01 SES 09 A, Making Sense of PL: Roles and Responsibilities of Leaders Within Professional Learning
In accordance with a new and strengthened position of school leaders, professional training and professional development has been placed on the agenda, with an aim of professionalization of school leadership (Bøje & Frederiksen, 2019). Generally, most principal training activities and programs have been focused on the needs of aspiring or newly appointed principals, leaving experienced principals without the support they need for a continuous professional development (Pashiardis & Brauckmann, 2009). There are various discussions about how to best train future and existing school leaders (Huber, 2010; Jensen, 2016). Oxenswärdh & Forssell (2016) argues that being a professional practitioner requires knowledge of all aspects of the profession. “Principals must be continuous lifelong learners if they are to keep up with the demands of today’s complex and ever-changing educational environment” (Boren, et al., 2017).
In this study, the focus is on experienced school leaders and their continuous professional learning in working life. To be a professional school leader requires an opportunity to reshape their competence through continuous professional learning. According to research there is a lack of structure for school leaders’ continuous professional learning and specifically collective learning with other school leaders in Sweden (Hallerström, 2006). This is in line with another result from a recent study (Forssten Seiser, 2017), where school leaders emphasized the importance of being a part of professional networks in order to enable professional development. Today, the importance of arranging conditions for teachers’ continuous professional learning is often discussed, but rarely is the talk about the school leaders continuous professional learning. Studies have shown that school leaders often lack arenas, where they can meet and have exchanges on important issues and topics (Aas & Vavik, 2015). Oxenswärdh & Forssell (2016) highlights the importance of researching school leaders' learning processes and argues for school leaders' continuing professional learning after undergoing the national school leadership training program. The need for continuous professional learning for school leaders is also expressed in policy (e.g., SOU 2017:35; SOU 2018:17). In Swedish schools, one challenge is how school leaders can be strengthened in their professional roles.
In Sweden, educational leadership has been a keyword in the latest reforms of the school. Swedish schools have, over the last decades, turned from previously characteristic social democratic regimes to neoliberal policy regimes. The move has been underpinned by institutions such as the Organisation for Economic Co‐operation and Development (OECD). In educational contexts, since the beginning of the 2000s the shift has meant increasing focus on school leadership, with demands from the state for school leaders to guarantee that student results (which have been declining in international comparisons) improve via scientific goal‐ and result‐oriented management (Blossing et al., 2014; Lundahl, 2005). School leadership are highlighted by researchers, practitioners, and political representatives as essential if schools are to meet future requirements and fulfil their mission to enable all students the possibility to cultivate and achieve their educational goals and personal development (Huber & Muijs, 2010; Leithwood, Sun, & Pollock, 2017; OECD, 2013; Pont, Nusche, & Moorman, 2008).
In this study, the focus is on the professional development of experienced school leaders and school leaders' professional learning. The aim of this study is to examine experienced school leaders’ sense-making of their professional learning in relation to their professional development. More precisely, when the school leaders were participating in a continuous professional learning course for experienced school leaders. The research question that frames the study is as follow:
- How do experienced school leaders make sense of their professional learning in relation to their leadership development and how do they understand the implications of that in their leadership practices?
In this study, Weick’s (1995) sense-making theory is used to grasp the school leaders' construction of meaning about their leadership and professional learning. Sense-making is about the “making of sense”, where “sense” refers to meaning and “making” refers to the activity of constructing something (Weick, 1995). Here, it is understood as the process by which school leaders construct meanings regarding their leadership and professional learning in the context of participating in a course for experienced school leaders. A qualitative case-study design (Yin, 2013) was employed with a purposive sampling method in order to include leaders participating in a professional learning course for experienced leaders. The study is based on empirical data collected during autumn 2019 and spring 2020, in the context of a professional learning course for experienced school leaders. The 20 participants who participated and completed the course were the informants of the study, and semi-structured interviews were used as the main data source for this case study (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2018). Four group interviews were conducted with a total of 13 participants, while 7 participants were prevented from participating in the planned interviews, but two of them participated by answering the questions in writing via email instead. The ongoing covid pandemic was the main reason why the school leaders were not able to participate in the scheduled interviews. From the beginning, the plan was also to meet physically to carry out the interviews, but there we also had to adjust and carry out the interviews digitally with the support of the Zoom program. In addition, the participants have written individual letters about their current work situation as school leaders that have been used and the continuous evaluations that have been made within the framework of the course have also been used as a basis in this study. The participants are either principals or deputy principals, and they are school leaders from both primary, secondary schools, and adult education in 13 municipalities in Sweden. They have at least 5-10 years’ experience of being leaders in their current leadership position. The empirical example is from a Swedish context. The professional development of school leadership was studied over a 1-year period in a group of school leaders from primary and secondary schools and adult education. The course was a part of a national professional development program for experienced school leaders provided by the National Agency of Education in Sweden.
The empirical data are still under processing and analysis. Preliminary results show that school leaders perceive that the course and the continuous professional learning in it have contributed to the development of their leadership in the profession. Collective learning through literature processing, reflections, inquiries in one's activities, and collective learning with other school leaders are presented as important aspects that have contributed to in-depth knowledge and development in the profession as a school leader. All in all, the school leaders clearly express how important the exchange with other school leaders has been, important and rewarding to be able to reflect and get input from other professional school leaders. 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.
Boren, D., Hallam, P., Ray, N., Gill, C. and Kuanchen, L. (2017). Examining Effective Principal Professional Development Through a University-District Sponsored Principals Academy. Educational Practice and Theory, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 87-106. Stefan Brauckmann, Petros Pashiardis & Helene Ärlestig (2020): Bringing context and educational leadership together: fostering the professional development of school principals, Professional Development in Education Jakob Ditlev Bøje & Lars Frode Frederiksen (2019): Leaders of the profession and professional leaders. School leaders making sense of themselves and their jobs, International Journal of Leadership in Education, DOI: 10.1080/13603124.2019.1591515 Forssten Seiser, A. (2017). Stärkt pedagogiskt ledarskap: rektorer granskar sin egen praktik [Strengthened pedagogical leadership ‐ principals reviewing their own practice] (Doctoral dissertation, Karlstads Universitet). Karlstad: Karlstad Universitet. Huber, S. G. (2010). Preparing school leaders–International approaches in leadership development. In S. G. Huber (Ed.), School leadership-International perspectives (pp. 225–251). London: Springer. Jensen, R. (2016). School leadership development: What we know and how we know it. Acta Didactica Norge, 10(4), 48–68. Young, M. D., & Crow, G. M. (2017). Handbook of research on the education of school leaders. New York, NY: Routledge.
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