: “There is something else operating when you know who you are.”

Goodlad’s capacity for greatness has been documented elsewhere (see, e.g., Sirotnik & Soder, 1999). Eminent and developing professionals alike provide insight into his character and lasting contributions. Soder (1999) identifies Goodlad as forward-looking, with “a sailor’s eye on the future” (p. 286)—and more: “Optimism. Knowing (by inquiring) who we are. Principles. Patience. Magnanimity. My seeing these in John reinforces their importance for me” (p. 291).

Finally, while the referrals recognized a reader’s concern that “Goodlad does not seem to be in the educational administration literature,” he was honored for having transcended his own discipline: “He has inherited the mantel of Dewey and emerged as a great American educator.”

John Hoyle—Champion


A champion is an ardent defender of a cause. Hoyle is a champion of the educational leadership profession, honored as America’s Leading Reformer in Administrator Preparation.

White Heat: Habits and Routines

Robust creative energy is a constant in Hoyle’s life. Concerning scholarly writing, he shares, “I grab pieces of time. When I can get alone and capture time, I enter into what I call a white heat” and “hammer away like crazy to get something out of my head that needs to get out.”

Interplay between creative energy and educational mission is fundamental to Hoyle’s reformist agenda: “Before I start my classes, I draw a smiley face and say, ‘This is a generic kid but we need to focus our efforts on the individual.’” His interest that extends to leadership preparation is squarely on students, including traditionally disenfranchised groups, as the most critical stakeholder in universities and schools—he implores others to adopt his value system.

A vigorous people person, Hoyle derives satisfaction from quality exchanges with others. He makes time for university students, as well as family, exercise, and church, and always has, explaining, “It’s not just about what we write—it’s about what and how we live.” Because such outside forces heavily influence his schedule, he works doubly hard to carve out time for writing.

Defending the Cause: Energy and Purpose

Hoyle’s “white heat” continues to be directed at protecting causes and battling injustice: “My energy is directed at the good things happening in leadership preparation. I’ve always been optimistic about what we do, despite the criticisms.” He sees himself as someone who protects the field against the disparagement “that we have no center, or that we don’t know what we’re doing, or that we haven’t improved schools.” Hoyle underscores that our profession is improving and diversifying: “Overall, our field is much better now. Our women and minority students move into administrative positions. Our students are brighter than ever. Let’s tell that story.”

Although a great optimist, Hoyle feels compelled to adopt a defensive posture, as in his justification of the national standards that shape leadership preparation: “These are credible and we do have a discipline worth valuing.” He believes we should be protecting the social sciences, adding “new voices” and approaches, but he recognizes that much remains to be done.

Channeling Optimism: Sources of Contribution

In Hoyle’s mind, optimism influences both people and education itself. He described his own attitude as “hope for our discipline—and I still call it a discipline—to become highly respected and to take its place alongside the tried and true disciplines.” We must show, he added, that “what we do is just as scholarly and perhaps more useful than many other disciplines.”

Standards. Channeling Hoyle’s optimism are rigorous academic standards and national guidelines in administration. This self-proclaimed “cheerleader” is “a prime mover in having national standards.” He joked, “A country song applies here, ‘If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything.’” In 1983, he wrote the AASAGuidelines for the Preparation of School Administrators, believing these revitalized the association’s dormant guidelines, initiating the national standards movement: “Those AASA guidelines were unofficially used by most states, becoming the benchmark for every set of standards since.” Skills for Successful 21st Century School Leaders (Hoyle, English, & Steffy, 1998) emerged out of those guidelines and “professors began looking differently at degree programs from a position of standards and what skills should be taught, giving a social science bent to what we were teaching and measuring.”

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) was influenced by the AASA guidelines. Currently, “the AASA guidelines have informed the latest NCATE document for advanced administrator programs, which has since incorporated the ISLLC/ELCC [Educational Leadership Constituent Council]) standards.” Hoyle helped shape these standards, pushing to ensure the accommodation of superintendents. Acknowledging the creators of national standards, notably Joseph Murphy, he reasoned, “I think that NCATE, despite its limitations in evaluating doctoral programs, is probably the best overall standards we’ve got.”


