26 SES 17 A, Leading Schools, Leading Communities
When the reform was established and implemented in Qatar, there was much local criticism (Tok, Alkhater, & Pal, 2016; Nasser, 2017). The four fundamental principles of the reform were difficult to develop for a wide range of reasons, and many of the programs launched under the reform became lost in the zig-zagging education policies. The Outstanding Schools program is one of the programs of the reform that has slowly been buried, yet the schools themselves still exist and operate in Qatar. Thus, the purpose of this study is to explore how five Outstanding Schools have operated in the midst of a reform that recruited them for a particular purpose that no longer officially exists. What are the challenges that these schools now face, and how have they maneuvered the choppy waters of Qatar’s Education reform? Therefore, the study addressed the following research questions:
- What is the primary role of these schools in Qatar?
- What are the main challenges and opportunities from the school principals’ perspectives?
- What coping strategies have been employed to achieve the schools’ goals and missions?
The significance of the study is that it highlights the dearth of research about leading international schools in the Middle East, and particularly in Qatar. There are many school leaders who may not be aware of the challenges of leading international schools where the culture, government regulations, and oversight may be different from what they are used to in their home countries. The insightful experiences of school leaders in four international schools in Qatar that are illustrated in this study helps develop the understanding of global educational leadership practices and improve overall decision-making. In addition, the study reveals the need to evaluate and restore some of the important initiatives launched during the educational reform era in Qatar, such as the Outstanding Schools program. Numerous Arab countries aim to follow Qatar's footsteps and seek to benefit from its educational experience. In addition, Western researchers and practitioners are on the hunt for opportunities in Gulf countries and the MENA region in general.
As of spring 2019, Qatar had around 332 private and international schools and 307 public schools (MoE, 2020). The researchers used criterion sampling (Lecompte & Preissle, 1984) to obtain a sample of these schools. The sample consisted of four out of five Outstanding Schools’ principals, as one school declined. Emails were sent to the school principals early to request an interview for the research or the nomination of other senior school leaders to be interviewed on principals’ behalf. All principals/senior school leaders had postgraduate degrees, and all of them had more than 15 years of experience working in the education sector. Two principals were appointed in 2018 (the same year of data collection). Two of the schools offered International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, while the other two had implemented programs offered exclusively in their home countries. Three of the four schools were still affiliated with the main school in their home countries at the time of conducting this research.
This study employs a qualitative approach. The qualitative method is well known as an effective one with which to investigate the perspectives of participants involved in a particular context. Willis (2007) has claimed that qualitative research seeks to examine a particular phenomenon through the subjective eyes of the informants, and that the major source of data about the participants’ perspectives is interviewing. Since the input from Outstanding Schools’ principals is valuable in understanding their opportunities and challenges, interviews, as a research tool, are an effective way to hear their voices, as those provide in-depth perceptions while allowing further probing and questioning. Therefore, this study takes a multiple case study approach. An initial interview schedule was developed based on the research objectives. The researchers reviewed studies related to features that shape the context of international school leadership, and particularly those related to governance, weaknesses and opportunities, cultural differences, relationship with the MoE, and strategies to overcome challenges in order to achieve the overall mission of the institutions (Dimmock & Walker, 2000; Lee et al., 2011). Lee and others (2011) sorted the list of factors that affect international school leadership into two categories (environmental and organizational factors). This classification helped the researchers develop several questions that were used in the interviews to help guide the process of the study and achieve the desired objective of understanding the operational and leadership challenges that school leaders encounter. The primary research method used in this study was the semi-structured interview. All interviews were conducted face to face for 30-45 minutes each, and all transcripts were in English. In addition, these schools’ websites and profiles were reviewed and analyzed using constant comparative methods. Segments from the interviews were selected and categorized based on the research questions. Categorizations were conducted by each researcher and then compared until consensus was reached. To avoid identifying the interviewees, this study did not refer to the interviewees’ comments with numbers or pseudonyms as interviewees could be easily known if the numbers are combined. This was done because the Gulf countries are small and individuals can be identified easily (Thomas, 2008).
