26 SES 13 C, Training, Roles and Practices of School Principals
What has happened in a school that is categorized as invisible underperforming ten years ago when we revisit them 10 years later? This study sets out to explore that question by comparing data from interviews made at the same underperforming school 2005 and 2015. During this time period the growing focus on student achievement and school results has rendered to increased national reforms as well as external inspections on Swedish schools. The high pace of reforms, together with more detailed policies that are externally controlled often with a focus on deficits (Gustavsson, Cliffordson & Erickson, 2014), creates issues around power and trust. Altogether it affects understanding and communication of what is needed and expected within the local school and among various hierarchal levels (Tschannen-Moran, 2004; Kramer, & Pittinsky 2012).
The main aim of this paper is to study the lack of organizational development in one underperforming Swedish secondary school (Island School) over a 10-year period. We are interested in the organizational aspects and how the principal meet the need of development and improvement. Our main research questions:
1) How do principals and teachers translate multiple policy demands in an under-performing school
2) What characterizes the interplay between principalship and the teachers’ professional culture in an underperforming school?
The study uses a relational perspective on leadership (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2008; Pierce & Newstrom 2007). This perspective focuses on leadership processes as they occur in the intersection between the leader, the follower, and the particular situation that must be addressed (Spillane, 2006). In a wider international perspective, it is accepted that principals have an effect on students’ learning (e.g., Hallinger & Heck, 1998; Day & Leithwood 2007; Seashore Louise Leithwood, Wahlstrom & Anderson 2010; Duke 2013; Robinson, 2008, Leithwood, Sun & Pollock, 2017). By understanding leadership as a social process that occur in the relation between the leader, the followers and the context /situation in which the specific school operates a comprehensive picture of what happens in the underperforming school can be drawn.
The challenge of low-performing or under-performing schools have been scrutinized internationally. Studies has been conducted in Canada with focus on schools and districts that underperform (Leithwood, 2008, 2010). By looking at Leithwoods (2008, 2010) findings the result show that he identified three main areas for the schools underperformance: 1) the students and their family (the socioeconomic background and situation); 2) the school staff, their qualifications and competence (the lack of interactive instruction and a caring environment); 3) structure, culture and leadership of the school (the size, lack of possibilities for teacher collaboration and teamwork, lack of focus, conflicts in leadership roles). In his latest contribution he also highlights the rational part which include focused instruction (Leithwood, Sun & Pollock, 2017).
The leadership and organizational aspects and impact on underperforming school is evident at the same time as the school context is significant. Ball et al. (2012) uses four contextual dimensions in order to describe and understand school context. These dimensions sometimes overlap and are interconnected, as a heuristic device to illuminate the enabling and constraining factors in the work of raising standards across the schools (Ball et al. 2012). These dimensions include: situated contexts, material contexts, external contexts and professional cultures. By using the notion of leadership as a process we will analyze the relationship between the leader, the followers and situation through the scope of Balls (2012) four dimensions. We will pay extra attention on the last dimension with professional cultures. Trust among all actors are seen as an important aspect in how support or resistance for changed are formed (Tschannen-Moran, 2004, Seashore Louis & Lee, 2015).
The Island School is a school situated in a middle class arena in the mid part of Sweden. The school was first visited within a project called Structure, Culture and Leadership- Prerequisites for Successful Schools (SCL-project). The theoretical framework and basic assumptions common for the project as a whole was that the culture, structure and leadership interact and that each of these organizational features has an impact. These features must never the less be seen as something that interacts and impacts each other and creates a complicated web of prerequisites which the project aimed to study. Within the study that we conducted in 2005 there were individual interviews with the principal and five teacher from different subject areas. In addition two group interviews with students was performed. In 2015 we had a slightly different approach when gathering the data for the study. The interviews with the principal and deputy principal were individual and the ones performed with teachers and students were all group interviews. The researchers have used a qualitative method approach with common interview guides based on the ISSPP (International Successful School Principal Project) protocols. There is however a longitudinal aspect when empirical data of student achievement at the specific school were gathered every year during a 10 year period. This longitudinal data of student outcomes has been used to characterize the school as underperforming in relation to their prerequisites, for example regarding the socio-economic background of the students. Why the Island school? In 2005 we visited 24 Swedish secondary schools in a quest to analyze successful schools and principals. 10 years after the first study we started to follow up the schools and the student outcomes in order to analyze the different schools journeys under this time period. When looking at the student achievement for the Island School during these ten years it is apparent that the results are on a steady decline. Despite the fact that the school is performing below the national average as well as the student achievement average in the municipality no one perceived the school as one that is underperforming during the interviews. On the contrary, the Island school is perceived as a successful school that in the eye of the outside society is a well function school with high standards and a strong collegial culture as the foundation of this perceived success.
