26 SES 12 B, Pedagogical Leadership
In Sweden principals’ work with student learning is labeled as pedagogical leadership, a concept introduced in the 1940ies that includes diverse activities related to national goals and school results. Since principals are held accountable for student learning and school results they are expected to lead and manage change in teachers’ pedagogical practice (Lgr11, 2011 Skolverket 1999). The last years’ focus on results has put higher pressure on leaders to be visible pedagogical leaders. Pedagogical leadership has similarities with supervision, instructional and transformational leadership.
The realization of pedagogical leadership has been criticized by authorities and researchers for being weak. Principals’ pedagogical leadership as direct involvement in the teaching and learning processes is not highly prioritized (Törnsén, 2009). The core processes of schooling, teaching and learning, are mostly a teacher domain. Principals do not conduct classroom visits as a means to support teachers’ pedagogical work and professional development (Skolverket 1999, Ärlestig 2008). Teachers claim that they lack professional feedback and conversations with their principals about teaching and learning issues (Ärlestig, 2007).
This paper reports on studies of experienced principals who participated in a course aimed at developing their understanding and realization of pedagogical leadership. One aim with the research was to understand if and in that case how principals’ understanding of pedagogical leadership changed during a year’s coursework with focus on classroom visits. Another aim was to understand if and in that case what in the course content and exercises that contributed to principals’ learning. The course involved tasks that covered three perspectives of pedagogical leadership (described below). In the article we concentrate on the findings in relation to classroom visits and leading teaching and learning since this aspect is fundamental but still neglected in pedagogical leadership.
A definition of pedagogical leadership which consists of three perspectives has been developed (Törnsén & Ärlestig, 2012). The first perspective concerns the work with teacher capacity and the instructional core of schooling taking place in classrooms i.e. leading the core processes of teaching and learning. This means as an example to make classroom visits and to have dialogues about teaching and learning issues. The second perspective descirbes the work with factors such as setting directions, expressing high expectations, encouraging and creating prerequisites for collaboration and communication around teacher activities i.e. providing prerequisites for teaching and learning. These two perspectives reflect two categories of pedagogical leadership described by Törnsén (2009), based on Swedish policy and international research on successful principal leadership (Leithwood/Day, 2007, Hallinger, 2003). The third perspective is ‘school results and school qualities in relation to students learning’, which involves regular analysis of school results in relation to both the daily work with the students i.e. the core processes in classrooms between teacher and students and to the prerequisites for teaching and learning. Besides academic knowledge Swedish schools by tradition have a strong emphasis on social and civic knowledge. The three perspectives complement each other and are indispensable. A high quality pedagogical leadership means that the three perspectives inform each other to systematically build sustainability.
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