26 SES 16 A, Trusting, Distributing and Delegating and Promoting Collaboration
By bridging curriculum research with educational leadership theory, this article examined the 2014 national core curriculum reform in Finland through the lens of distributed leadership. We aimed to reveal how the curriculum reform process established resources and allowed agency on the national and local level. The following questions were answered: What were the main goals of the 2014 comprehensive education curriculum reform? How would you evaluate the reform process in general? How would you evaluate the manifestations of creating resources and allowing agency on the national, municipal, and school level? What kinds of power tensions did you notice in the reform process? How would you evaluate the enactment of the reform at this phase?
In Finland, educational researchers, policy makers, educational administrators, and teachers customarily perceive curriculum as a predetermined overall plan about all the actions that the education system has to take to reach the educational objectives. (Hellström, 2008; see also Hirsjärvi, 1983). Since the establishment of the Finnish comprehensive education system in the 1970s, this predetermined overall plan has been compiled approximately every 10 years: 1970, 1985, 1994, 2004, and 2014. Each curriculum reform has hallmarked some major evolvements in the missions, values, visions, and strategies of the Finnish education. The 2014 reform, therefore, was expected to bring forth a set of new development to meet the needs of the 21st century learners.
In this study, we applied the resource-agency duality model of distributed leadership as the analytical framework.
The first usage of the model was to zoom into the socio-cultural context in which the series of Finnish curriculum reforms had taken place. Factors like societal changes, political agendas, and economic conditions were analysed in relation to who got access to resources and whose agency was permitted or restrained in leading the curriculum reforms. In order to position the 2014 curriculum reform in the chain of reforms, we also analysed the previous basic education curriculum reforms in Finland.
The second usage of the model was to elucidate how leadership, both as organisational resource and as individual’s agency, was created and distributed during the 2014 Finnish curriculum reform process. Organisational resources referred to a wide range of fiscal, human, material, political, and cultural capitals that enabled the creation and execution of curricula on various levels. Individuals’ agency, on the other hand, referred to how key actors on the national and local level exerted influence on the curriculum process, resource distribution, goal setting, and content designing during the reform (Eteläpelto, Vähäsantanen, Hökkä, & Paloniemi, 2013; Tian et al., 2016).
The third usage of the model was to explicate the complex power relations and tensions in the curriculum compilation and enactment process. According to the duality model, actors on various levels of the hierarchy were both each other’s resources and the indirect or direct targets of each other’s exercises of agency. This resource-agency interdependence gave birth to a complex network of power relations and even tensions, which this article attempted to reveal.
To examine the curriculum reforms through the lens of the distributed leadership model, we adopted the mixed-methods design to analyse two sets of data in this study. The first dataset comprised of Finnish national curricula, legislation, policy documents, and research publications dealing with the curriculum reforms in Finland. Document analyses were conducted to depict the historical evolvement of these reforms, their socio-economic-political backgrounds, and reform foci for positioning the 2014 reform (Bowen, 2009). With respect to the 2014 reform, an in-depth document analysis was carried out to synthesise its key areas and their connections to distributed leadership. The second dataset was collected via an open-ended survey. The survey comprised five questions that probed into the 2014 curriculum reform from both leadership as resource and leadership as agency dimensions. Altogether 21 key actors, who all had leading roles in the 2014 curriculum reform process on the national, municipal, or school level, answered this survey. The national level respondents comprised of eight key actors representing the National Agency for Education (OPH), the National Association for Local and Regional Authorities (Kuntaliitto), the Trade Union for Education (OAJ), the Association for Education Experts (Opsia), the Finnish Principals’ Association (SURE), the National Parents’ Association (Vanhempainliitto), one teacher training university, and one private company providing professional development service. The six municipal level respondents came from local educational authorities and parents’ associations. On the school level, we had seven respondents from schools and parental organisations. Among the respondents, the gender distribution was 11 women and 10 men. It is also noteworthy that 10 out of the 21 respondents mentioned that they had changed their positions during the 2014 curriculum reform process, which enabled them to provide many-sided pictures of the process. All the survey answers were first exported and sorted in an excel table by the second author, who later conducted the first phase content analysis by synthesising and translating the data from Finnish to English in a summary. Based on the English summary, the first author then conducted the second phase content analysis using the resource-agency duality model of distributed leadership as the analytical framework. Then, the second author verified, supplemented, and modified the secondary analysis results based on his interpretations of the original data. This data analysis and reporting process entailed both authors to constantly compare and validate the interpretations of the data (Krippendorff, 2013; Mayring, 2000).
