32 SES 06 A, Coaching and Mentoring in Educational Organizations
Tensions in Literacy Coaching in School Organizations: An Activity Theoretical Perspective on Organizational Learning
With the reform of the Danish public primary and lower secondary school (2014), the expectations of using data to improve school has increased. This reflects a belief among government and municipalities that use of data will qualify teaching and learning in school (EVA, 2017). Literacy coaches have a central role coordinating, analyzing and transforming test and other learning-related data into didactic to increase the quality of teaching and learning (Marsh et al. 2015), and they are prioritized in all Danish schools (N=1200) (Pøhler & Kledal, 2011). Literacy coaches enact different organizational routines using data (Kiær & Albrechtsen, 2020). However, very little is known about how literacy coaches use different kinds of assessment data in practice together with teachers and how this influences organizational learning (Lesley, Beach & Smit, 2020; Elkjær & Huysman, 2008, Argote, Lee & Park, 2020). Tensions are viewed as ways of transforming activities and learning in organizations (Engeström, 2019), and there are different tensions both inside the schools’ activity system and between activity systems (Kiær, 2020). In this paper we focus on tensions inside the school. The tensions occur in school, when the literacy coach tries to transform assessment data into didactics. The tensions are 1) different kinds of collegial resistance to what they do (Jacobs et al., 2017), 2) not having enough time to act like experts and lacking legitimation, 3) a lack of organizational routines supporting their coaching of colleagues and 4) difficulties transforming teachers teaching e.g. regarding learning materials. Though research shows that instructional coaches can improve the professional development of in-service teachers (Gibbons & Cobb, 2017; Woulfin & Rigby, 2017) we still have limited knowledge on the tensions involved in this activity and how it influences organizational learning.
The purpose of the study is to contribute with new knowledge on tensions that the literacy coaches experience in their work as experts supporting colleagues in their instructional decision making with data. Thereby we shed a light on tensions that challenge the organizational learning. The research question is as follows:
Which tensions do literacy coaches experience when supporting colleagues’ use of data in order to qualify their decision-making regarding teaching?
In this paper we draw on a cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) looking at literacy coaching as a specific activity system in school. CHAT offers an analytic lens describing and analyzing the complexity in school especially the tensions between literacy coaches, teachers and school leaders when using artefacts like tests and data to enhance organizational learning (Engeström, 2014; Engeström, 2001; Hasse, 2015). Literacy coaches work in a school community, and they have a central role expanding learning amongst teacher colleagues in school. They are viewed as change agents in school having expertise knowledge on reading and writing (Engeström, 2014; Sisson & Sisson, 2017). They work together with both school leaders and teachers in an activity system influenced by rules defined by law, school leader, Ministry of Education and the announcement of literacy coaching education and division of labor expressed in e.g. a function description. The literacy coach tries to change teachers’ teaching using different mediating artifacts e.g. test and other kinds of data and learning materials.
The research project's findings come from an ongoing case study (Thomas, 2017) that started in January 2019. Six literacy coaches at four different Danish schools in three different municipali-ties have been interviewed and shadowed (Czarniawska, 2008; Brinkmann & Kvale, 2016) in different organizational routines of the schools. Shadowing is a method that allows us to investigate how individuals participate in an activity system. Observa-tion, interviews, conversations and analysis of different kinds of documents are included in the shadowing of the coaches. We try to participate in all activities with the literacy coaches and thereby we can observe different kinds of tensions that may appear. We have observed team meet-ings among literacy coaches, team meetings between school management and literacy coach. We have also observed when the literacy coach has analyzed tests, when reading conferences have been held etc. Shadowing has only taken place when there has been an agreement between us as researchers and the literacy coach, that means that they have had the opportunity to say no, when they did not want us to participate All literacy coaches have been informed about the research project before it began. There are different situations where we have not shadowed the literacy coaches, because they did not want us to participate e.g. when team collaboration was troubled or when the literacy coach held meetings with the school management. All literacy coaches have been interviewed using a semi-structured interview guide focusing on their education, experience, previous and present assignments. We also asked them which types of data they primarily worked with and organizational routines e.g. how literacy coaching is orga-nized in the municipality, their relationship to colleagues and the collaboration with the school management. The school leaders were also interviewed but this is not a part of this paper.
The first tension we see is emerging in the literacy coaching system is between the literacy coach and the teachers and it has to do with the division of labor. Working as an expert in school often results in tensions, because teachers show resistance when the literacy coach tries to change teachers’ teaching methods and choice of learning materials mediated by different kinds of test and data. However, a second tension occurs when the literacy coach experiences problems with the division of labor regarding time. The literacy coaches are experiencing a lack of legitimacy and support from the school management, so that they feel they can act like experts. Ways of prioritizing time are also tensed, the literacy coach wants to develop teaching, but school management wants them to take dyslexia tests. This shows tensions inside one subject namely the literacy coach – tensions between what the literacy coach wants to and what is possible (Arstorp, 2015; 132). A third tension concerns the organizational routines, and these tensions are related to the first tension concerning resistance but also the second tension regarding time. The literacy coaches find it difficult to find time to go into the classrooms to observe how teachers implement test results. They do not have enough time to e.g. model how to teach a specific way of reading or spelling in the classroom together with the teachers even though that is what teachers find meaningful and what they have learned from inservice training is the most effective way to make changes. The fourth tension concerns difficulties transforming teachers teaching mediated by artifacts e.g. regarding learning materials, it is difficult to implement new materials and new ways of teaching, when there is not time to go into the classroom and model “how to”.
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