Got theory? Reconceptualizing the nature of the theory-practice gap in K-12 educational leadership

Rachel Roegman, Sarah Woulfin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to reconceptualize the theory-practice gap in educational leadership, not as a deficit, but as a necessity for legitimacy within institutional contexts. Design/methodology/approach: This paper draws on institutional theory to reframe the theory-practice gap, which is often seen as a deficit of leaders or preparation programs. Findings: Three vignettes illustrate how aspiring and current educational leaders engage with theory and practice within specific contexts and in relation to specific aspects of leadership. Importantly, the vignettes show that when school leaders decouple theory from practice, they may be doing so to function as legitimate providers of K-12 educational leadership. Research limitations/implications: The theory-practice gap, while often perceived as something negative, can have certain benefits within particular contexts. Scholars interested in the interconnections of theory and practice would benefit from considering why and how school leaders engage theory and practice. Practical implications: Implications for leadership preparation programs highlight developing more complex views of the challenges that leaders face in tightly coupling theory and practice. To support future and current leaders, leadership preparation programs need to ensure that their students understand their institutional contexts and the reasons that leaders may decouple theory from action in various ways. Originality/value: Instead of viewing the theory/practice gap as a deficit, this paper argues for a new way to consider why school leaders and leadership candidates may engage with theory and practice in different ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-20
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Educational Administration
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 29 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Educational administration
  • Institutional analysis
  • Leadership development
  • Organizational theory
  • Theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Public Administration


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