Firstly, our findings revealed that at each stage of the examined history, the curriculum had been used as a tool to accomplish the educational goals of that time, and that it had largely been shaped by its socio-cultural-political context. From the educational leadership research perspective, our findings confirmed that the Finnish local provisions of education are not uniformed, although similar developmental trends can be identified across the local contexts. From the perspective of curriculum research, our study echoed Mølstad and Karseth’s (2016) claim that the curriculum discourse in Finland has been gradually moving from a content-oriented model to an output-oriented model. Secondly, the increasing professionalism of Finnish principals and teachers had made them key human resources to lead curriculum reforms on all levels (Sahlberg, 2011). In our study, most survey participants perceived themselves as key resource people, whose agency was recognised and utilised in the reform process. Thirdly, distributed leadership requires purposefully designed resources to support empowered leaders on various levels. We found the 2014 national core curriculum included nearly 180 issues to be decided on the local level with concrete instructions and obligations on how to incorporate local educational goals with the national ones. Fourthly, we uncovered some disparities between the curriculum document and the parent representatives’ experience in the reform. The 2014 curriculum explicitly obligated working groups on all levels to engage students and parents in the curriculum compilation and enactment process. Fifthly, our survey respondents did not report major power tensions in relation to the 2014 curriculum reform. Rather, there had been some disagreements in relation to the school subjects, the distribution of lesson hours, and teachers’ working hours, but these had been dealt with constructively. Key actors had learnt from the earlier reforms how to support people’s collaborative agency with working structures, roadmaps, and financial incentives.
Risku, M. (2012). Superintendency in the Historical Development of Education in Finland. In Effective Schools in Effective Systems (pp. 182 – 210). Pretoria, South Africa: Department of Education Management, University of Pretoria. Risku, M. (2014). A historical insight on Finnish education policy from 1944 to 2011. Italian Journal of Sociology of Education, 6(2). Retrieved from http://ijse.padovauniversitypress.it/2014/2/3 Risku, M., Kanervio, P., & Pulkkinen, S. (2016). Finnish Superintendents Are Striving with a Changing Operational Environment. In Nordic Superintendents: Agents in a Broken Chain (pp. 65–98). Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-25106-6_3 Sahlberg, P. (2011). Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland. New York: Teachers College Press. Sarjala, J. (2008). Järki Hyvä Herätetty: Koulu Politiikan Pyörteissä [Sense Good Woken: Schools in the Turmoil of Politics]. Helsinki: Kirjapaja. Sivesind, K., Afsar, A., & Bachmann, K. E. (2016). Transnational policy transfer over three curriculum reforms in Finland: The constructions of conditional and purposive programs (1994–2016). European Educational Research Journal, 15(3), 345–365. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474904116648175 Sivesind, K., & Wahlström, N. (2016). Curriculum on the European policy agenda: Global transitions and learning outcomes from transnational and national points of view. European Educational Research Journal, 15(3), 271–278. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474904116647060 Tian, M. (2016). Distributed leadership in Finnish and Shanghai schools. Jyväskylä Studies in Education, Psychology and Social Research 571. Retrieved from https://jyx.jyu.fi/dspace/handle/123456789/52197 Tian, M., Risku, M., & Collin, K. (2016). A meta-analysis of distributed leadership from 2002 to 2013: Theory development, empirical evidence and future research focus. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 44(1), 146–164. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143214558576 Uljens, M. (2015). Curriculum work as educational leadership - paradoxes and theoretical foundations. Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy, 1(1). Retrieved from http://journals.co-action.net/index.php/nstep/article/view/27010 Uljens, M., & Rajakaltio, H. (2017). National Curriculum Development as Educational Leadership: A Discursive and Non-affirmative Approach. In M. Uljens & R. M. Ylimaki (Eds.), Bridging Educational Leadership, Curriculum Theory and Didaktik (Vol. 5, pp. 411–437). Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-58650-2_13 Uljens, M., & Ylimaki, R. (2015). Towards a discursive and non-affirmative framework for curriculum studies, Didaktik and educational leadership. Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy, 2015(3), 30–43. https://doi.org/10.3402/nstep.v1.30177
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