26 SES 04 C, Distributing and Configuring Leadership
There is increasing concerns with the quality of teaching in higher education to take a leading role in educating candidates who are well qualified for solving today’s and future societies’ challenges (e.g. see The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, 2017). A core purpose of higher education is to support students in their development of capabilities that allow them to integrate knowledge and skills with moral and social engagement (Beck et al., 2015). Such a purpose requires teaching approaches that relates the purpose of higher education with teaching and learning processes, and it requires institutional leaders to put the quality of education high on agenda (Stensaker et al 2017). From this perspective a timely question is what kind of leadership is at stake if the quality of education is to be improved. We are in line with Spillane (2017) who argues for a distributed perspective which implies that in order to understand how leadership may improve education we have to focus on the practice of leading teaching. We can never ignore the fact that the meeting between teachers and students is a most significant factor for student learning (Solbrekke and Helstad 2016), thus leadership enacted by teachers in their meeting with students, is significant. On this backdrop we argue that we need to learn more about how teachers lead teaching in a practice characterized by emergence and improvisation. Despite the fact that leadership dimensions are always present in the practice of teaching little is written about teachers as leaders (Herbert 2018).
In this paper we elaborate on a theoretical framework based on didactic relational thinking that offers a holistic approach to design for teaching and learning processes. The purpose is to discuss how we may understand the didactic relational model (Bjørndal & Lieberg 1978; Ulstrup Engelsen 2012) as a leadership tool for enacting leadership in the classroom. While acknowledging that practice cannot be designed, we nevertheless emphasise the importance of designing for practice, and that ‘didactic relational thinking’ is a useful tool for leading teaching. The model has similarities with a frequently used pedagogical model for planning teaching in higher education known as “constructive alignment” (CA) (Biggs & Tangs 2007). While CA comprises the didactic dimensions ‘goals’, ‘activities’ and ‘assessment’ and underlies how these dimensions must be related to each other, the ‘didactic relation thinking’ offers a more holistic and complex tool for leading teaching and learning processes. . In a more explicit way ‘didactic relation thinking’ interrelates the purpose of education with a consideration of the participants in a situated teaching and learning practice; the resources participants contribute to the practice; the content to be taught; and the physical, social and cultural environment and conditions in which the teaching and learning take place. The rationale underpinning this thinking is thus that all teaching and intended learning outcomes as for example defined in the qualification framework (knowledge, skills and general competence) must align with the purpose and mandate of the institution in which the education takes place. Our analytical stance is inspired by perspectives on distributed leadership which allow us to define teachers as leaders because leadership is "stretched" across the organization (Spillane 2006; Youngs 2017). In a distributed leadership perspective tools are seen as designed with a purpose toward enabling action. Our argument is that ‘didactic relation thinking’ opens up for – and may stimulate - a more critical sensitiveness of the purpose and complexity of a teaching and learning practice, yet also provides us with a tool for designing for teaching while at the same time enact leadership in practice.
While this paper primarily contributes with a conceptual framework, and an argumentation for why the didactic relational thinking is seen as a fruitful tool for leading teaching, we also demonstrate the tool in practice. We will draw on an example from a professional program in higher education, namely teacher education, and seek to demonstrate how a teacher educator in mathematics, leads her teaching. The case emerged within the frame of a larger Swedish–Norwegian project (2012–2015) which explored student experiences with learning academic literacy in different teacher education programs. We applied a longitudinal, ethnographically inspired research design (Alvesson & Sköldberg 2000) that included interviews with students and teacher educators as well as observations of classroom practices. First, we carried out focus group interviews with 18 student teachers (2012 and 2013). Through interviews with the students, we learned that the teaching design of two teacher educators, one in pedagogy (Otto) and one in mathematics (Hege), stood out as significant to students’ learning. Thus, we interviewed these two teachers individually. Second, one group interview with the two teacher educators and one group interview with students who had demonstrated experiences recognizable among most students were carried out in 2014. Listening to both the teacher educators’ and the students’ reflections helped us gain more insight into various aspects of teaching and use of didactics. In turn, this helped us become more aware of how these teachers enacted leadership by leading teaching and how the students interacted with them and each other. As teaching is primarily social and should be studied in context (Spillane 2017), we decided to include an observation of teaching in practice. For practical reasons, the choice fell on the teacher educator in mathematics, Hege. We observed her teaching for one day in Spring 2017. The particular class we observed consisted of 26 students, 13 female and 13 male, who were in their first year of the teacher education program. The teaching sequence we observed was followed by contextual interviews with a selected group of four students. In addition, we interviewed Hege immediately after the observation of the teaching session. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed. The three-hour-long observation (from Hege’s classroom) was recorded and captured through rich field notes. Collectively, the data provides us with examples of how ‘didactic relational thinking’ as a tool for leading teaching may work in practice.
