26 SES 09 A, Attracting, Retaining and Cultivating Leaders
The purpose is to shed a light on the practice of educational leadership of the school support services at municipal level in Iceland from different actors’ point of view and how it is affected by the structure of the services, population density, geographical location, and available professional expertise.
The emphasis on decentralization in educational systems during the last decades (Moos, Nihlfors et al., 2016) has established an awakening on the leadership-role of the middle layers of educational systems, such as districts and municipalities (Hargreaves and Shirley, 2020; Louis, Leithwood et al., 2010; Moos, Nihlfors et al., 2016). The importance of district level leadership for student’s achievement (Leithwood et al, 2019) and school improvement has been accounted for as well as for various professional support to school leaders and teachers (Louis, Leithwood et al., 2010).
In Iceland, the national state bears the ultimate responsibility of preschool and compulsory school education, involving stipulating legislation and setting national curriculum guides for both school levels. However, it is the responsibility of each of the 72 municipalities to run the schools both professionally and financially within the legislative requirements (Compulsory school Act. No. 91/2008; Preschool act. No. 90/2008). One of the most obvious way for municipalities to practice educational leadership is through the school support services (Sigurðardóttir et al., 2018).
School support services include, on the one hand, support for pupils in preschools and compulsory schools and their parents. On the other hand, support for school activities and their staff. The services “shall be aimed at strengthening schools as professional institutions that can solve most of the issues that arise in schoolwork and provide school staff with guidance and assistance in their work, as appropriate” (Reglugerð um skólaþjónustu sveitarfélaga við leik- og grunnskóla og nemendaverndarráði í grunnskólum nr. 444/2019, article 2). However, Icelandic municipalities differ hugely in size and population density and the services have developed differently as the municipalities have freedom in how they organize those services. As the structures vary, it differs who oversees school support services and responsible actors can be either superintendents, department heads or municipal managers. Existing research regarding school support services have taken to how the services are presented on municipalities homepages (Sigþórsson, 2013) or the view of principals towards municipal support (Sigurðardóttir, 2018). Little is known about the support services from the point of view of responsible actors for the services, and even less about the actual leadership practices. Nevertheless, there are indications of that municipalities are struggling with both providing the adequate services and execute educational leadership (European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education, 2017; Sigþórsson, 2013). Part of that might concern the unlike access of specialists and other professionals between municipalities. The more densely populated municipalities are considered in better situation to hire adequate professionals within the school support services than more rural and less populated municipalities, increasing the risk of failing to provide the necessary services (Hansen and Jóhannsson, 2010; Sigþórsson, 2013).
The limited knowledge about the leadership practice of school services in Iceland, makes it difficult to target how to improve it for the benefit of successful education. Results from this study will contribute there and add to emerging European and international research literature on municipal educational leadership.
Data was collected by an online nationwide survey to; a) actors responsible for the school support service, b) preschool principals, and c) compulsory school principals. Permission was obtained from each municipality authority by an e-mail, which 59 out of 72 agreed participation. The 13 that did not agree are many of the smallest municiplaites (less than 1000 inhabitants) which are therefore least represented in the study. In total 36 actors responsible for school support services answered the questionnaire (62% response rate), 101 compulsory school principals (59% response rate), and 130 preschool principals (58% response rate). The questionnaire was developed within a bigger study. A framework of Leithwood et al. (2020), was used to guide the selection of questions, and as an analytical tool. The framework describes leadership practices that are distributed in nature. The practices are described and divided into four main categories: setting directions, developing people, refining and aligning the organisation, and improving teaching and learning programmes. Each of these include three to five defining sub-practices that represent activities carried out by actors responsible for school support services. Exploratory factor analysis was used to identify clusters of variables within each category that related to each other. All the questions and/or statements used were on a four-point ordinal rating scale, e.g., strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree. Scales were constructed by scoring each question on a scale from 0 (strongly disagree, don't know) to 3 (strongly agree). Differences in respondents’ views are analysed by the three different occupation positions presented, population density, geographical location, school support service structure, and professional expertise in school support services. A one-way between-groups analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to determine whether there are statistically significant differences between groups on the independent variables (α=0.05) and a post-hoc test (Tukey HSD) is used to determine which groups of three or more are significantly different from one another.
