26 SES 17, Tools for Assuring Quality and Improving Schools
The purpose of this paper is to explore the notion of sustainability of success over time. The study traced the journey of three successful principals over five years to study their leadership and to determine the extent they were able to sustain their success over time in the same school. The study aimed to identify the personal characteristics, behaviours, contextual influences and strategies that enabled them to continue their success or not.
The paper redefines sustainability within the context of the school’s performance and the sustainability of the principal’s leadership.
- To what extent have these schools and their principals maintained their success?
- What leadership qualities and characteristics have contributed to this sustainability of success?
The notion of sustainability has been around since the beginning of human development, although the term itself has gained currency from the 1980s. In the organisational and management theory literature the notion of sustainability has mostly been associated with the organisational change. In the area of Educational Administration, a review of the literature shows little consensus on the definition of sustainability. The idea, if not the term, is inherent in both the change management and the school improvement literature. Over the past thirty years there has been a considerable body of literature on change management. The focus has been on initiating, implementing and maintaining change. The concept of sustainability has been embedded in the literature whether it is to deal with general problems with change (Fullan, 1982), teacher resistance to change (Datnow, 2000; Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin & Hall, 1987), large scale district change (Elmore & Burney, 1997); system level change (Caldwell & Spinks, 1988, 1998); and at the national level (Whitty, Power, & Halpin, 1998). The major issue implicitly or explicitly associated with all the change initiatives is ‘How can it last?’ (Hargreaves & Fullan,1998).
Recently writers on change management have focused on sustainability. The approach to sustainability tends to focus on two aspects. The first approach focuses on internal and external change forces that impact on the school and effect the ability of the school to maintain its change program (Hargreaves and Goodson, 2006; Giles and Hargreaves, 2006).
The second is a focus on the school leadership and the ability of the leader(s) to implement and maintain change over time. One of the difficult issues with this approach is that various writers tend to take a different orientation to sustainability. This makes it difficult to develop a coherent approach to the role of leadership in sustaining change. For example, a book by Davies (2007) has chapters by numerous writers who each take a different perspective of sustainability. The orientations are so different that it confirms the view that sustainability can be applied to anything.
The literature continues to expand. More recently Leithwood , Harris and Strauss (2010) declared that there were eight lessons that leaders should reflect about sustaining high performance. These are mainly practices and processes. In contrast Moos, Johansson & Day (2011) highlight personal factors such ‘sustained application of their values, intra and interpersonal qualities, individual, relational and whole school strategies with staff, community, and school environment upon them’ (Moos et al, 2011;7).
The underlying assumption of change management is that organisations will somehow respond to changes in the environment in order to survive, adapt or grow.
The focus of this research paper is to add to our understanding of how leaders sustain school improvement and what factors and characteristics are important. The case study approach is aimed at providing a deeper understanding of principal leadership behaviour, characteristics and qualities in sustaining performance.
The methodology conforms to the protocols established by the International Successful School Principals Project (ISSPP) in 2002. Following these uniform guidelines, this study was a multiple perspective case study using qualitative methods including: • Three individual interviews with the principal. • Individual interviews with senior leaders, for example, assistant principal (s), curriculum coordinator, six other teachers (two who had been interviewed for the initial study, two long-serving at the school, one experienced teacher recently appointed to the school and one newly qualified teacher recently appointed to the school), school council president or representative and school council parent member; • Group interviews with parents (preferably two groups of 5-8) and students (minimum of two groups of 5-8); • Observation over four days (shadowing and observing key events) of the work of the school principal and aspects of the life of the school; • Collection of documents to confirm the success of the school and to inform the observational and interview data. Individual and group interviews took a semi-structured interview schedule and ranged between 40 to 60 minutes. Two researchers were present for each of the interviews which were based on the three broad questions: • Can you tell me about the changes to the school that have occurred since the initial study? • Can you tell me how your leadership (the principal’s leadership) has changed or developed over time? • The evidence indicates that the school has remained successful. To what do you attribute this? All individual or pair interviews were recorded, transcribed and checked for accuracy by the respondents. In addition, one researcher took notes during and after each interview. The questions guided each interview as a reference to strategically direct the conversation and collect the required data. The semi structured approach approach enabled a more free flowing conversation and deviation if unexpected data emerged. The shadowing days at each school and attendance at school events, a number of informal interactions with parents, staff and students added richness to the data collection. During these observations, the key researcher kept a journal. Analysis of the data was based on emerging themes such as leadership style, the interventions made in response to external and internal influences, and their personal qualities.
