By way of a methodology centered on action research, one middle-sized primary school in New Zealand composed of 20 teachers underwent a successful change initiative exploring their conception of curricular leadership in 2004. The senior management team examined theoretical as well as the school’s most current practices relative to the distribution and structure of leadership (Cardno, 2006). Through the aid of an action research team composed of the schools senior leaders, an analysis of the problem was conducted and a change plan was implemented with the incrementally growing participation of all faculty members. This blog post aims to summarize the processes and systems that benefited the change process through a collaborative approach to improving school management.
During the 1990s, professional standards for middle school and high school teachers and administrators assigning levels of skills as teachers and managers advanced through their careers were adopted by the Ministry of Education. However, a set of curricular standards for primary schools were glaringly omitted that led to a muddled and unclear structure for curriculum leadership (Smith, 2005). As a result, the principal of the school initiated a cooperative and critical way to employ developmental action research. A study of the official expectations held of primary school administrators, referred to as middle managers in New Zealand, coupled with a reconsideration of the concept of curricular leadership “provided a theoretical background for examining the nature and structure of curriculum leadership in this school with a view to considering how improvement could be made” (Cardno, 2006, p. 457).
The change process spanned one full academic year, albeit its genesis can be traced to an administrative training program attended by the change leader—in this case, the school’s principal. Through the administrative training that focused on staff evaluation, the principal determined that the role and tasks assigned to curricular leaders were not clear. As a result, the principal contracted the facilitators of that training to act as external facilitators to the change initiative the principal planned on exploring at his school. The vision of the principal was engage in a methodical and data driven procedure to develop the efficacy of his school’s curricular leaders.
The Model of Change
A developmental form of action research was used. The method was referred to as developmental as the change initiative was a response to some aspect of professional work that needed to be developed (Cardno, 2003). The process moved through a stage of inquiry and reconnaissance, or data gathering, to planning a strategy and then executing it as an intervention. It was followed by monitoring the change and reflecting on its effectiveness by way of periodic evaluation. The evaluation periods were used as an opportunity to clarify the problem or recognize further dimensions of the problem that may merit added sequences of study, intervention, and appraisal. The external facilitators were not considered members of the group. Instead, they led and recorded discussions and activities as they occurred.
Steps of the Process
A facilitation schedule was established to ensure the regularity of the process. Then, a full-staff meeting was scheduled to disseminate the general tenets of the issue and inform the group about action research. Four full-day sessions were convened so that the stages of the action research process may be cycled through. The first of these sessions involved data gather to analyze the problem. Next, research questions were developed based on the data acquired and a change plan was created. Subsequently, the plan of action was implemented and, finally, an evaluation stage wherein the outcomes as well as the process was appraised.
Throughout the process, the meetings were tape-recorded by the external facilitators who also gathered other forms of data like official state documents, minutes of staff meetings, outlines of staff discussions as well as surveys used to produce comment (Cardno, 2006).
The action research-based change effort resulted in the delegation of curricular leadership roles to the instructional leaders of the school—the department heads. Through the development of a list of strengths and weaknesses of their curriculum team practices, a new set of responsibilities were devised for both the faculty as well as the administration team of the school. The outcomes of the change effort resulted in three primary actions that were adopted as of the 2005 academic school year. These included giving all staff the opportunity to participate in curriculum resource decision making in at least one curricular area. Second, a form of professional development to grow leaders who were passionate about curriculum development was committed to and, lastly, the role of the senior administrators of the school was reduced so that the teacher leaders may take a primary role in the development of curriculum.
Additionally, the leader of the change effort, the school’s principal, recognized that his inclination to be the curricular leader was not supported by the findings of the action research. This finding was further corroborated by the research base that indicates that principals should rely further on the ancillary “effects of their direct influence on those who are in a better position to lead learning and teaching” (Southworth, 2004, p. 469).
Although no members of the school’s staff were reported as inhibitors of the change process, as the process was maturing and the change effort’s outcomes were being formulated, the senior managers were cognizant that the new roles, and thereby, new responsibilities that the teacher leaders would be tasked with, may be seen as burdensome by the faculty members—especially considering that there was no planned compensation for the newly developed leadership positions. As a result, the senior administrators as well as the principal made a more intensive effort to have the faculty members formally draw the conclusions based on the findings of the process. This was done by the development of a matrix that described the structure of the leadership that lead faculty members to concur that the intervention plan should focus on a new structure of subject curriculum leadership, new leaders, a clarification of roles and responsibilities as well as professional development for the new leaders (Cardno, 2006).
If the teleological model of change was used in this situation, wherein the principal would have taken a much more central role in developing the intervention plan as well as leading its implementation, there is a possibility that the faculty of the primary school may have revolted against an initiative that may have been perceived as a top-down pronouncement. The teleological change model is considered an action cycle (Bekmeier-Feuerhahn, 2009). However, the fundamental change intervention is driven by an actor engaging in deliberate, goal-oriented activities—not necessarily a process of derived by the input of all the organization’s members. One of the reason the outcomes of the change effort described in this summary were successful is that the change leader planned structures and methods that safeguarded key work was done in ways that were concurrently edifying and conducive of development as well as personal growth for everyone in the organization. The principal who both instigated and partook in this change effort tied together the problem solving aptitude of the school’s staff in a methodical and creative way in dealing with one side of a multifaceted issue.
Bekmeier-Feuerhahn, S. (2009). Mechanisms of teleological change. Management Revue, 20(2), 126-137.
Cardno, C. (2003). Curriculum leadership: Secondary school principals’ perspectives on this challenging role in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Educational Leadership, 19(2), 15-29.
Cardno, C. (2006, November). Leading change from within: Action research to strengthen curriculum leadership in a primary school. School Leadership and Management, 26, 453-471.
Smith, A. (2005). Performance standards for primary school middle managers: Conspicuous by their absence?. New Zealand Journal of Educational Leadership, 20(2), 71-85.
Southworth, G. (2004). Primary school leadership in context: Leading small, medium, and large sized schools. London: Routledge Falmer.