Future. Hoyle (1995) believes that “great leaders have a knack for inventing their own future” (p. 18). Recognized as a futurist, Hoyle is devoted to helping organizational leaders inside and outside education design scenarios that anticipate the future. Students and practitioners need to “see the big picture,” like the “orchestra conductor” who imagines possibilities. Visionaries, he added, see down the road and enable others to see those futures.

From this perspective, we maintain high standards by “refusing to accept mediocrity,” unlike those practitioners who “allow students to fail.” Democratic leaders consult families living in poverty to reach students and “people in administration programs need to have this capacity.”

Love. Another channel for Hoyle’s philosophy of optimism is love. It was “a shock to many when I introduced love into the literature” (see Hoyle, 2001). He now favors the idea of spiritual leadership, described as “reaching for a higher power in someone’s belief system to overcome pedestrian battles.” Hoyle asserted, “You can’t have a great school or system without a higher love for each other and for spiritual guidance for what you do—that’s what a system is.”

Hoyle’s membership on AASA’s Systems Leadership Advisory Committee, which includes Margaret Wheatley, is renowned for fusing systems thinking with spiritual leadership.

The Human Dimension: Major Trends

To Hoyle, the “human dimensions” of spirituality and standards are starting to coalesce. Honoring 1950s activist Mary Parker Follett’s pioneering concept of spirituality in organizational life, Hoyle advocates adopting a spiritual approach to educational standards. Standards more broadly and deeply conceived account for expectations, admissions, and outcomes, and the relationship of these conventional measures to people, both to our ability to grow and become gracious leaders. Interpreted spiritually, standards also support the capacity for caring and specifically the development of aspiring leaders as caregivers (see Hoyle, 1995).

Persistence Pays Off: Advice for Budding Academics

Persistence and learning to cope with rejection were viewed as crucial “cognitive drivers”: “Don’t give up. Once the burn is over, send your manuscript to another journal. Just sit down and do it.” Hoyle urges aspiring academics to write with senior colleagues, no matter how “crusty,” and to develop their careers (and visibility) through national associations and meetings.

Be a Lightning Rod: Aspiring Leaders and Academics

Hoyle encourages aspiring leaders “to want to make a difference and a life.” Quipping, “I like a little ego in my students,” he wants “administrators to be scholarly, not just a good ol’ boy or girl who blends into the community.” Despite the danger, he says that “lightning rods” stand for something. A lightning rod himself, Hoyle’s vision for the superintendency has made executive development child centered, as well as more progressive and humane, not just effective. He helps leaders from different disciplines (e.g., business) and professions (e.g., law enforcement) stretch to embrace democratic agendas.

Highlights From Hoyle’s Referrals

One referral, a doctoral candidate who is an assistant principal, has benefited from Hoyle’s advisement for 9 years. The other, an executive leader of a leading association and a former superintendent, has known Hoyle for 11 years. These long-term colleagues corroborated Hoyle’s claims and narrated the power of his circumference of influence. They also pinpointed characteristics that Hoyle himself either only implied or did not mention. Additionally, they detailed the powerful effect he has had on them, others, and the profession itself.

Hoyle’s focus on guiding, leading, and establishing trends that make a difference in the lives of others and within the educational leadership profession had ample collegial support. The concern he has regarding what is best for young people is manifested in a desire to mentor doctoral and master’s students. For example, Hoyle looks out for his student, the doctoral candidate, by providing sound advice “on the whole deal of graduate school”—the coursework, exams, dissertation, and career. Struggling intellectually at the dissertation stage, the student was guided to the point of breakthrough: “After I finished my proposal in another professor’s course, it had real holes in it. The research design lacked rigor. Dr. Hoyle listened to what I was trying to do and then helped me to reformulate it as a case study.” He concluded that “Dr. Hoyle is a strong, personal ally for who you are and for what you’re doing.”

Reinforcing this statement, the executive leader has observed Hoyle helping junior faculty, including women and minorities. It was owing to Hoyle’s sociability that, as a new professor, they met. Reminiscing about Hoyle’s friendly handshake at a conference, this leader shared that their relationship has since become special: “He watches out for me but not in a fatherly way. I think that his effect on people directly impacts the profession.” Hoyle’s capacity for connection was clear: “Not many high-quality researchers are down-to-earth enough to just sit and talk with you.”

