Faculty of Education’s UnLeading Project aims to reclaim and redefine leadership


Academics from York University’s Faculty of Education have joined forces to redefine conventional notions of leadership through the UnLeading Project, a newly launched website and podcast series that asks its audience to question the assumptions they have about leadership and the ways they have been socialized into thinking about and enacting it. It promotes the centring of silenced knowledges and knowledge systems, so that transformative possibilities for leading and schooling can be imagined. It explores questions such as: what is leadership; who can be a leader; and what informs how leadership is enacted?The UnLeading Project banner

“Seemingly neutral and apolitical approaches to leadership have inadequately met the longstanding inequities and challenges in Ontario’s public education system,” says project lead Vidya Shah, assistant professor in York’s Faculty of Education. “The undeniable evidence from academic literature, policy, reports, and public outcry speaks to the need for urgent work in transforming systems that can respond to the diverse identities and needs of students and families in Ontario.”

Vidya Shah
Vidya Shah

The UnLeading team – made up of Shah; York Faculty of Education course directors Jocelyn Shih and Sayema Chowdhury; and York master of education student Amanda Lima – was intentional about honouring and affirming the ways in which leadership operates in multiple spaces, within individuals, among collectives and organizations, through ideas and in all of the spaces in between. The intention of UnLeading is to turn leadership on its head and imagine the possibilities that emerge.

The UnLeading website contains the guiding questions that have helped the team to really frame what it is they are attempting to do with this project. The Systems of Oppression tab identifies some of the key logics in each of these systems that are often normalized and naturalized as the status quo. The website also contains teasers for the first set of podcast episodes.

The podcast series – launching on Aug. 31, with one new episode to be released each week thereafter – is designed for aspiring leaders and people currently in formal leadership positions, but it is also for those who don’t see themselves as leaders and those who are actively resisting formal leadership roles because they are worried about how these roles might change them. Listeners will notice that the podcast’s guests come from the community, classrooms, schools, school districts and the academy, providing a range of perspectives and approaches to leadership. Podcast topics include: decolonizing and uncolonizing leadership, community-centred leadership, culturally relevant and anti-racist leadership, queering leadership and critical spirituality in leadership.

For more information about the project and the podcast, visit the UnLeading website at yorku.ca/edu/unleading.