01 SES 13 C, Professional Learning and School Development
Historically it has been up to the individual teacher to decide about how to improve their teaching practice, based on ideas of individual autonomy and professionalism (Hargreaves, 1994; Lortie, 1975; Rosenholz, 1989). However, since the 1980s there has been a consistent progress towards collaborative working organisations with local responsibility for improvement. In addition, local management has increased and teachers have become more and more involved in management issues. Nowadays, the idea that teacher teams and teacher leaders should take responsibility for improvement is a well-established in many Swedish schools (Liljenberg, 2015). Some say that this indicate a loss of teacher autonomy while others argue that teachers have gained autonomy, but on a collegial level (Frostenson, 2015). In literature, “new professionalism” is a recurrent concept and a possible approach to understand the role of teachers in these organisations. In line with these thoughts school improvement research (e.g. Earl and Timperley, 2008; Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012; Stoll, 2009) emphasises collegial learning and professional learning communities to strengthen teacher professionalism.
However, in a time of high confidence in performativity, performance management techniques, standardisation and ranking are other ideas about how to improve teaching practice, based on ideas of bureaucracy and marketization (Hanberger, Lindgren and Lundström, 2016). What ideas school leaders and teachers take as their starting point can within an institutional perspective be argued to depend on the logic of appropriate actions and the sensemaking process that takes place within the organisation (March and Olsen, 2005; Meyer and Rowan, 1977; Weick, 1995). According to Weick, sensemaking is the process through which people in organisations, both as individuals and as collectives, and in relation to institutionalised frames, try to reduce complexity and make pragmatic interpretations to be able to make sense of new concepts or practices. Additionally, Freidson (2001) describes three ideal types of institutional logics which can be used to understand the organisation of work within contemporary societies. The three types are: the professional logic, the bureaucratic logic and the market logic.
In this study, we apply theories of sensemaking and institutional logics (Freidson, 2001; March and Olsen, 2005; Weick, 1995) to explore how school leaders and teachers in a Swedish municipality understand and navigate their responsibility for school improvement. The study askes the following question:
- What sensemaking do teachers and school leaders express about drivers for school improvement in their local organisations?
- How can diversity in sensemaking within and between organisations be understood from the basis of institutional logics?
This paper draws on a three-year collaborative research project (September 2014 – July 2017) between a Swedish university and a municipality, involving all public schools (n=17) and preschool units (n=11) within the municipality. The paper is based on empirical data collected in interviews with school leaders and teachers. Data consists of 169 audio-recorded semi-structured interviews with 535 respondents, 40 school leaders and 495 teachers. School leaders were interviewed individually or in pairs and teachers in groups. To analyse data, we used a framework developed by Blossing et al. (2015) with six school types. Unlike other frameworks, that take a cultural perspective on the entire school organisation (e.g. Hargreaves, 1994; Staessens, 1993), this framework focuses on the improvement capacity of the organisation and on ideas among teachers and school leaders about drivers of school improvement. We asked the following questions to the empirical data: What ideas (pragmatic interpretations) do teachers and school leaders directly or indirectly express about drivers of school improvement in their organisations? How do they give legitimacy to their ideas? Emergent themes, shaping a typology of sensemaking and practice of improvement work in the school were identified through the process. The themes were further categorised to find layers of sensemaking visualised through main and additional ideas in each organisation related to the six school types in the framework: 1) the idea-driven school where power in the ideas generated within the organisation gives meaning to the work for school leaders and teachers, 2) the plan-driven school where the systematic and well documented planning of the improvement work make meaning to school leaders and teachers, 3) the model-driven school where school leaders and teachers find meaning in a concreate model for the improvement work, 4) the problem-driven school where school leaders and teachers find meaning in the power of the problems identified within the organisation, 5) the profession-driven school where school leaders and teachers find meaning in giving absolute autonomy to the individual teacher and finally, 6) the team-driven school where the basis for improvement is the collaborative teacher-team and the idea that improvement work should be done collaboratively. In a second phase of analysis we worked through the interviews searching for aspects that could be related to different institutional logics.
In the schools and preschools investigated in this study we identified ideas about drivers for school improvement linked to all six school types. However, as the school types are ideal types (Weber, 1977) more than one school type were identified in each organisation. The results show that sensemaking linked to the team-driven school type was the most frequently expressed. A result that can be interpreted as in line with a logic of “new professionalism”. However, sensemaking linked to the team-driven school type was also identified in combination with the profession-driven school type. In these organisations we first and foremost identified ideas that preserved the individual teacher’s autonomy and counteracted a movement towards professional collaborative teachers. A logic of traditional professionalism was still strong in these organisations with a history of autonomous teachers improving their practice based on their own ideas. In the organisations were the problem-driven school type was identified in the sensemaking processes, school improvement initiatives were foremost oriented towards problems identified by teacher, but also towards problems identified by parents and by the surrounding society. Opening up for parents and other external actors to have influence on school improvement processes can be interpreted as is in line with a market oriented logic. In almost all organisations we identified prominent pragmatic interpretations that could be linked to one school type and additional ideas related to other school types. In particular, we identified additional ideas related to the plan-driven school type. In later years, in line with increased external demand for a systematic and transparent quality work, a distinct plan as well as common templates to be used in the improvement work had been introduced in these organisations. A movement also interpreted as in line with the bureaucratic logic.
Blossing, U., Nyen, T., Söderström, Å., & Hagen Tønder, A. (2015). Local drivers for improvement capacity. Six types of school organisations. Springer Publications: Dordrecht. Earl, L. & Timperley, H. (Eds.) (2008). Professional learning conversations: challenges in using evidence for improvement. Dordrecht: Springer. Freidson, E. (2001). Professionalism. The Third Logic. Chicago, The Chicago University Press. Frostenson, M. (2015). Three forms of professional autonomy: de-professionalisation of teachers in a new light. Nordic journal of studies in educational policy (2), 20-29. Hanberger, A., Lindgren, L., & Lundström, U. (2016). Navigating the evaluation web: evaluation in Swedish local school governance. Education Inquiry, 7(3), 259-281. Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing teachers, changing times. Teachers’ work and culture in the postmodern age. London: Cassell. Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital. Transforming teaching in every school. London: Routledge. Liljenberg, M. (2015). Distributing leadership to establish developing and learning school organisations in the Swedish context. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 43(1), 152-170. Lortie, D. (1975). The schoolteacher. A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. March, J., & Olsen, J. P. (2005). Elaborating the ‘New Institutionalism’. Working Paper, No. 11. March 2005. Arena, Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo. Available at: http://www.unesco.amu.edu.pl/pdf/olsen2.pdf Meyer, J W. & Rowan, B. (1977). Institutional organisations: formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83(2): 340-363. Rosenholtz, S. J. (1989). Teachers’ workplace. The social organization of schools. New York/London: Longman. Scott, R. W. (2001). Institutions and Organizations. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Staessens, K. (1993). Professional relationships among teachers as a core component of school culture. In K. F. Kieviet & R. Vandenberghe (Eds.), School culture, school improvement and teacher development (pp. 39–54). Leiden: DSWO Press, Leiden University. Stoll, L. (1999). Realising our potential: Understanding and developing capacity for lasting improvement. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 10, 503-532. Weber, M. (1977). Vetenskap och politik. Göteborg: Bokförlaget Korpen. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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