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Peer mentoring in groups has the potential to support and develop school leaders’ professional leadership. This study focuses on school leaders’ peer mentoring for professional development during their participation in the National School Leadership Training Program. As an important part of this leadership training program, school leaders discuss professional dilemmas in small groups of peers for supporting professional development and leadership identity.
Today, the importance of arranging conditions for teachers’ continuous professional learning is often discussed. However, school leaders’ continuous professional learning is rarely spoken about. According to Hallerström (2006), there is a lack of structure for school leaders’ continuous professional learning and more specifically collective learning together with other school leaders. This is in line with a recent study by Forssten Seiser (2017), where school leaders emphasized the importance of being a part of professional networks in order to enable professional development. Aas and Vavik (2015) report that school leaders often lack arenas where they can meet and exchange important issues and topics. Here, more research is needed. For example, Oxenswärdh & Forssell (2016) highlight the importance of researching school leaders' learning processes, arguing for school leaders' continuing professional learning after undergoing the national school leadership training program. The need for continuous professional learning for principals is also expressed in policy in Sweden, where the National School Leadership Training Program is mandatory for new school leaders. In Swedish schools, one challenge is how school leaders can be supported and strengthened in their professional roles.
The theoretical framework used in this study is based on Saarukka’s (2017) theoretical model. Saarukka uses the model to identify the phenomenon and the person in principalship from a professional perspective, with a focus on person, profession and position: “trying to understand the individual also from a professional perspective and how the individual interprets the context. As school leadership is a social mission, the professional perspective needs to be broadened to include the position”(Saarukka, 2017, s. 35).
In this study, Saaruka's model is used to describe and explain how the school leaders’ professional identity can be understood in relation to the educational content peer mentoring that the principals take part in as part of their education in the National School Leadership Training Program.
In peer mentoring conversations, personality dynamics are related to the individual's understanding of himself/herself and his/her own abilities. The profession and personality dynamics are about the individual's understanding of others, and the interaction and management as a professional school leaders. The position and personality dynamics are related to the individual's ability to communicate, make decisions and be responsible for these decisions. Self-realization and person relates to increased self-awareness. Self-realization and the profession include acting with a professional approach in the exercise of principalship, while self-realization and position are about being aware of and having the ability to fulfill the responsibility as a school leader. The identity and the person comprise the awareness of the personal identity and having the ability to develop this awareness. The identity and the profession is how the profession develops through internal and external affirmations and professional abilities. Identity and position are developed through trust and respect to fulfill the mission. According to Saarukka (2017), a school leader can develop simultaneously in all these components.
The aim of this study is to problematize and create an understanding how peer mentorship for professional development can contribute to supporting and strengthening school leaders’ professional leadership identity. The research questions that frame the study are:
- how do school leaders’ perceive peer mentoring as support for professional development?
- how can peer mentorship contribute to developing school leaders’ professional identity?
In this study, a qualitative interview study, a purposive sampling method was used in order to include school leaders’ who were participating in peer mentoring for professional development in the national school leadership training program. Focus group interviews were carried out to capture, problematize, and create an understanding of how peer mentorship for professional development can contribute to supporting and strengthening school leaders’ professional leadership identity. Data was collected during one year and consisted of focus group interviews with 35 school leaders participating in the national school leadership training program, in their peer mentoring groups. A total of 7 focus group interviews, lasting about 60 minutes each, were conducted during 2020. All of the interviews were recorded, saved as separate digital audio files and then transcribed verbatim (Patton, 2002). Qualitative content analysis was used for the analysis of this study and the collected empirical data was analysed using within-case analysis (Miles et al., 2014).
The empirical data are still under processing and analysis. Preliminary findings show that school leaders’ perceive peer mentoring as an important part of the National School Leadership Training Program. According to school leaders, peer mentoring provides opportunities for sharing and discussing key professional issues and dilemmas as a source of professional development and strengthened professional identity. These findings can be understood using Saarukka’s (2017) categories person, profession and position. In line with the preliminary findings, peer mentoring may support professional development in all of these categories and help to understand the complex relationship between them, therefore strengthening professional identity. Implications for further research will be considered. For European educational research, this paper provides a contribution to valuable knowledge about key factors for school leaders’ work concerning educational leadership and leadership development in a Nordic context, for both practitioners and policy makers. Moreover, this paper contributes to knowledge for school leader educators, which may be of value in both course and program development in leadership professional development programs in both national and international contexts.
Aas, M., & Vavik, M. (2015). Group coaching: A new way of constructing leadership identity? School Leadership & Management, 35(3), 251-265. Forssten Seiser, A. (2017). Stärkt pedagogiskt ledarskap: Rektorer granskar sin egen praktik [Strengthened pedagogical leadership. School leaders review their own practice]. Doctoral Dissertation. Karlstad: Karlstads universitet. Hallerström, H. (2006). Rektorers normer i ledarskapet för skolutveckling [School leaders’ norms in leadership in preschool development]. Doctoral dissertation, Lund: Lunds universitet. Miles, M.B., Huberman, A.M. and Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative Data Analysis: A Methods Sourcebook (3rd ed). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. Oxenswärdh, A. & Forssell, A. (2016). Skolledarens arbetssituation och arbetsprocesser [A school leader’s working situation and work processes]. In Johansson, O. och Svedberg, L. (Eds.), Att leda mot skolans mål. [Leading towards school’s goals] (s.113-126) Malmö: Gleerups Utbildning. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). London, England: Sage. Saarukka, S. (2017). Understanding school principals' leadership. Doctoral dissertation: Vasa: Åbo universitet.
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