The referrals confirmed that Hoyle’s work is not just scholarly in impact but practical for its value. The leader has “read John’s writings because they are tied to what I do for a living.” The student, referring to “the love book,” added, “At my school, I apply his leadership ideas.” Hoyle’s commitments and writings have “definitely made a significant difference” in this student’s thinking, “not only in my life but in others who have read his work, which goes back to affecting the kids.”

The executive leader depicted Hoyle’s efforts in standards development as having had far-reaching impact:

I consider him an expert on standards and accreditation, partly owing to his historical work. Whenever I have questions about the field’s history, especially the standards movement, I consult John, who is rare for his depth of knowledge. He’s kept close in order to help us make decisions about [this organization’s] direction.

Finally, the energy Hoyle gives to supporting the work of superintendents’ boards and other educational bodies, including national commissions, was clearly acknowledged. He received praise for having redefined what a professor should be and the kind of work that school administrators could be doing. Further, Hoyle’s fight for particular educational causes, including the preparation of democratically-minded leaders, was validated. Champion as mentor, cheerleader, and defender strongly shone through the referrals’ statements.

Joseph Murphy—Architect


An architect designs plans for others’ use. By creating blueprints for national standards, structures, and policies, Murphy exhibits vision, focus, and expertise.

At the Workbench: Habits and Routines

Murphy described himself in statistical terms—he is outside the norm, not having children or outside interests: “I’m probably in the last standard deviation with somebody.” He played with categorizing his efforts, saying, “I probably put about 70% of myself into research, 20% percent into teaching, and 10% percent into service.”

Work is life for Murphy, and he is directed by and immersed in it: “If you have a passion for it, and this is true in every industry, it’s not really work anymore.” He elaborated, “I’m saner now—15 years ago even my wife had to have an appointment to see me. The house could have burned down, and I wouldn’t even have known it.” His commitment to scholarship is unwavering: “Not many have probably written more in the last 20 years, for better or worse.”

School Improvement: Energy and Purpose

Murphy’s energy and purpose are “anchored in what [he calls] school improvement.” He explained, “All my work is designed around the creation of more productive schools,” which are “places where all kids learn at high levels, where achievement is equitably distributed across the school, and where the school is responsible for what happens—all these value adages, such as high achievement.” His work in educational administration, the development of leadership, and relevant policy issues is “all centered on that same issue.”

Anchoring School Improvement: Sources of Contribution

Murphy focuses on school improvement and student success, asking, “How do you get schools to the point where all kids are successful?” Toward this end, his life’s work involves having “repositioned our understanding of school leadership away from simply organization and management, governance, and politics to what we call instructional leadership and learner-centered leadership.” This concept has been at the center of the struggle “to shift the whole profession of school administration toward an educationally anchored conception.”

For decades, Murphy says, it was not the norm in our profession to invest in the success of students, in effect treating school improvement as the process and productive schools as the product. He has devoted himself to designing this standard for the field, which orients “leadership to making a difference in the learning of kids, the faculty, and their schools.”

Murphy’s writings on literacy, professional development, and teacher leadership are all integral to his vision of school improvement. Hence, these pathways are by no means an end in and of themselves. This pattern of thinking extends to Leadership for Literacy (Murphy, 2004), which again puts learning/teaching at the center of instructional leadership, school improvement, and productive schooling. He clarified: “I wouldn’t put literacy at the center—I’d put learning and teaching there,” seeing this positioning as integral to a democratic school agenda.

Using a circles metaphor to further illustrate school improvement, he explained that “the inner circle has to be our most profound understanding of learning and teaching,” and the “outer circle is where leaders show they have organizational fluency.” He added, “Organizational and political tools get kids to high levels of literacy” when “learning [is treated] as the center.”

Continuing Along the Path: Major Trends


Murphy described the state of school leadership as recent as 10 years ago wherein educators could have “continued along the path we’d been following that favored administration in organization, management, governance, and politics,” or “we could have taken the other fork, concerned with learning and teaching: We took the good fork and made the right change.” The “learning-centered leadership” path was once revolutionary: “It’s easy to say now that teaching/

learning should be at the center of school administration and that we need learning-centered leaders,” but for the profession to “come to some agreement on what we valued,” the educational leadership field had to change. Three promising foundations—school improvement, social justice, and democratic community—were erected for this purpose (see Murphy, 2005).

