26 SES 08 B, Educational Leadership, Data and Organizational Memory
The concept of “educational infrastructure” has been addressed in school development literature in recent years. For instance, Hopkins and Woulfin (2015) detailed that, at best, an educational infrastructure can bolster capacity building efforts and support teaching and leadership practices. In addition, they highlighted the dynamic relationship between educational infrastructures and local practice. They pointed out “that any examination of educational infrastructure requires attention to both (1) the structures and tools that policymakers use to implement largescale reforms” and to (2) “how these structures and tools are taken up and reshaped by leaders and teachers in their particular contexts” (p. 372). Hopkins and Woulfin also explained that educational infrastructure and educational reform require standardization and continuity, but at the same time, designs and programs must permit flexibility and local responsiveness. In conclusion, they emphasize that teachers and leaders must be given opportunities to interact and learn from one another around a locally-defined vision. They must also engage in the practices that allow them to make sense of the networks and tools (e.g. infrastructure) available, modifying them to their particular contexts and student populations. Such infrastructure is fostered by “collective work practices” (Umekubo et al 2015), a “supportive learning environment for teachers” (Mehta & Fine 2015), and “teacher reflection and instructional change” (Camburn & Won Han 2015).
Without overlooking the importance of these previous works, this contribution explores a somewhat different strand in order to enhance understanding of school development and the concept of educational infrastructure. The theoretical point of departure is based around the concepts of “organizational learning” and “organizational memory” (e.g. Cook & Yanow 1996; Hanson 2001; March 1999; Mintzberg 1975). The influential work of Argyris and Schön (1996) explained that organizational knowledge, in schools for instance, is to be understood as the product of social interaction between members of organizations – not as the sum of individual, cognitive learning processes. Hanson (2001) pointed out that this raises important questions about the concept of organizational memory and, more precisely, how individual school organizations develop, store, and articulate different types of knowledge concerning their improvement work, that is, whether educational reform work takes a top-down or bottom-up approach. Such questions and perspectives have, arguably, received little attention in previous discussions.
Regarding Sweden, the current system of school governance is often portrayed as a striking example with regard to decentralization, marketization and de-regulation (Lundahl 2002; Lundahl et al. 2013; Seashore Louis 2013). Sweden has, however, started to re-centralize its education system in the during the 2000s (Nihlfors 2003) and particularly in recent years (Rönnberg 2012). As part of this development, there were a number of nation-wide improvement initiatives focusing on prioritized areas of education.
This presentation draws attention to the interplay between three of these initiatives and organizational learning rooted in the local organizations’ improvement history. By using data from a three-year collaboration between a Swedish university and a local municipality, it draws attention to three improvement initiatives developed at the national agency level during the 2000s as an educational infrastructure platform to support LEAs, local school leaders and teachers in the local contexts (described below). By analyzing the improvement work performed in these programs, the aim of the contribution is to explore how organizational knowledge is developed and stored in organizational memory in the local organizations. The following research questions directed the analytical work:
- What types of knowledge are developed and stored in the local organizations’ improvement history in the nation-wide programs?
- What characterized organizational learning in the local school organizations, and what can be said about the interplay with the educational infrastructure provided?
The contribution is linked to a three-year research project between a local municipality in Sweden and a Swedish university, starting in 2014. The project involved all public schools (n=17) and preschool units (n=11) within the municipality. In this collaboration, LEAs and researchers planned several actions that were intended to support and fuel local school improvement. One essential task for lecturers was to map out and analyze all schools and preschools in the municipality, and based on these analyses, write a report for each unit in which the ongoing improvement work was examined from various perspectives. Detailed questions were asked about previous improvement initiatives in every local school organization. Interviews, individual or in pairs, were done with superintendents and principals. Teachers were interviewed in groups. In total, the analysis is based on 114 audio-recorded interviews with 340 respondents: 2 superintendents, 27 principals and 311 teachers. Empirical data were analyzed and interpreted with the assistance of software for qualitative analysis (NVivo 11.1). In the first step of the analysis, the written reports of the local school organizations were examined to identify improvement initiatives at a governmental level in which the local schools had taken part. Based on the reports from the seventeen schools, the improvement initiatives of focus were analyses more in detail. To achieve a deeper understanding of these initiatives, selected parts of the audio-recoded interviews were transcribed verbatim. In the second step of the analytical work, each initiative was coded into two broad categories: hard knowledge and soft knowledge of organizational memory elaborated by Hanson (2001). Linked to Hansson and colleagues’ work, the third step of the analysis applied the subcategories of “guidelines”, “routines”, “processes” and “roles” to trace storage of hard knowledge in the improvement histories. Regarding soft knowledge, the analysis applied the subcategories of “personal knowledge and commitment,” “in-job training”, “imitation and socialization”, and “professional development”. In the final step of the analysis the subcategories were complimented by data-driven categories to provide a good description of the material and to enable contrasting themes to become visible. Coding and analysis can thus be characterized as both data-driven and concept-driven (Kvale & Brinkmann 2009).