The findings indicate a room for considerable improvement within all four leadership categories presented by Leithwood et al. (2008; 2020) framework. This indicates that municipalities in general have not manage to fulfil their leadership roles in accordance with legislation at least from the principal’s point of view. Geographical location, population density and the structure of school support services seem not to make much difference in how municipals manage to practice desirable educational leadership. However, appropriate and available professional expertise does and where this effect is more, the leadership is rated less. We suggest, that to improve leadership practices of the school support services, the state and municipal authorities must engage more in the development of professional capacity at this level. Furthermore, there is a considerable gap between actors responsible for school support service ratings of the leadership and that of the principals, that needs further looking into, but might suggest a lack of consensus on how those actors view the service. Apart from providing valuable contribution into the limited knowledge of leadership practices in school support services and educational leadership in Iceland, the findings add to the international knowledge base of educational leadership at the middle level by considering at once actors responsible for school support services, preschool principals and compulsory school principals views on those practices and underlines the importance of developing professional capacity at all levels, above some other contextual conditions. As a nation-vide quantitative study it provides an oversight that is seldom gained in the more traditional qualitative studies of municipal leadership.
Compulsory School Act. No. 91/2008, available at: https://www.government.is/media/menntamalaraduneyti-media/media/law-and-regulations/Compulsory-School-Act-No.-91-2008.pdf European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. (2017). Education for all in Iceland – External audit of the Icelandic system for inclusive education [report], Author, Odense, available at: https://www.stjornarradid.is/media/menntamalaraduneyti-media/media/frettatengt2016/Final-report_External-Audit-of-the-Icelandic-System-for-Inclusive-Education.pdf Hansen, B., & Jóhannsson, Ó., H. (2010). Allt í öllu: Hlutverk fræðslustjóra 1975–1996 [The role of superintendents during 1975–1996]. Reykjavík: Háskólaútgáfan [University of Iceland Press]. Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D. (2020), Leading from the middle: its nature, origins and importance, Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. 5 No.1, pp.92-114, available at: https://doi.org/10.1108/JPCC-06-2019-0013 Leithwood, K., Harris, A. and Hopkins, D. (2020): Seven strong claims about successful school leadership revisited, School Leadership & Management, Vo. 40 No. 1., pp.5–22, available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13632434.2019.1596077 Leithwood, K., Sun, J. and McCullough, C. (2019), "How school districts influence student achievement", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 57 No. 5, pp.519-539, available at: https://doi.org/10.1108/JEA-09-2018-0175 Louis, K.S., Leithwood, K., Wahlstrom, K.L. and Anderson, S.E. (2010), Learning from leadership: Investigating the links to improved student learning: Final report of research to the Wallace Foundation, available at: http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/school-leadership/key-research/Documents/Investigating-the-Links-to-Improved-Student-Learning.pdf Moos, L., Nihlfors, E. and Paulsen, J.M. (2016), Tendencies and trends, Moos, L., Nihlfors E. and Paulsen, J.M. (Ed.s.), Nordic superintendents: Agents in a broken chain Springer, Cham, pp.311-334, available at https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-25106-6 Preschool Act. No. 90/2008, available at: https://www.government.is/media/menntamalaraduneyti-media/media/MRN-pdf_Annad/Preschool_Act.pdf Reglugerð um skólaþjónustu sveitarfélaga við leik- og grunnskóla og nemendaverndarráð í grunnskólum nr. 444/2019 [Regulation on School Services of Municipalities for Preschools and Compulsory Schools and Pupils’ Welfare Council in Compulsory Schools], available at: https://www.reglugerd.is/reglugerdir/eftir-raduneytum/mennta--og-menningarmalaraduneyti/nr/0444-2019 Sigþórsson, R. (2013), Sérfræðiþjónusta við leik- og grunnskóla [Specialist service at pre- and compulsory school]. Sigþórsson, R. Eggertsdóttir, R. and Frímannsson G.H. (Ed.s.), Fagmennska í starfi: Skrifað til heiðurs Trausta Þorsteinssyni [Professionalism in education: Written in honour of Trausti Þorsteinsson], Háskólaútgáfan [University of Iceland Press], Reykjavík, pp.191-216. Sigurðardóttir, S.M. (2018), Stuðningur við skólastjóra í námi og starfi [Personal and professional support to principals], Netla – Veftímarit um uppeldi og menntun [Netla – Online Journal on Pedagogy and Education], available at http://netla.hi.is/greinar/2018/ryn/08. Sveitarstjórnarlög nr. 138/2011 [Law on Local Authorities No. 138/2011], available at: https://www.althingi.is/lagas/nuna/2011138.html
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