01 SES 08 B, Leadership, Pedagogy and Professional Development
Increasingly, the phenomenon of teacher leadership as a key component in school reform has gained attention as a plausible means by which reform and instructional improvement can be achieved. Behind lies an assumption that leadership which is distributed over those who still have a practical foundation in the activities they are intended to lead, will have a direct and positive impact on practice. In this study, we refer to our respondents as middle-leaders, in line with the definition by Grootenboer et al. (2015), who describe middle leaders as ‘those who have an acknowledged position of leadership in their educational institution but also have a significant teaching role’ (p. 509).
Moreover, based on arguments for the importance of attracting and retaining high-quality teachers in the profession, it is assumed that career paths are important. Appointing teachers as leaders of development processes at local schools is regarded as a way of making the teaching profession more attractive. In Sweden, a reform introducing a new career path for teachers was launched in 2013, and from then onwards, approximately 12,000 Swedish teachers have received formal, relatively well-paid, middle leading positions, often entailing responsibility for leading local school-development processes and assignments as supervisors for colleagues.
An underlying logic in policy reports underpinning such reforms is that career opportunities appeal to teachers. However, the very concept of career often remains unproblematized and little account is taken of the fact that research within the career field has revealed that career as both concept and phenomenon has been subject to profound changes during the 21st century. Moreover, little is still known about how teachers imagine and perceive career-making, or what it means to have middle-leading positions in terms of challenges that the changed division of labour entails. In Sweden as well as in many other countries, the division of labour between teachers has traditionally been characterized by an egalitarian norm.
This longitudinal study aims to contribute to the knowledge about the phenomenon of middle-leaders from a career perspective, by focusing on the following research questions:
- What driving forces are described by teachers for seeking and maintaining middle-leading positions?
- What opportunities and difficulties in relation to maintaining the middle-leading role become visible over the studied period?
- What underlying thoughts and ideas of career are disclosed in teachers' expressions?
Theoretically, the study is framed by the concept of division of labour, which comprises both a horizontal and a vertical dimension. The horizontal dimension refers to the distribution of tasks and assignments between middle-leaders and other teachers, while the vertical refers to changes in status and power that the middle-leading position entails. Further the concept of career is elaborated and problematized with respect to differences in emphasis and orientation (e.g. the labour market orientation, the organizational orientation, and the career guidance orientation). For the interpretative reading and analysis of the data-material, in particular relevant for research question 3, the framework of career as social representation is used. The latter is derived from the theory of social representations (SRT), where a social representation is described by Moscovici (2001; 2008) as a system of values, ideas and practices with a twofold function; 1) to establish
an order that will enable individuals to orientate themselves in and master their material and
social world, and 2) to enable communication among members of a community by providing them with a code for social exchange. The theory is concerned with how beliefs are constructed and become everyday knowledge among people.
This study includes ten respondents, all holding teaching and middle-leading positions at a large secondary school in Sweden. During a two-year period (autumn 2015 - spring 2017), the school's principal and all teaching staff worked in a school-development project aimed at improving teachers’ formative classroom practices The project was planned and led by the middle-leaders. Two researchers followed the work during the whole project. Data collections for this study consisted of individual interviews with the middle-leaders on three occasions during the project, and continuously written self-reflections by all the middle-leaders (a total of 54 reflections). Interviews were semi-structured, following a pre-designed interview guide. As for self-reflections, participants could express anything related to how the work in the project proceeded, but were instructed to pay special attention to describing their middle-leading role and situations/periods when they experienced particular frustration or flow. All data were analysed following Graneheim and Lundman’s (2004) qualitative content analysis approach; on manifest level and latent level. The entire (transcribed) data set was considered the unit of analysis, in which meaning units were sought for. Meaning units is here understood as content areas identified with little interpretation (manifest level), shedding light on specific areas of content responding to the research questions. The meaning units were subsequently condensed – that is, shortened while still preserving their core meaning – and labelled with codes. The codes from interviews and self-reflections were sorted into groups sharing a commonality, resulting in various categorizations. Finally, the units of analysis were then explored in a final (latent) step, in order to answer the third research question. Meaning units expressing underlying ideas of career and career development were identified. Crucial strengths in the current study is its longitudinal design, and the fact that all respondents work at the same school. Contextual factors that we know through previous research shape and affect middle leaders’ possibilities to perform their assignment can thus be considered common, and focus can be shifted to the variation and commonalities that emerge independently of these, Another strength is the combination of the two authors’ areas of expertise. The subject of teacher leadership and teachers’ career has tended to be studied either by experts in the school area, with limited in-depth knowledge of the concept and phenomenon of career, or vice versa. We believe, therefore, that the combination of fields will provide an important contribution to an internationally growing field of research.
The first part of the result concerns the reasons behind the middle-leaders applying for a lead teacher position in the first place. In the categorization of the respondents' statements, five reasons for applying for a lead teacher position emerge: 1/ Persuasion, 2/ Ideology, 3/ Curiosity, 4/ Acknowledgement and recognition, and 5/ Challenge. This variation then appears to play a key role in how they handle and maintain their role. Driving forces to put in the extra effort required to maintain the position were categorised as either internal reward/non-observable outcomes, or external reward/observable outcomes, where the category of internal reward was further divided into two distinct sub-categories; doing for others and doing for oneself. Based on an analogy between described reasons for 1/ seeking, and 2/ maintaining the middle leading position, a typology of potential ‘middle-leader types’ along a continuum is presented and discussed, ranging from ‘the altruist’ to ‘the individualist’. Further, it is suggested that various types of difficulties arise at distinct phases, and that middle-leaders’ need of support, therefore, vary over time. The study, moreover, reveals that personal factors, and/or various socially constructed and commonly held representations of the teaching profession and career phenomenon, play a crucial role and show us that career is an elusive concept and a complex phenomenon.
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