The result indicate how a strong conservative professional culture among the teachers acted as a barrier against change and improvement. The teachers were dominating the scene and the work of the principals was more related to administration than to introducing school improvement processes even if the principal argued that this was one of her main tasks. The study contribute to our understanding of sustainability as a stabilization factor linked to an existing traditional culture. In the study conducted in 2005 the teacher openly stated that the principal at the school wanted to implement changes in order to adapt to the Swedish curriculum but that these changes would not happen due to their ability to resist. Furthermore they felt threatened by these changes as they, in some ways, disqualified their way of working within the school. In hindsight when we visited the school it was an emerging power struggle and we were able to witness the result of that struggle in 2015. Ten years and three principals later the professional culture remained and the present principal is maintaining and in some cases legitimizing its existence. We can see that the situated context as well has the material situation is almost the same 10 years later. The external pressure from the school district and national control has increased but are made more or less invisible through a strong conservative teacher culture. The interviews shows that their interpretations of external demands give them arguments why they could continue as they do despite declining official statistics. The principals are so affected of the teacher’s arguments so they do not take the fight to make the changes that are necessary – to create shared responsibility, reprivatized practice and reflective dialogue.
Ball, S. Maguire, M. & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy. Policy enactments in secondary schools. London: Routledge. Day, C. & Leithwood, K. (2007) Successful Principal Leadership in Times of Change. An International Perspectiv. (Eds.) Dordrecht: Springer Duke, D. L. (2014) A bold approach to developing leaders for low-performing schools. Management in Education. 28(3), 80-85 Gustafsson, J-E, Cliffordson, C & Erickson, G, (2014) Likvärdig kunskapsbedömning i och av den svenska skolan – problem och möjligheter. Stockholm: SNS Förlag. Hallinger, P. & Heck, R. H. (2010). Collaborative leadership and school improvement: Understanding the impact on school capacity and student learning. School Leadership & Management: Formerly School Hughes, R, Ginnet R.C, Curphy, G.J. (2008) Leadership – Enhancing The Lessons Of Experience, 5th edition McGraw Hill Irwin Kramer, R. & Pittinsky, T. (2012) Restoring Trust in Organizations and Leaders. NY: Oxford university press Leithwood, K. (2008). Characteristics of high performing school districts: A review of empirical evidence. Paper commissioned for the College of Alberta School Superintendents. Leithwood, K. (2010). Turning around Underperforming School Systems. Guidelines for District Leaders. A paper commissioned by the College of Alberta School Superintendents, CASS. Leithwood, K.; Sun, J.; Pollock, K. (2017) How School Leaders Contribute to Student Success. Dordrecht: Springer Pierce, J. L., & Newstrom, J. W. (2007). Leaders & the leadership process. Singapore: McGraw Hill. Robinson, V. M., Lloyd, C. A. & Rowe, K. (2008). The impact on leadership on students outcomes: An analysis of the different effects of leadership types. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(5), 635-674. Seashore - Louis K., Leithwood K., Wahlstrom K. L., Anderson S. E. (2010). Investigating the links to improved student learning: Final report of research findings. Twin Cities: University of Minnesota, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement. Seashore, K. & Lee, M. (2015) Teachers Capacity for Organizational Learning: The effects of School Culture and Context. School Effectiveness and School Improvement. Vol. 27. No. 4. Spillane, J. P. (2006). Distributed leadership. San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass. Tschannen-Moran, M. (2014). Trust Matters. Leadership for Successful Schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. A Wiley Imprint. http://wmpeople.wm.edu/site/page/mxtsch/researchtools
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