01 SES 15 A, Research: Evidence and Emancipation
Continuing professional and school development is required to align teaching practices to the revised student learning outcomes that societal changes and new curricular demands enforce (e.g. Bolam & McMahom, 2010; Day & Sachs, 2010; Borko, 2004). Additionally, in the context of the present study, the revised Swedish School Act (The Swedish Parliament, 2010) states that ‘Education should be based on scientific knowledge and proven experience.’ Teachers are expected to seek guidance for their practice from education research as well as to systematically try their tacit knowledge in scientifically oriented approaches; thus, teachers need to develop research literacy (Persson, 2017; Shank & Brown, 2007).
School leaders may need support in directing and arranging school development processes. This support can be provided by teacher leaders, i.e. middle leaders who ‘drive’ development processes and teacher change from a position of strength of possessing insider knowledge into the school leader’s as well as the teachers’ practice (Edwards-Groves et al, 2019). The internationally relevant argument for more situated understandings of middle leader practices (Edwards-Groves et al, 2019) has strong local relevance in the Swedish context due to another reform; the introduction of a career position for exceptionally skilled teachers; ‘förstelärare’ or ‘first teacher’. This reform strengthens the idea of distributed leadership for school improvement (Liljenberg, 2015) in cases where the first teachers engage in leadership practices mandated by the principals (Alvunger, 2015), i.e. hold middle leader positions. Since the first teacher reform was introduced only 8 years ago, both school leaders and first teachers may benefit professionally from getting support in developing mutual relational trust (Edwards-Groves et al., 2016) in connection to the middle leader position. The first teachers additionally need to gain relational trust from their teacher colleagues. Additionally, on basis of the requirement of providing education based on scientific knowledge and proven experience, both school leaders and teacher, especially first teachers holding middle leader positions, may need support in developing research literacy.
The present study is situated in a municipality, in which majority of the first teachers lacked specified and communicated first teacher assignments and leadership roles mandated by the school leaders. The school leaders and the first teachers lacked experience and insights into how to make good use of the first teachers’ new positions in their school development processes. Additionally, as with most school leaders and teachers in Sweden, they shared a common desire to enhance their knowledge in how to provide education guided by and based in scientific knowledge and proven experience and to get inspiration and advice on concrete methods and routines for doing so, i.e. they shared a desire to develop or enhance their research literacy and to increase their knowledge in education research.
In the present study school leaders have taken part in a one-semester course on research literacy, on evidence-based aspects signifying a high quality education and on research findings which provide guidance into the possibilities of and requirements for introducing the middle leader role in an efficient manner.
The aim of the present study is to evaluate the long-term effects of the intervention on 1) how the middle leader role gets shaped at the different schools, 2) what the conditions and prerequisites are at the schools where the first teachers actually evolve into middle leaders as defined by the literature used in the course and 3) how the ‘scientific knowledge’ gets shaped in the daily teacher practice.
The theoretical framework will be based in a combination of content analysis and practice architecture (Kemmis & Grootenboer, 2008).
The intervention of the present study was made possible by grants from the Swedish Government in the purpose of providing more equitable education within as well as among different schools. Two senior lecturers, employed by the municipality, were assigned to provide a one-semester professional development course in the purpose of increasing the quality of the education in all classrooms and doing so by using research informed methods and approaches. Furthermore, the course aimed at introducing the middle leader role for first teachers on all schools, again in a manner informed by research. This course makes out the intervention of the study. One year after having finished the one-semester course the teachers and the school leaders, respectively, replied to a questionnaire in which they were expected to describe their own impressions on the impact of the course, in relation to the aims of the study. The replies provided information in relation to the aims. Additionally, the replies served as basis for the interview guide used in the focus group interviews which followed on the questionnaire. The focus group interviews made it possible to capture not only individual statements but also the process within the group, as the conversation involved discussions on, and interpretations of, the literature, tools and activities from the course in which they all participated. It also provided information on how the teachers and the principals had used the scientific knowledge content in their teacher practice in the classroom and in the school´s professional development and to which degree and how the professional development process was directed by the first teachers in their middle leader position. The interviews were transcribed. The initial tool of analysis of the free text replies in the questionnaire and the transcripts of the interviews was content analysis. This was done in the purpose of getting an overview of the explicit effects which the respondents express. These categories will provide guidance for how to further analyze the material also for implicit information, which may provide more in-depth information on the mechanisms for effective introduction of the middle leader position as well as the degree to which the teacher practice gets shaped based on scientific knowledge. The study is in an initial phase, since only the participants from the first semester out of five have been surveyed and interviewed so far.
