26 SES 17, Tools for Assuring Quality and Improving Schools
This paper aims to explore principals experience and sensemaking of a school collaboration with private companies from the local community of the school in a Swedish setting. Collaboration within educational settings continues to gain more and more attention as school networks, chains, partnerships. Broadening professional learning communities have been introduced in a number of educational settings around the world (Ainscow, 2016; Chapman et al., 2016; Muijs et al., 2010). Research imply that these approaches to school improvement could establish a valuable platform for professional collaboration and improvement in schools (e.g. Cordingley, 2015; Muijs, 2008) as well as being enablers of internal capacity building in schools (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012). This is in line with Ainscow (2016), who argues that the aim must be to “move knowledge around” and the best way to do this is through strengthening collaboration within schools, between schools and beyond schools.
In Sweden, there has been an intention to improve school through collaborative structures, shared responsibility and collective learning that promote collaboration since the governmental investigation of the school-working environment in 1974 (SOU, 1974:53), and the introduction of the 1980 national curriculum. Today, teacher teams are an ‘institutionalized practice’ in most Swedish schools, but the meaning of the collaboration can vary greatly (Blossing & Ekholm, 2008). Despite that, there still seems to remain a individualistic culture in the Swedish school system. Municipalities, schools, principals and teachers are used to working relatively “isolated” without collaboration with the outside world (Björkman, 2008; OECD, 2015; Nordholm, 2015).
Today, Swedish school principals are responsible for school improvement and for creating conditions for teaching and learning so that all students reach their educational goals. National policy states that Swedish principals act as pedagogical leaders with focus on the national curriculum to increase teachers’ capacity in relation to teaching and learning and to create a learning environment (Bredeson & Johansson, 2000). The principal's responsibility for proper school development has been strengthened in the new Education Act from 2010 compared to the previous (Jarl, 2013) and it clarifies the principal's responsibility, authorities, and decision-making right. Still, both Swedish (e.g., Blossing & Ekholm, 2008; Larsson, 2004) and international studies (e.g., Hargreaves & Fink, 2006; Lambert, 2007) have highlighted difficulties in bringing about learning and sustainable school improvement in local schools. The importance of leadership for increased learning and improvement in schools are well known and emphasized in research (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006; Leithwood et al, 2006). The study leans on the theory of communities of practice (Wenger 1998) and sensemaking theory (Weick, 1995, 2001). The purpose of this study is to examine principals experiences and sensemaking of a school collaboration with private companies from the local community of the school, focusing on leadership and school improvement. The research questions that frame the study are:
- How do principals experience and make sense of a school collaboration with private companies?
- How can the outcomes of the collaboration be understood in terms of possibilities and challenges?
The study employed a qualitative case study design with a purposive sampling method in order to include schools working with companies in the framework of a collaborative improvement project. The present study aimed at examining principals experience and sensemaking of a school collaboration with private companies from the local community of the school, focusing on leadership and school improvement. In order to solve the problem in this study, a contextual depth is required. According to Stake (1995, p. 16) a case study allows it: "In qualitative case study, we seek greater understanding of the case, we want to appreciate the uniqueness and complexity, its embeddedness and interaction with its contexts." This is in line with Yin (2007), who mean case studies as a research strategy is based on wanting to explore an area in depth, focusing on how and why (Yin, 2007). The case in this study, ‘the quintan’ (Stake 1995, 2006) was the beyond school collaboration between three schools and three mentor companies, and was pre-selected to study (Stake, 1995). This work is an “intrinsic case study” (Stake, 1995), which is typically undertaken to learn about a unique phenomenon, and this case is understood as a unique phenomenon. Data was collected over a period of three years (2012-2015) and mainly consisted of semi-structured individual interviews with the principals of the schools. Project meeting notes, field observations, field notes, and document analysis was also used in order to create a ‘thick description’ of the case. The 16 interviews were conducted in the beginning, middle and in the end of the collaboration, lasted about 50-70 minutes each and concerned questions about: school organizations, distribution of labour and job sharing, how the schools and the companies collaborates, and other external collaborations between the schools and the surrounding community. The nature of the interviews changed during the course of collaboration, from the focus on the school and the conditions for collaboration to the development of collaboration with the companies and, ultimately, on how the collaboration went and what it contributed to. All interviews were recorded and saved as separate digital audio files and then transcribed verbatim. The Atlas.ti 6.2 software tool was used to organise the interviews in the process of data analysis. Qualitative content analysis has been used for the analysis of this study and the collected empirical data was analysed using within-case analysis (Miles et al., 2014).
The findings illuminate three areas of interest: (a) collaborative structure (b) collaborative culture, and (c) emerging professional learning communities. A core story was formulated based on the themes and categories in order to elucidate the principals’ experiences and sensemaking of the collaboration between schools and private companies. One concluding remark so far is that the collaboration has created awareness among the principals and also demonstrated the practical possibilities of school collaboration and working with the surrounding community more in general. The final conclusions of the study will be presented at the conference. Implications for further research will be considered. For European educational research, this is one essential matter as it can be seen as a contribution to valuable knowledge about key factors for principals and schools work with school improvement and in a Nordic context, for both practitioners and policy makers.
Ainscow, M. (2016), “Collaboration as a strategy for promoting equity in education: possibilities and barriers”, Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 159-172. Björkman, C. (2008). Internal Capacities for School Improvement – Principals´ views in Swedish Secondary Schools. (Doctoral thesis, Umeå University). Blossing, U. & Ekholm, M. (2008). A central school reform program in Sweden and the local response: Taking the long term view works. Urban Education 43(6): 624–652. Bredeson, P. & Johansson, O. (2000). The school principal’s role in teacher professional development. Journal of In-Service Education 26(2): 385–389. Chapman, C., Chestnutt, H., Friel, N., Hall, S. and Lowden, K. (2016), “Professional capital and collaborative inquiry networks for educational equity and improvement?”, Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. 1 No. 3, pp. 178-197. Cordingley, P. (2015), “The contribution of research to teachers’ professional learning and development”, Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 41 No. 2, pp. 234-252. Hargreaves, A., & Fink, D. (2006). Sustainable Leadership. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass. Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. (2012), Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, Teachers College Press, New York, NY. Jarl, M. (2013). Rektors pedagogiska ledarskap i ljuset av skolans managementreformer. Pedagogisk Forskning i Sverige, 18(3-4), 197- 215. Lambert, L. (2007). Lasting leadership: Towards sustainable school improvement. Journal of Educational Change 8(4): 311–322. Larsson, P. (2004). Förändringens villkor. En studie av organisatoriskt lärande och förändring inom skolan. (Doctoral thesis). Stockholm: EFI, Ekonomiska forskningsinstitutet vid Handelshögskolan i Stockholm. Leithwood, K., Day, C., Sammons, P., Harris, A., & Hopkins, D. (2006). Seven strong claims about successful school leadership. National College for School Leadership. Muijs, D., West, M., & Ainscow, M. (2010). Why network? Theoretical perspectives on networking, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 21:1, 5-26. Nordholm, Daniel (2015). Organising for school improvement at the middle tier: studies on temporary organisation. Diss. (sammanfattning) Göteborg : Göteborgs universitet, 2015 OECD (2015). Improving Schools in Sweden. An OECD perspective. Paris: OECD. Stake, R. E. (2006). Multiple Case Study Analysis. New York, London: The Guilford Press. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks; CA: Sage. Weick, K. E. (2001). Making sense of the organization. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Wenger, E. (1998), Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. Yin, R. K. (2007). Fallstudier: design och genomförande. (P. Söderholm övers.). Malmö: Liber.
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