26 SES 12 B, Engaging with the Diverse Community Within and Around School
Developing collective professional capacity in schools can hardly be developed without active support from leaders at all levels (Mulford & Silins, 2003; Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006). It is about creating conditions for the growth of teachers' professional knowledge (Leithwood, Jantzi, & Steinbach, 2006). Robinson and her colleagues emphasised the link between the active participation of leaders in professional learning and development with their staff and student success (Robinson, Hohepa, & Lloyd, 2009). A critical factor in this work is to facilitating regular meetings for staff discussions (Louis, 1998). By initiating academic discussions on school subjects, the principal may influence teachers 'teaching practices and thereby indirectly affect the students' learning (Leithwood et al., 2006). In “Leadership for 21st century learning”, learning leadership is introduced as a concept for innovative learning environments (OECD, 2013). Learning leadership is defined by five principles: 1) a focus on learning, 2) creating conditions favourable to learning, 3) dialogue, 4) sharing leadership through structures and procedures supporting participation, and 5) a shared sense of accountability (MacBeath, 2013, p. 83). These principles highlight different aspects of professional development and underline the importance of the process of developing collective knowledge and professional capacity, the main challenge for school leaders in the future (Aas & Paulsen, 2017).
Even though some research has shown that building collective knowledge and professional capacity is considered essential for school effectiveness and improvement (Hallinger, 2011; Leithwood & Jantzi, 2005), less research has been conducted on the collective professional discussions established for such knowledge and capacity building. Inspired by the need for a framework for group coaching (Aas & Fluckiger, 2016), we have developed a protocol for group discussing and use this in studying the leader’s role. The aim of the paper is to study how principals lead professional discussions to shape å collective ground for improvement in schools and the following research question is raised: What characterize professionals group discussions, and how do principals perform their role as meeting leaders?
Building consensus during discussions is complicated. However, according to Louis (Louis, 2003, p. 105), this is the main challenge in democratic leadership: ‘Articulating a humanist voice that calls for respecting and listening to all positions – but then being able to move forward in the absence of consensus – will be the critical skill that school leaders need to develop when the environment makes consensus impossible.
The Norwegian authorities, influenced by the OECD project “Improving School Leadership’, launched a nationwide education programme in 2009 for newly appointed principals to improve their qualifications as leaders and to support national policies. The National School Leadership Program was built around five themes on curriculum that the Norwegian Minister of Education and Research tendered for: students’ learning, management and administration, cooperation and organization building, development and change, and the leadership role (Hybertsen et al., 2014). In this article, we draw on data from professional group discussions based on a case narrative of the Blueberry School. In the narrative, accountability challenges are illuminated by examples of ‘struggles’ or ‘conflicts’ that can emerge.
The analyses builds on video data from discussions in eight groups composed of five principals representing different school levels, school sizes and geographical locations in Norway. Each group discussed (60–90 minutes in length) the three topics described in the section about the Bluberry School: students’ test results, criticism from teachers, and expectations from the superintendent and politicians. In each of the eight groups, one of the principals was asked to lead the group discussion on one of the three topics to be discussed. In sum, this means that the data include comments from 24 principals in their role as leader of professional group discussions. The selected material builds on about 500 minutes of video recordings that were recorded during 2011 and 2012; we used Videograph, a software programme for analysis of the video data. The data were transcribed verbatim and examined by using the analytical categories of the protocol of professional group discussion. These categories are shown as the four steps in the developed protocol for leading professional group discussion: setting the stage, invite point of views and arguments, advance the discussion and wrapping up the discussion. An analysis of the principals’ role as leader of group discussions was conducted in three steps (Richards, 2014). We started by revealing the principals’ initiatives in the discussion of each group. Next, we organised their initiatives according to the analytical categories across all eight groups. Further, we did a close-up analysis of the principals’ initiatives within each of the three steps of the discussions. One limitation of the study must be noted. The case methodology represents a cognitive approach to leadership and not actual leadership activity (Mumford, Peterson, Robledo, & Hester, 2012). The principals in the study were asked to lead a discussion outside their own schools. In real life, they would probably prepare the discussion. However, leading professional discussions are central in their daily work, so they should be familiar with them.