The investigation of the introduction of the middle leader position provide information on renewed organization and processes of the schools’ professional development work, with which the introduction of the middle leaders is strongly intertwined. Teachers and school leaders express a sense of uniqueness around the allocated time which their mutual participation in the course provided. One of the first outcomes of the course was that some schools introduced regular meetings for the school leaders and the middle leaders on their own premises. The teachers find it helpful to get research-based concepts and models to verbalize reflections on and dilemmas from the teacher practice and the school development process. The course was the first introduction to the middle teacher role for some teachers; it has helped them focus in their role as first teachers and be more selective in relation to other teachers’ expectations on them. Some schools have introduced a column for scientific knowledge in their documentation on their mandated systematic quality processes and methods for professional development cycles are explicitly based on researched to a higher degree. Changes in the teaching practice include giving the students more verbal space, relying on evidence-based methods to support students which are struggling to reach the goals. Classroom related outcomes also include confirmation from research on methods and approaches which they already use in their practice. There are indications in the data on discrepancies among the first teachers on one and the same school in their perceptions of how the middle leader position is mandated by the school leaders. Additionally, there are examples of how school leaders and middle leaders on the same school do not describe their mutual roles and how they work together in the same way. The preliminary results need to be further investigated within the theoretical framework.
Alvunger, D. (2015). Towards new forms of educational leadership? The local implementation of förstelärare in Swedish schools. Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy, (3). https://doi.org/10.3402/nstep.v1.30103 Bolam, R., & McMahon, A. (2010). Literature, definitions and models: towards a conceptual map. In Day, C. and Sachs, J. (eds): International Handbook on the Continuing Professional Development of Teachers. Glasgow: Bell & Bain Ltd. Originally published in 2004. Borko, H. (2004). Professional Development and Teacher Learning: Mapping the Terrain. Educational Researcher, (33)3, 3-15. Day, C., & Sachs, J. (2010). Professionalism, performativity and empowerment: discourses in the politics, policies and purposes of continuing professional development. In C. Day, & J. Sachs (eds): International Handbook on the Continuing Professional Development of Teachers. Glasgow: Bell & Bain Ltd. Originally published in 2004. Edwards-Groves, C., Grootenboer, P., & Ronnerman, K. (2016). Facilitating a culture of relational trust in school-based action research: recognising the role of middle leaders. Educational Action Research, (24)3, 369-386, DOI: 10.1080/09650792.2015.1131175. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09650792.2015.1131175 Edwards-Groves, C., Grootenboer, P., Hardy, I., & Rönnerman, K. (2019). Driving change from ‘the middle’: Middle leading for site based educational development. In School Leadership & Management, 39 (3-4), pp. 315-333. https://doi.org/10.1080/13632434.2018.1525700 Kemmis, S. & Grootenboer, P. (2008). Situating Praxis in Practice: Practice Architectures and the Cultural, Social and Material Conditions for Practice. Enabling Praxis: Challenges for Education (Eds Kemmis,S & Smith, T. J.) p 37–62. Rotterdam: Sense. Liljenberg, M. (2015). Distributed Leadership in Local School Organizations. Working for School Improvement? Doctoral thesis. University of Gothenburg. GUPEA: Distributed Leadership in Local School Organisations. Working for School Improvement? Persson, S. (2017). Forskningslitteracitet - en introduktion till att förstå, värdera och använda vetenskaplig kunskap. Forskning i korthet 1. Malmö: Printhuset Electra. Shank, G., & Brown, L. (2007). Exploring Educational Research Literacy. Oxon: Routledge.
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