26 SES 01 A, New Insights into Leadership Practices
The tasks and responsibilities related to the work of a school leader, principal, have expanded and got more complex during the past decades, and that applies to Finnish principals as well. In general, in Finland the duties of principals working in comprehensive schools include, for example, various administrative tasks and meetings, responsibilities related to the organization of education at school level, curriculum work, and support for the development of the whole work community (FNBE, 2013). Furthermore, in the Finnish education context the municipalities as education organizers are autonomous actors, and therefore the educational leadership structure, and the degree of school autonomy, vary between municipalities and sometimes even between schools within the same municipality, and, therefore, for example, teacher and substitute teacher recruitments may also be included in the principals’ duties (FNBE, 2013). In comparison, at European level the degree of autonomy of schools vary between the EU countries, and consequently so do the autonomy and responsibilities of principals. For example, there seems to be more autonomy in the principals’ work in deciding on course contents and school budget allocations than in deciding on teaching staff recruitments (European Commission, 2014). Further, many of the Finnish principals also teach along with their leadership duties, which may not be the case in some other European countries, such as Sweden, Norway, and Estonia (Taajamo et al., 2014).
In this study we have used the theoretical framework of distributed leadership. Conceptually distributed leadership does not have one, solid, definition but has been approached in various ways. What seems to be in common for the definitions is that, firstly, distributed leadership emphasizes leadership as a character of networks or/and groups, and secondly, it opens up the leadership to various groups (i.e. leadership group, teams). Thirdly, it assumes a lot of potential and knowhow in the work community. In terms of distributing leadership, crucial question is how the leadership has been distributed? And further, what is it that has been distributed and why? (Bolden 2011; Mehra et al., 2006; Halttunen, 2009.)
We have followed Spillane and Harley’s (2010) ideas about Leader Plus and Practice perspectives where the former suggests that others in leadership positions (e.g. board members, educational specialists) are included in school leadership along with the principal. That perspective looks at who and how many are involved in. The latter concentrates on the interaction, and the main focus is on the situation-bound interaction between the leaders and the staff. (Spillane & Healey 2010; Spillane 2006). In this study, through these perspectives, we have defined distributed leadership as an axis: in one end are the formal structures of school that are formed of leadership group, detailed responsibilities, and duties of few delegated by the principal, and in the other is the interaction within the leadership group and other leadership structures, and also the situation-bound interaction between the formal and informal structures of the school. We call these two ends of the axis as delegation and situation-bound interaction.
This study has two main questions. First, we have looked at, how the Finnish comprehensive school principals view distributed leadership. Second, we asked them to reflect the leadership structure of their own school in the framework of distributed leadership. With the leadership structure we refer to various ways to organize leadership (e.g. leadership groups, different work groups and teams). Finland has been mentioned as having rather collaborative and distributive approaches to educational leadership in international comparisons (Taajamo, ym., 2014). The aim is to describe the educational leadership in Finland and find ways to conceptualize the leadership structures in order to form a basis for comparison between the Nordic countries.
This study has been conducted as a part of larger data collection, namely, the 9th graders’ national learning to learn (L2L) assessment in Finland in 2017. An electronic questionnaire was sent to principals working in schools (n=88) that participated in the L2L assessments. The semi structured questionnaire was formed around two main themes: principals’ views on distributed leadership, and principals’ descriptions of the leadership structures in their own schools. The questionnaire consisted of Likert-scale and open-ended questions. All questions were guided by the theoretical frame concerning distributed leadership. The questions concerning the principals’ views on distributed leadership were drawn from an earlier study (Lahtero et al. 2017), and that enabled a comparison between the results of the earlier study and this one. The questionnaire data (n=71) were analyzed by using factor analysis (principals’ views) and descriptive statistics, such as frequencies and percentages, for the Likert-scale questions, and content analysis for the open-ended questions. The respondents, and their schools, represented geographically the whole country.
The factor analysis indicated that when the principals’ views on distributed leadership as delegation increased their views on distributed leadership as situation-based interaction decreased, and further, when their views on distributed leadership as delegation decreased their views on it as situation-based interaction increased. That result followed our earlier observations about the same phenomena (Lahtero et al, 2017). The analysis showed that in the Likert-scale answers concerning the principals views on distributed leadership the respondents emphasized more the elements of situation-based interaction. However, when the respondents were asked to share their views on distributed leadership in their own words in the open-ended question the emphasis on situation-based interaction disappeared, and the principals described their views by using expressions that defined distribution as delegation. When we looked at the Likert-scale answers in relation to principals’ education there appeared a connection between the views emphasizing distributed leadership as situation-based interaction and principals further studies in educational leadership. Unfortunately the data are too limited for far-reaching conclusion, however, this raised an interesting question concerning the education required from, and provided for, principals.
Bolden, R. (2011). Distributed Leadership in Organizations: A Review of Theory and Research. International Journal of Management Reviews. 13 (3), 251-269. FNBE. (2013). Rehtorien työnkuvan ja koulutuksen määrittämistä sekä kelpoisuusvaatimusten uudistamista valmistelevan työryhmän raportti. [Report of a work group defining principals’ work and qualification requirements, and the need for their renewal]. Raportit ja selvitykset 2013:16. Helsinki: The Finnish National Board of Education. European Commission. (2014). The teaching and learning international survey (TALIS) 2013. Main findings from the survey and implications for education and training policies in Europe. Retrieved January 30, 2018 from: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/repository/education/library/reports/2014/talis_en.pdf Halttunen, L. (2009). Päivähoito ja johtajuus hajautetussa organisaatiossa. Jyväskylä: Jyväskylä University Printing House. Harris, A. & Spillane, J. (2006) Distributed leadership through the looking glass. Mana-gement in Education. 22 (1), 31-34. Lahtero, T. J., Lång, N. & Alava, J. (2017). Distributed leadership in practice in Finnish schools. School Leadership & Management, 37(3), 217–233. Mehra, A., Smith, B.R., Dixon, A.L. & Robertson, B. (2006). Distributed leadership in teams: The network of leadership perceptions and team performance. The Leadership Quarterly. 17 (3), 232–245. Spillane, J.P. (2006) Distributed leadership. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.
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