In the analysis, a few examples of meeting leaders who used the participants’ initiatives to shape the collective focus were observed. The main pattern was to let everybody talk about their concerns without giving any responses to their arguments. From a diversity of voices with individual viewpoints about ‘everything’, it seems difficult to align, combine and attune individual points of view to advance a discussion. The preliminary findings show that the principals’ focus was on fostering an open process by involving all participants in a way that gave them all a chance to speak out about their opinions, to agree or disagree with others, and to have their thoughts heard. However, they focused less attention on helping the group with framing, clarifying the discussion topics and performing the types of action considered essential to holding the discussions on track and to carrying them forward, including making further plans for actions. Based on the findings, we discuss three aspects of the role of leaders in professional group discussion challenges: setting the stage, moving the process from individual viewpoints to a common group point and distinguishing a goal-oriented leader’s role versus a facilitator’s role. Since group discussions can lay the groundwork for building professional capacity and real improvements in schools, more awareness on leading professional discussions should be fostered when it comes to research and school leadership development. This research piece indicates the need for more research which can enhance our knowledge about professional discussion, especially in terms of the critical moments in leading discussions. In further research, the group discussion protocol reported on in this article might be a useful tool. Another implication of this study is that metacognitive skills in school leadership programmes should be given more focus.
Hallinger, P. (2011). Leadership for learning: lessons from 40 years of empirical research. Journal of Educational Administration, 49(2), 125-142. Hybertsen, I. D., Stensaker, B., Federici, R. A., Olsen, M. S., Solem, A., & Aamodt, P. O. (2014). Evalueringen av den nasjonale rektorutdanningen. Retrieved from Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (2005). A Review of Transformational School Leadership Research 1996-2005. Leadership and policy in Schools. Special issue on "International Perspectives on Leadership for Social Justice", 4(3), 177-1999. Leithwood, K., Jantzi, D., & Steinbach, R. (2006). Changing leadership for changing times. Maidenhead, Philadelphia: Open University Press. Louis, K. S. (1998). Reconnecting Knowledge Utilization and School Impovement: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back. In A. Hargeaves (Ed.), International Handbook of Educational Change (Vol. 5, pp. 1074-1097). Dordrecht: Kluwer. Louis, K. S. (2003). Democratic Schools, Democratic Communities: Reflections in an International Context. Leadership and policy in Schools. Special issue on "International Perspectives on Leadership for Social Justice", 2(2), 93-108. MacBeath, J. (2013). Leading learning in a world of change. In OECD (Ed.), Leadership for 21st Century Learning, Educational Research and Innovation (pp. 83-106): OECD Publishing. Mulford, B., & Silins, H. (2003). Leadership for organizational learning and improved student outcomes - what do we know? Cambridge Journal of Education, 33(2), 175-195. Mumford, M. D., Peterson, D., Robledo, I., & Hester, K. (2012). Cases in leadership education. Implications of Human Cognition. In S. Snook, N. Nohria, & R. Khurana (Eds.), The Handbook for Teaching Leadership. Knowing, Doing, and Being (pp. 21-33). Harvard: Sage Publication. OECD. (2013). Leadership for 21st Century Learning, Educational Research and Innovation. Paris: OECD Publishing. Richards, L. (2014). Handling Qualitative Data: A Practical Guide (3 ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage. Robinson, V. M. J., Hohepa, M., & Lloyd, C. (2009). School leadership and student outcomes: Identifying what works and why. Best evidence synthesis iteration Wellington: Ministry of Education. Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Wallace, M., & Thomas, S. (2006). Professional learning communities: a review of the literature. Journal of Educational Change, 7, 221-258. Aas, M., & Fluckiger, B. (2016). The role of a group coach in the professional learning of school leaders. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 9(1), 38-52. doi:10.1080/17521882.2016.1143022 Aas, M., & Paulsen, J. M. (2017). Å lede i fremtidens skole. In M. Aas & J. M. Paulsen (Eds.), Ledelse i fremtidens skole (pp. 13-30). Oslo: Fagbokforlaget
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