The work that Murphy collaboratively undertakes “has been about moving people in this direction.” Faculty are developing the core foundational areas in their programs and writings.

Get to the Workbench: Advice for Budding Academics

Murphy has given plenty of advice to junior professors about developing their scholarship and increasing their productivity. As a former department chair, Murphy counseled junior professors, advising “You can only be productive if you work. Get to the workbench everyday. Set a schedule and stick to it.” He extended the same counsel to budding academics more generally, arguing

You can’t say ‘I’m going to work on my article on Monday or Friday.’ This is not going to help. You’ve got to be really diligent and aggressive about setting a schedule for your scholarship. You have to work on your scholarship, and if you don’t allot the time to do it, it’s not going to automatically occur.

The junior professors who received their chair’s counsel were urged to “stay home and work at least twice weekly.” Consolidating one’s meetings on particular days was an additional tip.

Operating at the Boundary: Aspiring Leaders and Academics

Murphy also encouraged “colleagues in practice to fight the good fight” by learning to live “at the boundary of the circle” of school administration. With “one foot in the circle and one out,” leaders can “push the envelope,” unlike those who completely enter the circle, becoming absorbed in the daily business of schools. “You have to stay on the outer bound of the circle because that’s where you’re going to make the difference, that’s where improvement’s going to come, and that’s where things are going to happen,” he exclaimed. About democratic instructional leaders, Murphy concluded that “it’s their ability to use the routine stuff to push the learning/teaching agenda forward that separates really good principals.” Notably, this leader “looks at every decision to be made with an instructional and learning pair of glasses.”

New faculty should know, he added, that it is not only essential to work hard but to select carefully, which for principals means emphasizing school improvement and student success.

Highlights from Murphy’s Referrals


One could mistakenly get the impression that Murphy cares only about work. However, his colleagues—a university leader and state leader, both former doctoral students—shared images of him as a committed teacher, mentor, and colleague. Among their many accolades was his award for graduate instruction and graduation of at least 24 doctoral students, with one PhD receiving AERA’s (Division A) dissertation award.

As “a very disciplined writer,” Murphy produces proposals for conferences based on papers he has completed. His “singular focus” was seen as unusual: “He knows what his writing projects are going to be one or more years in advance.” In regard to Murphy’s scholarly habits, he writes in longhand before typing and uses “snail mail.” He sustains a highly predictable schedule, jogging daily and maintaining an indexing system for projects. He works “completely unruffled all day long,” and as department chair “he got around to see the faculty.”

Murphy’s commitment to scholarship was simultaneously viewed as a commitment to practice: “While there’s no doubt about Joe’s stature as a scholar and his commitment to quality research, his focus truly is on improving practice and on research that can drive improvements in practice.” The other referral affirmed that Murphy “took the lens off of the managerial day-to-day within leadership practice and put it on student learning.”

Murphy was described as focusing on instructional leadership with respect to “what it takes for administrators to affect student learning.” He was viewed as a central force in “administrators being seen as champions for learning.” His work with the ISLLC standards has made “an enormous difference in the practical, as well as the preparation, side of the house.”

As teacher, Murphy’s “profound effect” on students was attributed to “his sense of integrity and purpose in improving education.” He “pushed students to think about how they could make schools a better place.” His ideas about the importance of learner-centered leadership in school reform had personal meaning. For one colleague, this was understood in terms of “learning to operate as a leader who has a moral compass, not only a sense of vision.”

Through Murphy, aspiring leaders and scholars learned to do, not just think, leadership.

Thomas Sergiovanni—Shepherd


Sergiovanni, the shepherd, “exercises spiritual care over a community.” His concepts of school community, moral leadership, and school improvement have been adopted worldwide.

Work as Play: Habits and Routines

For years, Sergiovanni’s workweek has had a fluid, even unpredictable quality. Although he would like to write mornings, he has had to make time when he can. He has less free time now, as his work responsibilities have increased. Hence, his writing schedule is somewhat “scattered.” Nonetheless, in 2005 he was busy completing the eighth edition of Supervision: A Redefinition (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2006).

