26 SES 02 B, Educational Leadership And The District And System Level
It is well known that leadership is contextual bound (Dimmock & Walker, 2004; Ärlestig et al., 2015) and that principals’ prerequisites as well as mission are affecting how they act (Berg, 2018). Political decisions as well as the organizations structure, culture and leadership affect daily work and academic outcomes (Höög & Johansson, 2015; Hoy & Miskel, 2007; Bolman & Deal, 2003). In conversation with practicing principals, they describe their prerequisites and room of maneuver with great variation. What they are expected to do and whom they collaborate with seems to vary even if they are in the same school district.
In Sweden there has during the last decade, as in many other countries, been a focus on raising academic results. New reforms, the influence of independent schools and a New Public Management approach seems to have added to a large variation in how to organize school institutions both on the district and the local school level. We are interested in how these changes affect and are expressed in leadership activities and interaction both on the municipality and the local school level.
This study is part of a research project that is based on data collection from two similar municipalities, that have individual schools that both over- and underachieve. The schools are situated within the same education system, seemingly having the same prerequisites including funding, local policies and strategies. This research project has decided to get a deeper understanding of what the actors at various decision-making levels do and the knowledge they express that forms their decision making, leading to obviously various results in schools within the same district. The idea is that the research group, in a co-creative process, will knit together the various perspectives from actors in the chain of governance into a coherent whole regarding both theory and practice. Addressing both similarities and differences gives a possibility to study leadership decision in a complex setting.
In detail, this particular study focuses on educational leadership, including perspectives from school board politicians, superintendent, assistant superintendents, principals, team teacher leaders, middle leading teachers and teachers. The study will explore relations, responsibilities, freedom of actions, abilities, strategies, competences and possibilities for educational leadership in different schools in the same local school system. By analyzing deeper how actors on district and school level understand their mission as well as their day to day work we want to capture e.g. principals’ and other educational leaders’ professional knowledge, actions and relations. How are their theoretical and practical knowledge used in what they do and are expected to do? With whom are they working around school sustainability and school improvement?
The overarching perspective adheres to and is based on systems thinking perspective (cf. Senge, 1991; Fullan, 2005, Kordova et.al., 2018). We do this in order to detect interrelationships and repeated patterns in educational leadership that can explain an overarching picture rather than isolated snapshots of when leaders react on or take on challenges of new reforms and expectations related to new public management (NPM).
We will in this paper focus on what all interviewed actors mean is central in leaders knowledge and actions. We are also interested in what task and decision other actors, both above and below, preforms that support or/and intervene with the leaders role and work.
The overall aim of the study is to explore knowledge and actions of educational leaders on different levels in a local school system and how their leadership relates to the overall students’ academic results of various schools that seemingly have the same prerequisites.
The study builds on empirical data from two municipalities. The municipalities are seen as average in relation to academic results compared to other Swedish municipalities. They are university cities and are big enough to have local schools that vary in performance and prerequisites. During early spring 2019 we will do interviews with the superintendent, assistant superintendents and representatives from the political board. In each municipality, we select schools with various academic results and for each school we will conduct interviews with principals, team teacher leaders, middle leading teachers and teachers. In total, we will have about 25 hours of transcribed interviews with actors from both the district and the school level. The four researchers will use the same interview protocol for all actors to be able to analyze relations, expectations and patterns. The protocol is designed in such way that it contains separate clusters of questions, based on researcher expertise and research interests, all contributing to the broader picture; the coherent whole. The four areas of expertise that form the clusters of questions are; System leadership actions, principal´s knowledge and actions, distributed leadership and digitalization in order to understand coherence between what is planned and what is realized in educational settings (cf. Norqvist, 2016). This study will explore how the methodology of the research possibly can apply a more holistic perspective when forming questions and understanding perspectives (Shaked & Schechter, 2017). The analysis will firstly be conducted in such way that core results from each distinct decision-making level in the local school system are articulated. In a second phase, system-thinking perspective will be helpful in order to understand how leadership is focused, and it will show when it´s clearly distributed or when and where it is not visible. By in depth interviews we will be able to follow if there is systematic and coherent understanding or not in issues that are seen as important. Besides the empirical data we will have access to results, inspection protocols, local policy documents and other official data.
A contribution of this study is explanations and interpretations of how seemingly the same conditions and prerequisites for principals´, teachers and students end up in various academic results. In our analysis, the explaining factors will show leaders´ abilities, strategies, relations, responsibilities, competences, level of freedom of action and prerequisites. It is unique that the specific results from the various decision-making levels are related to each other, resulting in an overall and yet coherent description of core actions and core knowledge that forms the best possible academic results of schools. It is obvious from our study that leader’s role and knowledge change and are challenged in relation to national reforms and societal changes. At the same time leaders training courses and stakeholders’ views are not always changing in the same phase that the society change. This makes it even more interesting to understand what todays practicing principal and their immediate followers and leaders see as the core of educational leaders’ knowledge and actions. The research results from the various levels of decision making will also be presented separately to show e.g. what politicians see as key knowledge and actions or how the leadership is distributed in order to enhance certain key actions in the local school system. This can enhance our understanding on how different discourses and understandings affect the chain of governance and principals´ actions and decisions. Moreover, the results of studying how the digitalisation of education is realized show in what ways information- and communication technologies (ICTs) support or constrain key knowledge and key actions.
Ärlestig, H., Day, C., & Johansson, O. (2015). A decade of research on school principals: Cases from 24 countries. Dordrecht: Springer. Berg, G. (2018). Skolledarskap och skolans frirum [School leadership and the school’s room to maneuver, in Swedish] Stockholm: Studentlitteratur. Bolman, L., & Deal, T. (2003). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Dimmock, C., & Walker, A. (2004). Educational leadership: Culture and diversity. London: Paul Chapman. Fullan, M. (2005). Leadership & sustainability: System thinkers in action. Corwin Press Hoy, W., & Miskel, C. (2007). Educational administration : Theory, research, and practice (8.th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill. Höög, J., & Johansson, O. (2015). Struktur, kultur, ledarskap : Förutsättningar för framgångsrika skolor [ Structure, Culture, Leadership: Prerequsites for Successful Schools, in Swedish]. Lund: Studentlitteratur. Koral Kordova, S., Frank, M., & Nissel Miller, A. (2018). Systems Thinking Education—Seeing the Forest through the Trees. Systems, 6(3), 29. Norqvist, L. (2016). Learning, Tablet, Culture—Coherence?. Universal Journal of Educational Research 4(6): 1306-1318, 2016 DOI: 10.13189/ujer.2016.040608 Senge, P. M. (1991). The fifth discipline, the art and practice of the learning organization. Performance+ Instruction, 30(5), 37-37. Shaked, H., & Schechter, C. (2017). Systems thinking for school leaders: Holistic leadership for excellence i in education. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
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