The elaboration of ‘didactic relational thinking’ in combination with the exploration of a teacher educator’s practice, have contributed valuable insights into how leadership in education may look like. Our aim has not been to provide ‘one best practice’ to follow. To do so would be a simplistic solution to a complex endeavour. By offering a glimpse into the teacher educator’s classroom, we demonstrate how planning for teaching is necessary, yet never the same as practice. Educational quality implies – from the teacher’s perspective - holistic and relational thinking, not least the ability to improvise and stimulate students’ learning by using tools and routines that encourage students to engage in processes of learning. Never abdicating from her role as a formal leader in the classroom, Hege maintains the role as the director of the learning processes by enacting leadership through a rich teaching design (Helstad og Øiestad 2017). Her teaching approaches are highly student-centered, yet with a continuous focus on the students’ learning of the subject while also helping them relate to their future role as teachers. By urging students to articulate, collaborate and negotiate meaning when struggling to find solutions to both disciplinary tasks and pedagogical challenges, Hege engages the students in distributed leadership of both individual and collective learning. She connects the purpose of education with improvisation in the meeting with students by drawing on a varied repertoire of didactics. The study brings forward an understanding of how ‘didactic relation thinking’ may work as a tool for leading teaching, yet also opens up for what emerges in practice. As teaching in higher education is a moral endeavour with great implications for both students and society, it is crucial to encourage awareness on how leadership in higher education contributes to students learning and formation; the overall purpose of higher education.
Alvesson, M., and K. Sköldberg. 2000. Reflexive Methodology: New Vistas for Qualitative Research. London: Sage Publications. Aune, I. & Olufsen, V. (2014). Et tverrfaglig samarbeidsprosjekt mellom jordmor- og helsesøsterutdanningen sett i lys av den didaktiske relasjonsmodellen. Uniped 3, 2014, 78-92. Biggs, J., & Tang, C (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Maidenhead: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press. Bjørndal, B. & Lieberg, S. (1978). Nye veier i didaktikken? En innføring i didaktiske emner og begreper. Oslo: Aschehoug. Ulstrup Engelsen, B. (2012). Kan læring planlegges: arbeid med læreplaner, hva, hvordan, hvorfor. Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk. Hattie, J. 2015. Teacher-Ready Research Review. The Applicability of Visible Learning to Higher Education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. 1(1): 79–91. Stark, J. S.; Lattuca, L. R. (1997) Shaping the College Curriculum: Academic Plans in Action. ERIC - N/A Solbrekke, T.D & Karseth, B (2016) Kvalifikasjonsrammeverk og læringsutbytte: Til besvær eller nytte? I: H.Strømsø, Lycke, K.H. og Lauvås, P. Når læring er viktigst. s. 57 -82. Oslo: Cappelen Akademisk. Helstad, K & Øiestad, P.A. (2017) Læreren som regissør (The teacher as director. Oslo: Cappelen Akademisk. Solbrekke, TD & Helstad, K (2016) Student formation in higher education: Teaching approaches matter. Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 73–94 Spillane, J. (2006). Distributed leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Spillane J. (2017) Leadership and Learning: Conceptualizing Relations Between School Administrative Practice and Instructional Practice. In: Leithwood K., Sun J., Pollock K. (eds) How School Leaders Contribute to Student Success. Studies in Educational Leadership, vol 23. Springer, Cham Youngs, H. (2017). A critical exploration of collaborative and distributed leadership in higher education: developing an alternative ontology through leadership-as-practice. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, vol. 39, NO. 2, 140–154 Quality culture in higher education (2016-2017) Ministry of Education and Research, Report to the Storting (white paper)
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