The study revealed the purpose of launching those schools, their operational patterns, the challenges they faced, and their personnel’s recommendations for sustainability. While this study examined international schools, the results also have implications for public school leaders, educational leaders in the MoE, and other decision makers. Due to the dearth of literature on the topic of international schools in the Middle East region (Hammad & Alazmi, 2020); there is a rising demand for the production of more literature. Future studies could follow different research designs and explore a diverse range of factors that influence the status and role of international schools. Regarding the first question, most of the participants referred to the agreement their schools signed with MoE for opening a branch of their schools in Qatar to clarify their institutions’ primary role, which is to provide access to quality education and impart their knowledge and experiences to MoE officials, as well as to contribute to educational development as stipulated in Qatar National Vision 2030. It is quite common for governments to request that international schools open branches in their countries to support their educational reforms (Mahfouz, Sausner & Kornhaber, 2019), which might be considered part of borrowing educational systems (Romanowski, Alkhateeb & Nasser, 2018). However, as pointed out by the interviewees, the purpose of Outstanding Schools in Qatar was not sustained for long, due to organizational restructuring and change of personnel. These schools were launched to provide quality teaching and learning, and to promote best practices in Qatar. These aims could be met even if the reform did not continue. Each school follows its own governing system and offers distinct academic programs. However, the school leaders indicated their desire to have more autonomy in the overall operations of the schools.
Dimmock, C. (1996). Dilemmas for school leaders and administrators in restructuring. In K. Leithwood, J. Chapman, D. Corson, P. Hallinger, & A. Hart (Eds). International handbook of educational leadership and administration, part 1 (pp. 135–170). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Hammad, W. &Shah, S. (2018). Dissonance between the “international” and the conservative “national”: Challenges facing school leaders in international schools in Saudi Arabia. Educational Administration Quarterly, 54(5), pp. 747–780. doi: 10.1177/0013161X18785864. Kim, H. (2019). How global capital is remaking international education: The emergence of transnational education corporations. Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. Available at: https://0-link.springer.com.mylibrary.qu.edu.qa/book/10.1007/978-981-32-9672-5#about. Lee, M., Hallinger, P., & Walker, A. (2012). Leadership challenges in international schools in the Asia Pacific region: Evidence from programme implementation of the International Baccalaureate. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 15, pp. 289–310. Mahfouz, J., Sausner, E. & Kornhaber, M. (2019). US international schools overseas and the Common Core. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 22(4), pp. 406–420. doi: 10.1080/13603124.2018.1481529. Miles, M. & Huberman, A. M. (1994) Qualitative data analysis: A sourcebook of new methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Nasser, R. (2017). Qatar’s educational reform past and future: challenges in teacher development. Open Review of Educational Research, 4(1), pp. 1–19. doi: 10.1080/23265507.2016.1266693. Odland, G. &Ruzicka, M. (2009). An investigation into teacher turnover in international schools. Journal of Research in International Education, 8(1), pp. 5–29. doi: 10.1177/1475240908100679. Romanowski, M. H., Alkhateeb, H. & Nasser, R. (2018) Policy borrowing in the gulf cooperation council countries: Cultural scripts and epistemological conflicts. International Journal of Educational Development, 60, pp. 19–24. doi: 10.1016/j.ijedudev.2017.10.021. Thomas, A. (2008). ‘Focus groups in qualitative research: culturally sensitive methodology for the Arabian Gulf? International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 31(1), pp. 77–88. doi: 10.1080/17437270801919941. Thompson, J. & Hayden, M. (2006) International schools and international education: a relationship reviewed., Oxford Review of Education, 21(3), pp. 327–345. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/0305498950210306. Tok, M. E., Alkhater, L. & Pal, L. A. (2016) Policy-Making in a transformative state. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
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