School Community: Energy and Purpose

Sergiovanni (2000) detailed several life-changing experiences that occurred years ago. One resulted from his talk given in the Philippines, where someone’s question about what he meant by effectiveness touched him emotionally. The de facto definition of effectiveness (and effective schools) that he held until then “erupted as a sore spot.” New thinking about the “life world of leadership” started to form. Using as a compass what successful leaders deem important in their work, he came to distinguish effective from good schools. Effective schools “get the right rating based on the state’s accountability tests,” whereas good schools “provide a distinctive normative structure that supports teaching and learning” (Sergiovanni, 2000, pp. 94–95).

After the overseas episode, Sergiovanni (2000) turned to principals and superintendents for help with exploring the “gap between what I thought educational administration was about and what those who work in and around schools every day think it’s about.” A breakthrough occurred upon realizing that “school leaders were morally oriented, connected to a sense of purpose and feeling of responsibility.” Grasping these new ideas put him “on the path—that experience, that trip to the Philippines, and Moral Leadership [1992] changed my life.”

Another transformational experience occurred during Sergiovanni’s work with a group of aspiring leaders. An impromptu exercise revealed that not all organizations are formal and that even families are social organizations. He recognized the richness of this insight for the field wherein the use of formal organization as a guide for leadership theory and practice misdirected educators and their democratic impulses, causing them to “lead with the wrong assumptions.”

Moral Leadership: Sources of Contribution


Moral leadership was “not previously safe” to explore. When Sergiovanni began writing about this area, it was “not yet acceptable to say ‘moral.’” The leadership culture of the past was simply not a world wherein “sacred things” or “moral obligation and other fuzzy concepts that have religious overtones” were discussed. The goal then was to develop a scientific field but Sergiovanni followed his own path, seeing the value of schools as social organizations.

Inspired by Etzioni’s (1988) The Moral Dimension, Sergiovanni (1992) infused the concept of social organization with the new language of morality. Writing about the value of purposes as “covenant, not contract,” he applied this idea within schools. In one exercise he devised, adults and children created posters listing promises to one another. A group that functions according to its own covenants can transcend the authoritarianism of rule enforcers. Hence, collective promises “become a source of authority, binding people in moral ways.”

Processes involved in site-based capacity-building fascinate Sergiovanni. Educators have yet to emphasize the “smart school” and recognize that smarter teachers are more effective. Building on Elmore’s (2004) distinction between learning as a private and public good, he argued that “the extent to which teachers share their new knowledge is unknown.” Teachers in smart schools “develop a community of practice and share what they know.”

Strengthening the Field: Major Trends

Sergiovanni characterized the educational leadership field as having “several generative trends that are changing our practices for the better.” He feels that “there’s hope—some people are expanding themselves and hooking onto important ideas.” Regarding trends in school leadership, he encourages those who take his classes to work in the area of social organization.

This scholar urges us to identify what is individually and collectively important, advising that we become “more deliberate by knowing what we’re about and what we believe in, and by selecting more carefully from among ideas.” About the attacks on educational administration from Arthur Levine and others, he thinks we need to learn from these “pin cushions.”

Students as Inquirers: Advice for Budding Academics

All doctoral students should be introduced to the notion of lines of inquiry: “If you want to have a research career, your work needs to be coherent.” Academics shift from one topic to another, making it “hard to build a profession.” In order to “build piece on piece all the way through,” faculty will need to work differently. One idea is to replace the traditional supervisory relationship with a multiteam, collaborative approach wherein faculty join forces to mentor.

Committing to Commitment: Aspiring Leaders and Academics


Sergiovanni believes that while the job of principal is worthwhile, certain conditions must be met for success. Exemplary leaders “share the principal’s role” with everyone in the school, understanding that the collective has “a responsibility for making the principalship work.” A goal for principals, then, is to figure out how to develop collective responsibility.

For the sake of promotion, junior faculty must develop “a rather narrow agenda.” Impact, Sergiovanni reflected, is covert; it is difficult to know the extent to which our efforts change anything. Budding academics will “need to know what’s important to them” and to successful leaders, so they should “share their work with them to see if it passes the practitioner test.”

