26 SES 16 A, Trusting, Distributing and Delegating and Promoting Collaboration
In Ireland, as elsewhere, policy-makers advocate teacher collaboration as being a vital component of educational reform and school improvement in inclusive and participatory communities of practice. The discourse of the key policy document “Looking at Our School 2016: A Quality Framework for Post-Primary Schools” (LAOS), the latest in a raft of policy documents originating with the Education Act 1998, the first piece of legislation to govern Irish educational policy since the Intermediate Education Act 1878, advocates a holistic, inclusive, participative view of learning, recognising the importance of quality teaching as a core element in enabling high-quality learner outcomes. The policy rhetoric in the LAOS document, congruent with the discourse of new public management, in providing statements of what constitutes practice in an effective or highly effective school recommends the need for teachers to engage in professional development and professional collaboration, to work together to devise opportunities for students, to collectively develop assessment practices and to build whole-staff capacity by sharing their expertise (SSE, 2016). Implicit in this accountability regimen is an imperative to prepare and equip students with the skills considered necessary for the knowledge economy and global competitiveness. The operationalisation of this, externally mandated imperative for quality assurance entails its enactment through new procedures, with principals being identified as the key agents in leading change and in mediating external forces.
Using an Activity Theoretical conceptual frame (Engestrom, 2008) any debate on educational leadership, however, must take cognisance of factors that are culturally specific. The genesis of this policy document must be contextualised and understood against the backdrop of societal change in Ireland since the 1990s. In that timeframe, there have been major changes in Irish society as the country has moved from being a homogeneous, agricultural society to a more open market-driven and culturally diverse society, with the period up to the mid-2000s being characterised by unprecedented economic growth. Into the mix must be added the fallout from the post-2008 economic collapse, political and banking scandals and a lack of trust in the institutions of church and state, followed by an agenda for educational reform mandating responsibility, evaluation, accountability and transparency (McNamamara & O’Hara, 2012) in a regulatory, neo-liberal quality assurance frame.
Schools in the Irish education system, and more particularly the religious-run voluntary secondary schools, have not had a history of collaborative practice as the nexus of power and authority was located in the principal with the teacher being denied agency. The teacher operated a “closed door” system and an isolationist teaching culture pertained. This poses challenges for principals to mediate historical narratives with post-hierarchical options which are inclusive, collaborative and collegial in nature and where there is a distribution of leadership. The argument will be made, in this presentation, congruent with Wenger’s (1998) social theory of learning that a further challenge for school leaders is to lead in a transformative way to ensure continuity with the school’s shared history of learning while facilitating a new order of discourse by mediating external forces (TALIS, 2013; PISA,2015; EU Strategic Framework: Education & Training 2020).
Though research literature and policy-makers recommend that teachers collaborate and that school principals are the key influential agents in providing the space and resources for such collaborative practice, the research base is limited.
The research questions are:
- To what extent do Post Primary Principals in the VSS promote/enable collaborative practice in relation to teaching and learning in their schools?
- What is the principal’s prior knowledge of collaborative practice?
- What is the nature of current teaching and learning practice?
- What level of collaborative practice is currently in operation?
- How is collaborative practice supported/enabled/facilitated by the principal?
The purpose of this research study is to attempt to achieve a depth of understanding of the role played by principals in the reification of the Department of Education and Skills (DES) policy around collaborative practice in their schools. To reach this goal, the researchers agreed that a qualitative approach, using semi-structured interviews, offered an interactive way of constructing knowledge through probing, listening, interpreting, and ultimately understanding the varied perspectives of the participants true experiences in their own school settings (Mertens, 2005). A sample of six post-primary principals was selected to facilitate capturing a snapshot of the current culture within each of the participating schools around teacher collaborative practice and the extent to which such practice is enabled and/or encouraged by senior management. The schools selected for the purposes of this research included three all-boys schools and three all-girls schools situated in medium to high-density urban locations in Ireland. The researchers also determined that the participating schools should have a population in excess of 500 students in order to offer the greater complexity and challenge of innovation and change in schools ranging from medium to large in the Irish context. Ultimately, this was a purposive sample through which the researchers could gather facts, identify attitudes, explore past, current and possible future behaviours around teacher collaboration and elicit associated reasons and explanations (Silverman, 1993). The principals were interviewed using a semi-structured interview schedule. A mini digital recorder was used to record the interviews. Each interview was transcribed verbatim for analysis. Field notes were taken by the researchers to record elements such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions in order to attend to what Kvale & Brinkman (2009) refer to as the “emotional tone of the interaction” (p. 130). The interview transcripts were then analysed using a grounded theory approach. The researchers selected grounded theory particularly for its inductive based nature and its tendency to be more open-ended and exploratory in terms of how one applies it to the data (Charmaz, 2006). The researchers believed that this investigation was not going to impinge in any way on the participants rights nor was it going to be in any way ethically sensitive. A formal, full and open application has been made to the supporting university’s Social Research Ethics Committee (SREC) seeking ethical approval to conduct this research prior to commencement in January 2018.
•There is no single view of what constitutes collaborative practice and distributed leadership •To reconstitute school culture is a complex, contextual and protracted process •The concept of Collaborative Practice does not explicitly form part of the discourse in the case study schools •Any attempt at analysing Collaborative Practice must recognise that Principals figure very prominently in the narrative •The historical legacies of isolation and insular culture continues to persist •The empirical evidence will raise critical questions concerning the future direction of Collaborative Practice and the distribution of leadership I Irish Voluntary Secondary Schools •School leaders will face a challenge to make explicit the entire concept of Collaborative Practice as an essential component for school improvement •Principals face considerable financial and temporal constraints
Charmaz, K., (2009). Constructing Grounded Theory. A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis. London: Sage Publications. Department of Education and Skills (2016).Looking at Our Schools: A Quality framework for Post-Primary Schools. Dublin: The Inspectorate. Department of Education and Skills (2016) School Self-Evaluation Guidelines 2016-2020. Engestrom, Yvro (2008). From Teams to Knots. Activity-Theoretical Studies of Collaboration and learning at Work. Cambridge University Press. Fullan, Michael (2014). The principal three Keys To Maximising Impact. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Hargreaves, Andy & Fink, Dean (2006). Sustainable Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Kvale, S. & Brinkman, S., (2009). Interviews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. San Francisco: Sage Publications. McNamara, Gerry, O’Hara, Joe (2012). From looking at our schools (LAOS) to whole school evaluation – management, leadership and learning (WSE-MLL): the evaluation of inspection in Irish schools over the past decade. Educational Assessment Evaluation and Accountability, 24. Mertens, D. (2005). Research and Evaluation in Education and Psychology (2nd Ed.) Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. O’Donovan, Margaret (2015). The Challenges of Distributing Leadership in Irish Post-Primary Schools. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 8(2), 243-266. Redmond, Michael (2016). Emotion and Collaboration: A Study of Ireland’s Voluntary School Principals. Dublin: Joint Managerial Body. Rizvi, Fazal & Lingard, Bob (2010). Globalizing Education Policy. London: Routledge. Silverman, D. (1993). Interpreting Qualitative Data. London: Sage Publications. Spillane, James P. (2006). Distributed Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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