14 SES 14 A, Reconciliating Communities, Families and Schools
The paper points out how the importance of local school cultures becomes obvious in the implementation of a centrally based reform using the introduction of the New Middle School in 2010 in Austria as an example. The policy of the New Middle School aimed to limit marginalization processes, strengthen equality for every student and raise the educational aspirations of students. These aims should be achieved through pedagogical innovations like introducing team teaching, student-parent-teacher conferences, open teaching methods, a new grading system and the resolution of course-by-course tracking, as well as teaching all students in one class. Thus, the reform opened also leeways for schools on how to implement the elements of the reform. In this sense it seems of interest to examine how the local school culture interrelates with the implementation of the new school type. The paper examines how school culture is reflected in the interactions of reform participants. Based on this, we talk about school culture components. In our investigations, school culture becomes tangible as different self-perceptions of the participants (students, teachers, parents, school leaders, represents of the local community) of a school location.
School culture may well be one of the most important constructs within school and educational research; which provides a fruitful way to understand in more detail the way schools operate. Common provisions of school culture refer back to concepts from organizational research (e.g. Schein, 1985) and capture school culture as socially shared assumptions and convictions at school with regard to their own organization and the school´s environment. They manifest themselves in the form of norms, attitudes, rules, traditions, rituals, artefacts or "myths" (e.g. the reputation of the school) and thus become tangible. School culture can be described as "the way we do things here ..." (Stoll, 1999) and thus refers to a social communitization of persons who share a collective experiential space within the institution of school. This puts the individual school in the spotlight, since processes of negotiation, attribution of meaning and meaning by the different school actors take place locally.
"What is interesting, however, is that schools with similar contextual characteristics have different mindsets." (Stoll, 1999, p. 37). This was exactly what Retzl and Ernst (2013) found using participatory research. Two schools, located in the same community and having a similar starting point regarding the socio-cultural composition of their student population, reported very different challenges and problems at their school, reflected not least in different strategies for implementing school reform. These points to the uniqueness and situational embeddedness of school cultures in terms of the social (and personal) composition of the actors and their respective feedback to overarching reforms. With the remark that school culture is a complex construct with many facets, the paper gives examples marking the connection between school culture and the reforms of the New Middle School. In this sense, the paper wants to answer the question of what was the importance of school culture when the New Middle School as a new school model was introduced. As there is a long history of how to understand school culture – we want to use the term of school cultural components to demonstrate that multi-elements like climate, beliefs, assumptions, norms, perceptions of the school are part of it.
The research is based on a national evaluation project, the NOESIS study (2010-2020), which aims to find out how pedagogical goals are implemented and what opportunities are opened for students through the New Middle School reform. The New Middle School was implemented in 2008 as a new school type and Austria and replaced the former Lower Secondary School. The New Middle School intended to be a school for all children, to reduce marginalization processes and to increase students’ educational aspiration, school joy and well being at school. This aims should be achieved by a lot of pedagogical innovations, e.g. by implementing team-teaching in the main subjects, a student led parent-teacher conference, by innovative learning methods and a new grading system. The evaluation project has a multi-level, multi-perspective and multi-method design. So in a longitudinal study there was quantitative student data collected (from 5th to 8th grade, three student cohorts), but also different qualitative case studies (with students, teachers, parents, school leaders) were conducted to get a better insight into the different perspectives of those affected by the reform. In the presentation different data bases from the NOESIS evaluation study are used to illustrate the interrelationship between the reform of the New Middle School and the local situations of the single-schools. This paper focuses on different perspectives of the reform focusing on the four main strands of the New Middle School Reform: the development of students’ school well-being over time, the implementation of team-teaching and the student-parent-teacher conference as base elements of the reform, and the local school environment as an outward looking context and expectation structure that also affects the embedded school culture. The development of students’ wellbeing and their relationship with school-cultural components such as the perceived cooperation between students, student-teacher relationship or class climate is presented by analysing data from the longitudinal study (N=900 New Middle School students) and conducting a panelanalysis. Qualitative data of the different case studies, conducted in the project are used to give a more detailed illustration about how the reform and the local situations interact with each other. Date from interviews with teachers (N=18), school leaders (N=3), parents (N=9) and focus groups (N=7) with students will be included. The interview dealt with the topics: perceptions of learning in class, perceptions of reform implementation and team-teaching.
The results from the quantitative longitudinal study and from qualitative case studies should clarify that locally established expectation structures can influence the convictions and the self-image of individual schools and how such an interaction of locality-school culture reform can be possible. The study shows that the reforms were experienced as enriching or as a hindrance to everyday school life, depending on the established school culture. Depending on how the centrally based reform interacted with existing local culture, the reforms fell on more or less fertile soil. The implementation of the new forms of teaching and learning had a more supportive effect at those school places that already had good starting conditions (efficient student clientele, high willingness to reflect, willingness to reform, as well as a strong sense of responsibility in the school team, deep involvement of parents and diverse opportunities for parent participation, low competitive situation in the school landscape, and lively exchange with the regional environment). The results are in line with the accompanying parallel scientific study on the introduction of the community school in the German state of Baden-Württemberg (WISSGEM, Bohl & Wacker, 2016). Similarly to Austria, the reforms focuses on increased cooperation among teachers, the increased use of individual learning settings and a renunciation of group-specific forms of differentiation. Here, too, the respective school culture proved to be a supporting element for distinguishing how the reforms were implemented on a site-specific basis. However, a "re-cultivation" that recognizes the school’s own life and emphasizes the aspects of social community building ("We are school") is an important prerequisite for all learning within an institution. It is important to strengthen this social community building while making it clearly visible to the outside and to live inwards. This perspective points on the importance of “Educational Research (Re-)connecting Community”.
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