26 SES 01 B, Pushing the Boundaries of Educational Leadership Research to Benefit Education
School organizations in need of enhancing their improvement capacity must in most cases turn to external expertise (Hopkins, 2001; Hopkins, Stringfield, Harris, Stoll, & Mackay, 2014). These schools, per definition, have neither the knowledge nor culture to be able to analyze their capacity deficits. They lack in other words the ability to make up an improvement plan and act in accordance with it. However, hiring an expert, such as a researcher from the university, does not all at once solve the problem.
The organizational development literature (Burke, 2008, 2011) have described the problems related to this. The expert can face difficulties in getting entrance to the organization, since s/he doesn’t know how to align to the culture. Moreover, the knowledge of the expert can turn out to be difficult to translate in a way that make it understandable for the practitioners. Finally, the knowledge can be of a general kind that leave the practitioners with the work to transform it into activities and tools suited for the practical situation.
The social learning theory of Wenger and co-workers (Wenger, 1998; Wenger, Fenton-O'Creevy, Hutchinson, Kubiak, & Wenger-Trayner, 2014; Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002) have added to this knowledge by describing the differences in the communities of practices from which, in our case, the research expert respectively the school leaders originate. These differences are of such character that when the expert and school leaders meet, they in fact are on the “border between two practical ‘worlds”. Wenger means that the expert can at best have what he calls ‘knowledgeability’ of what needs to be done in the school organizations to enhance the improvement capacity, but s/he cannot embrace the practical skills and therefore it becomes difficult to give practical advice. Tensions between the parties on the border is common, Wenger continues, but there also exists a possibility of innovation if you recognize the other party’s knowledge as rooted in the history of the specific school organization. The solution according to Wenger and co-workers is to start building a new history of experiences where the expert and the school leaders are the members and actors. This implies an extended negotiation between the parties, creating a mutual experience and thus establish a foundation for innovation.
Thus, the aim of the following study is to describe and understand a collaboration between researchers and school leaders for enhanced improvement capacity in order to contribute to the knowledge of how to organize collaboration between different parties such as experts (researchers) and practitioners (school leaders). The research questions are: 1) How can the collaboration be described in terms of activities and tools? 2) How can promoting versus non-promoting/preventing activities and tools be understood?
The investigated collaboration is between researchers from Gothenburg university and school leaders in a municipality with round about 40 000 inhabitants. The selection of parties included ourselves and was intentional since the school leaders chose the researchers because of the research they wanted to learn more about and which they thought could support them. The collaboration started with negotiations in December 2012, and then went on with an action research period from 2014 to 2017. Data consisted of planning documents of activities, field notes from meetings such as negotiating meetings and meetings with the project group, an interview with the school directors and a survey to the school leaders. For the analysis, we used a practice perspective and started out from Nicolini’s (2013) definition of knowledge as mastery of performing social and material processes. Such a definition builds on the premises that knowledge is created in the local practices and in a way are tied to the social relations and material conditions that form the processes of practice. To answer the first question we in our description of the collaboration identified processes of activities, which were created with the assumption that they could promote the school leaders’ actions to enhance the improvement capacity. In order to identify the activities we used Wenger’s concept of reification, which we complemented with the concept of artefacts from the social cultural theory (Jakobsson, 2012). To answer the research question two we had to deepen the understanding of artefacts and used the concept of primary, secondary and tertiary artefacts (Wartofsky, 1979). This made it possible to recognize different kinds of activities and tools and understand why perhaps some worked as promoting while others seemed to make no impression on the school leader’s understanding and practice.
Concerning research question 1 a description of a three-phased process with specific activities and tools are provided. Significant in this description is the extended negotiation phase between the research leader and the school directors that constituted the following two phases. Also significant is the distinct activities created round “tools”. One of these activities was the ‘school organization review’ that was presented in a report for each school. This report came to be used as a tool when the school leaders planned their actions. Another significant activity was the workshops. They consisted of several different tools such as writing and communicating models/methods, which was created by the project group, composed of the research leader, five of the school leaders and the two school directors. Tension was experienced in the project group when planning the activities and tools. This was identified as a critical situation where the school leaders wanted the tools suggested by the research leader to be more concrete and “easy” to understand. This resulted in several revision of the tools before we were satisfied. Concerning research question 2, we put forward a suggestion that the tools that promoted the school leaders’ understanding of how to take action for enhancing the improvement capacity could be understand as primary tools, whereas the tools that did not contributed their understanding were on the secondary or tertiary level. The critical situations that aroused in the project group when planning the activities and tools for the workshops are understood as a process of adapting tools on a higher level from the practice of the researcher to tools on a lower or more concrete level to the practice of the school leaders.
Burke, W. Warner. (2008). A Contemporary View of Organization Development. In T. G. Cummings (Ed.), Handbook of Organization Development (pp. 13-38). Los Angeles, London, New Dehli, Singapore: SAGE Publications. Burke, W. Warner. (2011). Organization change: theory and practice (Vol. 3.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications. Hopkins, David. (2001). School Improvement for Real. London: Routledge/Falmer. Hopkins, David, Stringfield, Sam, Harris, Alma, Stoll, Louise, & Mackay, Tony. (2014). School and system improvement: a narrative state-of-the-art review. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 25(2), 257-281. doi: 10.1080/09243453.2014.885452 Jakobsson, Anders. (2012). Sociokulturella perspektiv på lärande och utveckling. Lärande som begreppsmässig precisering och koordinering. [Social Cultural Perpective on Learning and Development. Learning as conceptual specification and coordination]. Pedagogisk Forskning, 17(2-4), 152-170. Nicolini, Davide. (2013). Practice theory, work, and organization: an introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wartofsky, Marx W. (1979). Models: representation and the scientific understanding. Dordrecht: Reidel. Wenger, Etienne. (1998). Communities of practices: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wenger, Etienne, Fenton-O'Creevy, Mark, Hutchinson, Steven, Kubiak, Chris, & Wenger-Trayner, Beverly. (2014). Learning in landscapes of practice : boundaries, identity, and knowledgeability in practice-based learning. Abingdon: Routledge. Wenger, Etienne, McDermott, R, & Snyder, W.M. (2002). Cutlivating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.
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