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School leadership in a digitalized society: Reflections on the Use of a Survey Tool for Improving Educational Practice
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. (lict)
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. (Lict)
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. (lict)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0941-9364
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. (lict)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0051-4744
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2021 (English)In: ECER programmes, 2021Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This presentation will report from a pilot study using a novel quantitative instrument as a mean for findings of scientific relevance as well as of relevance for school development. The aim of the pilot study was to better understand school leadership in the midst of digitalization in school. The project was based on two theoretical positions for understanding leadership in the context of digitalization: Leadership behaviours according to Yukl (2013) and Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) according to Engeström, (2015). The essence of leadership in organizations is, according to Yukl (2013),“influencing and facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives”. Leaders can improve the performance of a team or organization by influencing the processes that determine performance.

Background: The Swedish government has commissioned a national pilot project to test sustainable collaboration models between academia and the school or school system regarding research, school activities and teacher education for the period 2017 to 2021 (ulfavtal.se). Expectations are to contribute to the research base of the school system, and to conduct research build on equal terms between researchers and schools. In Sweden there is an explicit expectation in the Education Act, that education is to “rest on a scientific grounds and proven experience” (Section 5). This means that teachers and school leaders are to base the exercise of their profession on research and that school development is to be permeated by a scientific approach. Along this argument, a need to develop sustainable collaboration models between the school system and academia resting on common grounds is formulated as a goal of the pilot project. Similar collaborative approaches between practice and academa are adopted in many European countreis. This means embracing a dimension of development work into the approach to research.

The idea of forming collaborations between schools and academia to improve the quality of the educational practice is not new internationally. There is a growing body of initiatives with the aim to connect school improvement with external actors such as universities through networks and collaborative partnerships of different kinds (Chapman et al., 2016). Research shows how this may lead to meaningful changes in the teaching and learning processes in schools (Ainscow, 2012). Literature on initial teacher education, professional development for teachers, and educational research, also acknowledges how school–academia partnerships are powerful collaborations that can result in improved practice and results for students (Day & Smethem, 2010). However, only a limited amount of research tries to understand how such partnerships and collaboration forms stem from strategic leadership (e.g., Murphy, 2017).

In this paper we address the issue of better understanding how such collaborations can be built on strategic decisions about content for collaboration, when it comes to digitalization in schools.  

Digitalization and school leadership: As discussed by Olofsson et al. (2015), school leaders often experience digitalization processes as “challenging and difficult” (p. 117). Chua Reyes (2015) showed that school leaders experience that their role has changed “from leading a team of teachers who have been deliverers of knowledge towards leading a team of teacher facilitators” (2015, p. 378). In Sweden, research on school leadership is rather limited (Ärlestig et al., 2016). Studies at hand argues that leadership is important for implementation of digital visions and reforms (Petersen, 2014). Moreover, that school leaders’ professional development is needed to effectively lead for digitalization in school (cf. Håkansson-Lindqvist & Pettersson, 2019; Pettersson, 2018). In 2012, the Swedish School Inspectorate (Lund, 2012) pointed out that school leaders do not actively lead, and support digitalization and that more knowledge is needed for leading digitalization in school.

Method: The quantitative instrument is based on two constructs (1) notions of leadership (based on the survey developed by Yukl, 2013); and (2) levels of expansive learning with digital technology (based on the theoretical foundations found in Engeström, 2015). The first construct is measured in four meta-categories: Task-oriented behaviours, Relations-oriented behaviours, Change-oriented behaviours, and External leadership behaviours. The four meta-categories consist of a total of 17 specific component behaviours, such as Clarifying, Supporting, Advocating change and External monitoring. In total, this part of the survey consists of 49 questions, all modified to address the current state of leadership at the respondent workplace. The second construct is measured in 18 questions related to three levels 1) how respondents use digital technologies in their daily work, 2) how the use has changed the daily practice, and 3) how the use has changed the way they work, communicate, and operate in the entire organization. The questions concern to what degree the use of digital technologies has developed new ways of organising and talking about daily practice. Item are designed as fixed-response format (Wilson, 2005) and responses are on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (not relevant) to 5 (absolutely essential). A series of background questions of relevance for the different constructs are also asked. The instrument is available online and will be administered as an online self-administered questionnaire. In this pilot study, the survey was distributed to all school leaders in one municipality in the northern Sweden (N = 44 with a response rate of 90 %). As can be seen, the total number of school leaders in municipalities in this region is low, but the tests have been made covering the total number of respondents possible. As such, awareness of this challenge is kept in mind in terms of analysis and inferences possible by use of the data.

Expected Outcomes: The possibilities for the results of the survey to be used as a basis for school development is discussed, as is the possibilities for the approach to be a way of conducting research, and thus also development work of relevance for school practice with the outspoken intention to improve the quality of the educational practice. Even if the data at the moment is not fully analyzed yet, there are some interesting trends in the material. For instance, due to the participant school leaders, Task-oriented and Relations-oriented leadership behaviours are more important than Change-oriented behaviours, when it comes to leading digitalization in school. There are also some interesting discrepancies between what is judged as important for their school organisations on one hand, and what is important in their leadership on the other. These trends seem to be of importance for strategic decisions about content for continous collaboration, and thereby for school development when it comes to digitalization in school. For the approach to be a collaboration form that provide genuine possibilities for research to be the scientific ground that educational quality should rest on, as is intended in the education act, there are a number of possibilities as well as challenges such as the inconsistency of the educational practice as such and the contextual boundaries of knowledge of what works and improve the quality of practice.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2021.
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-187475OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-187475DiVA, id: diva2:1593546
Conference
ECER 2021, European Conference on Educational Research, Online via Geneva, Switzerland, September 6-9, 2021
Available from: 2021-09-13 Created: 2021-09-13 Last updated: 2021-09-13Bibliographically approved

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Siljebo, JosefHolmgren, TomasLindberg, J. OlaFrom, JörgenPettersson, Fanny

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