Highlights From Sergiovanni’s Referrals

Sergiovanni’s referrals are distinguished professors, both former school administrators interested in site-based change who worked with him for about 7 years. In fact, the retired superintendent found Sergiovanni to be such an inspiration that he made a career change.

In contrast with Sergiovanni’s portrayal of his scholarly regimen as “unpredictable” and “sporadic,” he was appreciated for modeling just the opposite: “Tom has a laser-like focus” and is “protective of his time.” Not surprisingly, he “keeps regenerating” as teacher and writer.

Sergiovanni has “established a good balance between his work and life.” With an engaging, relaxed style, “Tom develops a personal relationship with students, finding mentoring enormously rewarding.” The belief that social organizations are a type of family through which moral leadership is expressed shapes his teaching: “Tom’s the high priest of education,” it was concluded, “with a lifetime commitment to education and a personal touch.” His students become “Sergiovannied,” in that “he changes their perspectives,” making a “genuine impact.”

These professors have themselves internalized Sergiovanni’s teachings: “He walks his talk, practicing the personal leadership he writes about.” The one who left the superintendency pursued, under his wing, new learning; the other strove to capture moral dimensions of school leadership in ways that engaged students. Central to the scholar’s vision of moral leadership is the notion that people, relationships, and community are at the center of democratic practice.

While we do not know for sure if Sergiovanni would in fact “define himself as a teacher first,” he did associate “significance” with high-quality, lasting contributions to teaching.

Discussion: Lessons From the Scholars’ Stories

For this section, I analyzed the interview data from the perspective of how it can inform the education and professional development of aspiring leaders. Those who are committed, optimistic, passionate, and visionary will likely influence education. And, like the top leaders, their individuality and democratic agendas will be expressed through their chosen topics of inquiry and work contexts, as well as the populations and ways they mentor.

Educational Outlook

Passion is the glue that binds us to our life’s work; when deeply engaged, the line between work and play blurs. Motivated, highly focused individuals develop themselves and support others—they model inquiry and adopt strong positions on educational issues.

Optimism is another disposition that top leaders share, and it is subjected to changing trends and one’s perceptions of them. One can be optimistic and still have grave concerns about seminal issues (e.g., quality of graduate students and public schools; integrity of policymaking).

Theory–Practice Connections

Aspiring leaders should seek to bridge the academic–practitioner divide. The top scholars connect theory with practice by working with school communities, improving educational leadership preparation, and collaborating with others. Educational leadership can only grow as a credible, established discipline if we reach out to the constituents reflected in our writing.

Career Changes

Young people can expect their careers to change over time, and the energy devoted early on establishes lifelong habits. However, the work and pace of productive scholars do not always decelerate. Thought needs to be given to the balancing of writing and professional demands.

Mining Talent

Aspiring leaders must guide meaningful projects that include students and practitioners.

They must also recognize their efforts and impact. One wonders why the four scholars did not describe their own mentoring and multi-authoring systems more. They seemed to shortchange the extent of their influence. If impact is indeed implicit, then leaders will need to work at developing an accurate picture of how their work affects people and the public. While effective mentoring is not currently a marker of success in higher education, this may change.

Service Commitments

Developing leaders can benefit from knowing that they should strive not only to advance our field but also to operate in the public interest and for the greater good.

Scholarly Ideas and Productivity Tips

In summary, the top leaders offered the following suggestions to junior faculty.

  • Study schools and school improvement, and integrate your learning in your research.
  • Create a focused agenda, write routinely, and work hard—select areas that sustain you.
  • Collaborate on shared research interests and also develop the capacity for working alone.
  • Be active in professional associations and on the national and local scene.

Final Thoughts

While no single pathway to influencing education exists today, we do know that when scholars find their niche and perform work authentically and passionately, impact may be felt. Also, human qualities (e.g., optimism) and applied efforts in educational improvement, such as building democratic cultures of inquiry, characterize exceptionality. Criteria that identify exceptional scholars (e.g., mentoring) are relevant and credible. Additionally, the educational leadership discipline is open to strong leadership from the “outside,” as Goodlad verified.

