26 SES 12 B, Leading High-Needs Schools And Schools In Challenging Circumstances
Schools in socioeconomic disadvantaged areas are working under different challenging circumstances: external factors of the social structure of the environment, e. g. an unfavorable socioeconomic background, learning deficits and insufficient parental support can imply a higher demand of pedagogical work to compensate students’ disadvantages (Teddlie et al., 2000). But not only external context conditions of the students’ body composition can cause the struggling or even the failure of schools; also internal factors, e. g. insufficient process quality at school and classroom level can be the cause of schools underperformance (Holtappels, 2008). Thus, studies show that schools in challenging circumstances exist, where students attain high academic achievement despite the unfavorable external context conditions (Muijs et al., 2004).
Previous research on schools in challenging circumstances reveal different features on school and classroom level that can make a difference between effective and ineffective schools in unfavorable context conditions: Considerable predictors for underperformance or failure of schools are especially deficient leadership practices, low intensity of teacher collaboration and a poor learning culture, combined with unsuitable strategies of change (Hargreaves, 2004; Harris & Chapman, 2002; MacBeath & Stoll, 2004). Whereas further results of studies in effective schools in disadvantaged areas show different school features that are conducive for school turnaround (Muijs et al., 2004): relevant leadership competencies, professional learning communities, teacher commitment and readiness for innovation within the staff. So it can be assumed that leadership practices and the collaboration of teachers within a school are important features in schools in challenging circumstances that can make a difference.
Depending on the schools’ body composition principals show different leadership styles (Teddlie et al., 2000; Berkovich, 2018): Whereas in schools with high proportions of students with low socioeconomic status the principals do act more in a way of an initiator, principals in schools with average socioeconomic status- students’ body composition do act more as managers. In the course of this effective leadership can be characterized by strategies for collaborative learning of teachers, delegating responsibility and encouraging teachers for improvement (Chapman & Harris, 2004; Reynolds et al., 2001).
These key factors for effective leadership are linked with the approach of leadership for learning (MacBeath & Stoll, 2004; Townsend, 2014): This type of leadership sets a clear focus on learning, provides supportive conditions for learning, promotes a dialogue about goals and quality of teaching, enables the teaching staff for sharing leadership and establishes a shared sense of accountability. Leading practices focusing on collaborative learning of teachers (Sharatt & Planche, 2016) and on shaping conducive learning environments for students as well as shared and distributed leadership seem to be key factors for effective heads even in schools with difficulties (Harris & Chapman, 2002).
Therefore, strategies for improvement in schools with difficulties have to focus mainly on enhancing the educational quality on class and school level (Harris & Chapman, 2004; Reynolds et al., 2001). Beyond this effective schools in challenging circumstances use external support and school-to-school networks (Chapman, 2008). Considering previous findings our research is leading by the following questions:
1) Can we identify different styles of leadership patterns in schools in challenging circumstances that are differentiated by the student body composition of the schools?
2) What kinds of impacts of the different features of our design-based development program on quality improvement (e.g. teacher collaboration) in schools facing challenging circumstances ?
3) Can we find an influence of leadership for learning, teacher collaboration and teachers’ attitudes and commitment on teaching quality and instructional development?
4) How far could schools in challenging circumstances establish a school development capacity for change? Do leadership for learning and teacher collaboration make a difference?
The study is embedded in a school development project “Empowering schools – developing potentials” with 32 secondary schools facing challenging circumstances in Western Germany. The design-based school development program has revealed suitable support and interventions: Evidence-based analysis of problems after data-feedback, collaborative learning in school-to-school networks, suitable support by knowledge-transfer and trainings, counseling for guided development inside school. which are a part of the design-based school development program within the German project. Principals, teachers, students and parents were surveyed longitudinally by standardized questionnaires 2014 and 2018 capturing external and internal context factors of schools.. The analyses are based on cross-sectional and longitudinal teacher data (n =1105/986) and student data (n=3183/2524) over two measuring points. Reliable scales measuring the teachers' perceptions of relevant teacher and school features are considered. Especially leadership for learning and teacher collaboration as professional learning communities were operationalized with new created Likert scales. The analyses contain mean comparison tests, path analysis and structure equation models. Mean comparison tests are used to analyze differences between leadership patterns depending on the students body composition of schools; regression analyses are conducted to investigate relationships between leadership patterns as well as collaborative activities, attitudes and beliefs of teachers; multiple regressions and structure equation models will check the influence of leadership for learning and teacher factors on teaching quality and instructional development. In regard of the empirical results mentioned before, we will analyze the relationships between leadership practices, readiness for innovation, professional teacher collaboration and teacher commitment and involvement in the project as well as on school and teaching development activities. We assume that in schools with a higher level of these quality factors systematic development strategies are used more effectively than in other schools (Holtappels, 2013). Further, we assume that the findings of our own investigation show a difference between leadership patterns of schools in challenging circumstances with different students’ body compositions regarding the socioeconomic status (Teddlie et al., 2000).
The issues will show firstly the development of the schools on process factors at school and classroom level, getting different results over all indicators. Secondly we examined that leadership on learning, professional teacher collaboration and systematic use of school development strategies and external support, based on the design-based program of the project, have impacts on school improvement on school and classroom level and on internal structures (change management, problem-solving) in schools, but the success of the intervention program vary from school to school. Beyond this instructional leadership and collaboration in teams are closely related to intensive development efforts inside school (Holtappels, 2013). Leadership patterns of principals seem to depend on the socioeconomic student body composition of schools (Smith & Bell, 2014). Leadership for learning is closely related to other school level factors and can affect intensive school improvement activities. Readiness for innovation and professional collaboration show higher effects on developed teaching practice. Schools with unfavorable compositions of student body show higher efforts for support for learning, differentiation and adaptivity of teaching. Different patterns of leadership style get visible, depending on schools’ conditions and factors of process quality, especially leadership on learning and professional teacher collaboration contribute to quality improvement but teacher involvement and other factors of the development process and the organizational culture seem to be important, too. Apparanetly the design-based intervention program and development process factors had an impact on building school development capacity in schools but without short-term effects on quality improvement. The findings give clear opportunities for effective school development policies and strategies for intervention to avoid failing of schools. The issues are important for an European perspective on intervention programs for schools in trouble.
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