26 SES 04 A, Examining Principal Autonomy from a Comparative Perspective
This presentation aims to illuminate how teachers in different national contexts perceive autonomy in their professional lives, and how they relate their autonomy to their principal. We draw on results from a survey study on decision-making and control in schooling, including ca. 700 Swedish, 1600 Finnish and 1600 German teachers. By attributing decision-making power and control to particular actors in this international data, teachers define their own autonomy, with the principal as reference. In other words, they define the role of their principal, and this constructed principal is the focus of this paper. The theoretical point of departure in this comparative study is Ingersoll’s (1996; 2003) theory on power distribution in schools, which concerns who controls the work in the schools. The focal point is the set of key decisions that affect the content and conditions of schooling and how thisn decisions are controlled. Not surprisingly, the results show that teachers in all three contexts attribute to the principal extended decision-making power. Municipalities and the state are quite invisible for teachers, since almost all important decisions are attached to the school leadership position. Teachers obviously see the principal as the extended school administration in the local organisation of the school, but the principal may also overstretch his/her role. This furthermore points to the character of data on teachers’ perceived autonomy. Even if the situation of teachers is alike in different contexts, the perceived autonomy might differ. When it comes to the control aspect, we see a difference between Swedish teachers on the one side, and their Finnish and German colleagues on the other. The latter experience themselves to be much more controlled by the parents of their students. In Sweden, this rather direct client contact to teachers is significantly less pronounced. Here the control is attributed to the principal, who must deal with the parents instead. This might also be an example of principal overreach. In our discussion, we propose viewing principals both as administrational professionals who must manage parental, state and municipality expectations but first of all the expectations of his or her teacher. We discuss this in relation to Weick’s (1976) notion of the principal as a very important joint within the loosely coupled system of public education.
Ingersoll, R. M. (1996). Teachers' Decision-Making Power and School Conflict. Sociology of Education, 69(2), 159-176. Ingersoll, R. M. (2003). Who controls teachers' work. Power and Accountability in America's Schools. Harvard: Harvard University Press. Weick, K. (1976). Educational organisations as loosely-coupled systems. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21, 1-19.
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