Finally, future studies of eminent scholars might follow Havighurst’s (1971) recommendation to broaden the term educational leader through such means as preselected categories. In addition to scholar, administrator, and leader, one might differentiate with respect to women, minorities, college presidents, and so forth. A greater range of types of leaders in our changing profession would then be represented. Surely, this is a worthwhile goal.


1The source of the definitions (i.e., sage) provided is

2Non-identifiers are used for all of the referral colleagues in this biographical interview study.


Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Denzin, N. K. (1989). Interpretive biography. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Elmore, R. F. (2004). School reform from the inside out: Policy, practice, and performance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Engstrom, C. M. (1999). Promoting the scholarly writing of female doctoral students in higher education and student affairs program. NASPA Journal, 36(4), 264-277.

Etzioni, A. (1988). The moral dimension: Toward a new economics. New York: The Free Press.

Gambrell, L. (2000). Reflections on literacy research: The decades of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In T. Shanahan & F. V. Rodriguez-Brown (Eds.), 49th yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 1-11). Chicago, IL: National Reading Conference.

Goodlad, J. I. (1999). Flow, eros, and ethos in educational renewal. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(8), 571-578.

Goodlad, J. I. (2004). Romances with schools: A life of education. New York:McGraw-Hill.

Goodlad, S. J. (2004). Democracy, schools, and the agenda. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 41(1), 17-20.

Havighurst, R. J. (1971). Leaders in American education: The seventieth yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (part II). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Hoyle, J. R. (1995). Leadership and futuring: Making visions happen. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Hoyle, J. R. (2001). Leadership and Love: Six keys to motivating with love. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Hoyle, J. R. (2003). Cocking lecture: Educational administration: Atlantis or Phoenix. In F. C. Lunenburg & C. S. Carr (Eds.), Shaping the future: Policy, partnerships, and emerging perspectives. Lanham, MA: ScarecrowEducation.

Hoyle, J. R., English, F. W., & Steffy, B. E. (1998). Skills for successful 21st century school leaders: Standards for peak performers. Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators.

Kiewra, K. A., & Creswell, J. W. (2000). Conversations with three highly productive educational psychologists: Richard Anderson, Richard Mayer, and Michael Pressley. Educational Psychology Review, 12(1), 135-161.

Lawrence-Lightfoot, S., & Davis, J. H. (1997). The art and science of portraiture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mullen, C. A. (2004). Perceptions within the discipline: Exceptional scholarship in educational leadership and administration. NCPEA Education Leadership Review, 5(1), 8-15. [Republished/refereed again. (2006). NCPEA Connexions. Connexions module (m13677) (available; search term “Mullen”).

Murphy, J. (1999). The reform of the profession: A self-portrait. In J. Murphy & P. Forsyth (Eds.), Educational Administration: A decade of reform (pp. 39-68). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Murphy, J. (2004). Leadership for literacy: Research-based practice, preK–3. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Murphy, J. (2005). Unpacking the foundations of ISLLC Standards and addressing concerns in the academic community. Educational Administration Quarterly, 41(1), 154-191.

Postman, N. (1996). The end of education. New York: Vintage Books.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (1992). Moral leadership: Getting to the heart of school improvement. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (2000). The lifeworld of leadership: Creating culture, community, and personal meaning in our schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sergiovanni, T. J., & Starratt, R. J. (2006). Supervision: A redefinition (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Shamir, B., Dayan-Horesh, H., & Adler, D. (2005). Leading by biography: Towards a life-story approach to the study of leadership. Leadership, 1(1), 13-29.

Sirotnik, K. A., & Soder, R. (1999). The beat of a different drummer: Essays on educational renewal in honor of John I. Goodlad. New York: Peter Lang.

Soder, R. (1999). In keeping with character. In K. A. Sirotnik & R. Soder (Eds.), The beat of a different drummer: Essays on educational renewal in honor of John I. Goodlad (pp. 285-292). New York: Peter Lang.

Tschannen-Moran, M., & Nestor-Baker, N. (2004). The tacit knowledge of productive scholars in education. Teachers College Record, 106(7), 1484-1511. Retrieved July 6, 2006, from

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