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Moving Beyond Internal Affairs : Making Sense of Principals Leadership Practices in Collaboration for School Improvement

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Publication Details
Author list: Sahlin, Susanne
Publisher: Mid Sweden University
Place: Sundsvall
Publication year: 2019
Number of pages: 106
ISBN: 978-91-88947-17-8

Abstract
The thesis takes its point of departure from the recent interest in collaboration and networking as major school improvement strategies and the school leader’s crucial role in these processes. Educational research indicates that if schools are to meet future demands, then leadership must rest on trust within the organisation and a principal’s leadership must be understood in the frame of professional collaboration and social learning. The aim of this thesis is to, from an institutional perspective, deepen the understanding of regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive aspects of school leaders’ practices in collaboration beyond school at the local school level.

The research undertaken in this thesis is a part of a larger research and school improvement project. This longitudinal study draws on data from a qualitative case study of three schools conducted over three years. Qualitative data including semistructured interviews, a part of a questionnaire to participating teachers with open-response questions, and observations were used. Additional contextual data, such as field notes, document analysis, and project meeting notes were also used. The theoretical framework is based on institutional perspectives on organisations and sense-making theory, used to provide an understanding of how principals and teachers make sense of principal leadership practices.

This thesis builds on four separate papers (I-IV) with their own aims and research questions but with the common goal of providing answers to the overall aim and research questions of the study. The four papers are complemented by this introductory part that ties them all together. Paper I, “Internationalization as an internal capacity builder for school improvement: a case study”, examines if and how the work with internationalization can build internal capacities for school improvement, but also examines the meaning of a principal’s leadership in relation to the work with professional collaboration and social learning. Paper II, “Collaboration With Private Companies as a Vehicle for School Improvement - Principals’ Experience and Sense-Making,” elaborates on principals’ experiences and sense-making of a school collaboration with private companies from the local community of the school, focussing on leadership and school improvement. Paper III, “Making Sense of External Partnerships: Principals’ Experiences of School-University Collaborations,” examine principals’ sense-making of a school–university collaboration. Paper IV, “Teachers Making Sense of Principals’ Leadership in Collaboration Beyond School,” aims to create a deeper understanding of collaborations beyond the school with a focus on principals’ leadership and of how such processes reshape regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive aspects (Scott, 2008). The role of the formal leader is addressed in all four papers.

Finally, the findings show that the principals have had the possibility to build professional capacity in their schools, create a supportive organization for learning, and connect with different external partners as a result of these beyond-school collaborations. The different actors in the beyond-school collaborations also became a part of the schools’ overall distributed leadership practices. The findings show that beyond-school collaboration influences and affects the normative and cultural-cognitive aspects that exist in the participating school to some extent. The development of collective commitments to guide collaboration, engagement in collaborative work, an increase in shared responsibility for work, and the fostering of learning-oriented collaboration and research-based knowledge construction are examples of norms and values that seem to have started to move during the various beyond-school collaborations. From the cultural-cognitive aspect, the study shows that aspects of this dimension appear more or less in the schools. The principals have interpreted and made sense of the value of beyond school collaboration in different ways. The cultural-cognitive aspect also seems to affect the teachers somewhat, where they make sense of the importance of the formal leader in beyond-school collaboration. They also emphasise the importance of having a pedagogical leader. The findings showed that there were challenges that became visible in the various beyond-school collaborations. However, being aware of the challenges and broadening professional learning communities through collaboration that goes beyond school all in all seem to support the principals in their leadership practices at the local school level and also support development in a school’s practices.


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