26 SES 05 B, Communication and Relations
In this paper I want to present a theoretical and methodological approach to studying school leaders’ talk in action, based on theories of talk-in-interaction (the concept is used here to focus on interaction between members in an organization). With this research basis I will also discuss how transcribed school leaders’ talk can be of use in school leaders’ training programmes.
Leadership in general is supposed to make a positive and significant contribution to action processes in most administrations. In research on school leadership strong focus has been directed on the principals as the front figures or those influencing the schools in order to achieve better results and make changes in underperforming schools (Day, 2007; Harris, 2003) by focusing on leadership styles or personal approaches (Spillane 2009). This leader-centric perspective in general was challenged by Meindl in an article called The romance of leadership (Meindl 1995;) and has been discussed by, for example, Bligh, Kohles & Pillai (2011) and Crevani, Lindgren & Packendorff (2010).
Even though talk and conversation is highly significant for school leaders’ practice (Gronn 1983; Nordzell 2007; Sundgren, 2006;), very little attention in research has been given to school leaders’ talk in everyday conversations, in their daily work, and what language produce in the specific context. The main methods used when studying school leaders are interviews and observations. Assuming that interviews and observations make a specific contribution to the understanding of school leaders’ work (based on the answers in interviews and the researcher’s field notes), and that analysing talk as it is performed in action makes another contribution in this field, I find it highly relevant to focus on the talk, words, concepts and categories used in action. The reasons for this are:
- That an interactional perspective on school leaders’ conversation is set up
- To make visible the words or categories used in interaction, in everyday work
- That the analysis can focus on how persons involved in talk produce and construct categories, identities, culture, organisation in the specific conversations/meetings
- That the analysis can focus on what words, concepts, categories do in the specific context
- That these studies can be used to discuss with school leaders/teachers/teams in schools the kind of meaning and understanding different words and categories produce in situ (in the specific context)
- That an awareness of the ways how words are used in organizations could result in conscious actions in conversation
Concepts describing this research area are talk-in-interaction, conversation analysis (CA) (Psathas, 1999; Heritage, 2005), membership categorisation analysis (MCA) (Housley & Fitzgerald, 2009; Stokoe, 2012; Sacks, 1992; Lepper, 2000). My primary focus is on MCA as it “directs attention to the locally used, invoked and organized ’presumed common-sense knowledge of social structures’ which members are oriented to in the conduct of their everyday affairs, including professional sociological inquiry itself.” (Hester & Eglin, 1997). MCA derives from ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1967) and social constructionism (Hacking, 2000; Potter, 1996), where theory and method are intimately intertwined.
Bligh, Michelle C.; Kohles, Jeffrey C & Pillai, Rajnandini (2011). Romancing leadership: Past, present, and future. The Leadership Quarterly 22, 1058-1077. Bowker, Geoffrey & Star, Susan Leigh (1999). Sorting things out. London: The MIT Press. Crevani, Lucia; Lindgren, Monica & Packendorff, Johan (2010). Leadership, not leaders: On the study of leadership as practices and interactions. Scandinavian Journal of Management 26, pp 77-86. Day, Christopher (2007). What Being a Successful Principal Really Means. An International Perspective. Educational Leadership and Administration. Vol 19, Fall. Garfinkel, Harold (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Cambridge; Polity Press. Gronn, Peter C. (1983). Talk as the Work: The Accomplishment of School Administration. Administrative Science Quarterly, 28, 1-21. Hacking, Ian (2000). Social konstruktion av vad? (The social construction of what?) Stockholm: Thales. Harris, Alma (2003). Introduction. In Alma Harris, Christopher Day, David Hopkins, Mark Hadfield, Andy Hargreaves and Christopher Chapman (eds.), Effective Leadership for School Improvement. London: RoutledgeFalmer, Taylor & Francis Group. Heritage J (2005) Conversation analysis and institutional talk. In: Fitch KL and Sanders RE (eds) Handbook of Language and Social Interaction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 103–147. Hester, Stephen & Eglin, Peter (red). (1997). Culture in Action. Studies in Membership Categorization Analysis. Washington DC: International Institute for Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis: University Press of America. Housley W and Fitzgerald R (2009) Membership categorization, culture and norms in action. Discourse & Society 20(3): 345–362. Lepper, Georgia (2000). Categories in Text and Talk. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. Meindl, James R. (1995). The romance of leadership as a follower-centric theory: a social constructionist approach. Leadership Quarterly, 6(3), pp329-341. Nordzell, A. (2007). Samtalat skolledarskap. Kategoriserings- och identitetsarbete i interaktion. (Doing school leadership. Categorization and identity work in interaction). Linköping Studies in Education and Psychology, no 112. Linköping: LiU Tryck. Diss Potter, Jonathan. (1996) Representing Reality. Discourse, Rhetoric and Social Construction. London: Sage. Psathas, George (1999). Studying the Organization in Action: Membership Categorization and Interaction Analysis. Human Studies 22, 139-162. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Sacks, Harvey (1992). Lectures on Conversation. Volume I and II. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. Spillane, James P. (2009). Managing to Lead: Reframing School Leadership and Management. The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 91, No. 3, pp. 70-73. Stokoe, Elizabeth (2012). Moving forward with membership categorization analysis: Methods for systematic analysis. Discourse Studies, Vol 14(3) 277-303. Sundgren, Gunnar (2006). Skolledning: språk och förhandling. (School leadership: language and negotiation). Lund: Studentlitteratur.
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