Educational leadership as a field began as the study of educational administration and drew upon a variety of theoretical perspectives. The conceptual orientation of the field was influenced by at least four major intellectual movements and by a number of academic disciplines.
- An early influence on the field was work in scientific management. Central to the scientific management movement was an emphasis on the formal nature of organizations. The "scientific" approach to educational administration focused on such issues as the bureaucratic structure of educational organizations and approaches for enhancing organizational efficiency within schools.
- Another significant influence on educational administration as a field of study was the human relations movement.
- A third major set of influences on the field of educational administration stemmed from applications of the behavioral and social sciences to education.
- Organizational sociology also had a significant influence on the fields of educational administration and leadership.
- Practitioner research, another influence on the field, is often seen as having its origins in the work of Kurt Lewin and the group-dynamics movement of the 1940's. Lewin believed that theoretical knowledge should be created from problem-solving in real life situations.
During the past two decades, the study of educational leadership has been influenced by the educational reforms undertaken nationally and the intellectual movements of the end of the 20th century. Study of the structure and culture of schooling, the nature of effective instructional leadership, issues of standards and curriculum reforms, broadened approaches to inquiry and assessment, issues of diversity and equity, and concerns of critical theorists, post-modernists, and post-structuralists have become characteristic of strong doctoral programs in educational leadership.