The preliminary findings show that primarily soft types of knowledge were developed and stored in organizational memory in the local schools. The nation-wide programs therefore became highly dependent on leaders’ and teachers’ personal knowledge and commitment, in-job training, imitation and socialization. Regarding hard types of knowledge, e.g. clear guidelines, organizational routines, processes and roles for improvement work, the programs and their infrastructures were, with some exceptions, less supportive, which impacted the prospects for long-term improvement. Without denying the importance of achieving mental shifts in how teachers and leaders construct their ideas about teaching and learning highlighted in previous works, this proposal illuminates the importance of an organizational learning perspective, since learning processes must be stored and readily available to members of organizations in up-coming improvement work. The findings suggest that this might be even more important in decentralized and deregulated school systems. As pointed out by Hannay and Earl (2012), the shift from an industrial society to a knowledge-based society requires a shift in educational practices and in educational work to meet the needs of a knowledge-intensive labor market. However, we argue that this shift also demands a deepened understanding of schools as learning organizations and perceiving learning as something more than the sum of individual learners. Today, both teachers and school leaders are much more mobile, meaning that they can change jobs several times during their careers, which was not the case earlier. To then build educational reform on individual teachers’ and leaders’ knowledge, skills and understandings can be a risky prospect without an organization that systematizes and stores established knowledge. Thus, it becomes evident that an educational infrastructure must support the development of hard and soft knowledge and organizational learning in the local school organizations.
Argyris, C., & Schön, D. A. (1996). Organizational learning II: Theory, method, and practice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. Cook, S. N., & Yanow, D. (1996). Culture and organizational learning. In M. D. Cohen & L. S. Sproull (Eds.), Organizational learning (pp. 430-459). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Camburn, E. M., & Win Han, S. (2015). Infrastructure for teacher reflection and instructional change: An exploratory study. Journal of Educational Change, Vol. 16(4), 511–533 Hannay, L. M., & Earl, L. (2012). School district triggers for reconstructing professional knowledge. Journal of Educational Change, 13(3), 311-326. Hanson, M. (2001). Institutional Theory and Educational Change. Educational Administration Quarterly, 37(5), 637-661. Hopkins, M. & Woulfin, S. L. (2015). School system (re)design: Developing infrastructures to support school leadership and teaching practice. Journal of Educational Change, 16(4), 371-377. Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2009). Interviews: Learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Lundahl, L. (2002). Sweden: Decentralization, deregulation, quasi-markets – and then what? Journal of Education Policy, 17 (6), 687–697. Lundahl, L, Arreman Erixon, I, & Holm, A-S. (2013) Educational marketization the Swedish way. Education Inquiry, 4(3): 497-517. March, J. G. (1999). The pursuit of organizational intelligence. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. Mehta, J., & Fine, M. (2015). Bringing values back in: How purposes shape practices in coherent school designs. Journal of Educational Change, 16(4), 483–510. Mintzberg, H. (1975). The manager’s job: Folklore and fact. Harvard Business Review, 53, 49-61. Nihlfors, E. (2003). Skolchefen i skolans styrning och ledning [The position of director of education in the control and administration of the school sector]. Doctoral thesis. Uppsala: Uppsala University, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Rönnberg, L. (2012). Reinstating national school inspections in Sweden: The return of the state. Nordic Studies in Education, 32(2), 69–83. Seashore Louis, K. (2013). Districts, local education, authorities, and the context of policy analysis, Journal of Educational Administration, 51(4), 550–555. Umekubo, L. A., Chrispeeels, J. H. & Daly, A. J. (2015). The cohort model: Lessons learned when principals collaborate. Journal of Educational Change, 16(4), 451-482.
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