What emerged from the research was the degree of interdependence between the school’s success and the principal’s leadership. In this study, a key factor to the sustainability of the success of principals and of schools was contingent upon their strategic interventions and the extent to which they were able to respond to, and influence, their internal and external environments. The findings from this study argue that the sustainability of a school’s performance is inextricably interwoven with the sustainability of the principal’s leadership and their response to internal and external factors. Building on the work of Fullan (2005) and Hargreaves and Fink, (2003, 2006) the researchers have defined sustainability of school success in this study as follows: Sustainability, in an educational setting, is the capacity of a leader to maintain or improve performance through mediating their internal and external environments. Using this definition, this study found that all three principals sustained success but to different degrees. The reason they were able to sustain the success was to a largely due to their personal qualities and leadership. This study found that the leadership of the principal was very important sustaining success. The qualities of the principals and their actions and practices were at the core of creating, developing and sustaining internal conditions for improvement and they were able to effectively manage the challenges from the external environment. They played a central role in managing anticipated and unanticipated tensions and dilemmas and mediating the interplay between the internal and external school contexts. There was evidence that these principals were also able to influence their external cultures. It was a common set of factors that together with the principal’s vision, values and qualities which continued to play a crucial role in sustaining the school’s success.
Caldwell, B. J. & Spinks, J. M. (1988). The self-managing school, London, New York: Falmer Press. Caldwell, B. J. & Spinks, J. M. (1998). Beyond the self-managing school, London; New York: Falmer Press. Davies, B. (2007). Developing Sustainable Leadership, London: Paul Chapman Educational Publishing/Sage. Drysdale, L., Goode, H. & Gurr, D. (2009) Successful school leadership: Moving from success to sustainability, Journal of Educational Administration, 47(6), pp 697-708. Drysdale, L., Goode, H. & Gurr, D. (2011) Sustaining School and Leadership Success in Two Australian Schools, in Moos, L., Johansson, O., & Day, C. (Eds.) How School Principals Sustain Success Over Time: International Perspectives Netherlands: Springer-Kluwer), pp 25-38. 33% with professional colleagues. Fullan, M. (1982). The meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press. Fullan, M. (2005). Leadership and Sustainability. Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press. Giles, C. & Hargreaves, A. (2006). The Sustainability of Innovative Schools as Learning Organizations and Professional Learning Communities During Standardized Reform, Educational Administration Quarterly 42(1), 124-156. Gurr, D., Drysdale, L., & Goode, H. (2010) Successful School Leadership in Australia: A research agenda, The International Journal of Learning, 17(4), pp. 113-129. Hargreaves A., & Fink, D. (2003). Sustaining leadership. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(9), 693-700. Hargreaves, A., Fink, D. (2006). Sustainable Leadership, San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass. Hargreaves, A., & Fink, D. (2007). Energizing Leadership for Sustainability, in B. Davies, (Ed.), Developing Sustainable Leadership, (Chapter 3), Paul Chapman Educational Publishing/Sage, London, 46-64. Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (1998). What’s worth fighting for out there: New York, Teachers College Press. Hargreaves, A., & Goodson, I. (2006). Educational Change Over Time? The Sustainability and Nonsustainability of Three Decades of Secondary School Change & Continuity, Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(1), 3-4. Hord, S. M., Rutherford, W.L., Huling-Austin, L. & Hall, G.E. (1987). Taking Charge of Change. Published by the Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. Leithwood, K., Harris, A. & Strauss, T. (2010). Leading School Turnaround San Francisco, Jossey-Bass. Moos, L., Johansson, O., Day, C. (2011). (Eds.), How School Principals Sustain Success over Time. International Perspectives. Studies in Educational Leadership Series 14. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. Whitty, G., Power, S., & Halpin, D. (1998). Devolution & choice in education: The school, state, the market. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
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