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Exploring Visual Method in the Field of Educational Leadership: Co-creating Understandings of Educational Leadership and Authority in School Organisations
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Principal Development.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of applied educational science, Interactive Media and Learning (IML). Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Principal Development.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9981-6349
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.
2021 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This paper is a contribution to the ongoing dialogue on the need for method development within the field of educational leadership. Educational leadership research has a set of conventional qualitative methods that regularly occur, surveys, interviews and observations (Thomson, 2017; Moran Jackson, 2019; Castillo and Hallinger, 2018; Hallinger, 2018; Tian et al., 2016). Though, it remains an overlooked issue to critically examine what this means to our research field (Thomson, 2017). This paper was born in some practical difficulties of interviews with educational leaders, which provoked an expansive take on the interview as an empirical occasion. In the paper we describe a visual method that was developed and added to qualitative face-to-face interviews to capture essential concepts concerning educational leadership, for example power, hierarchies and relations. The purpose of the paper is to examine how the process of data collection and analysis can benefit and constrain from the use of visual material in qualitative semi-structured face-to-face interviews. It also opens up for discussions about alternative ways to present research. In the paper we explore the following research questions:

  • can a visual method imply for the co-creation of understandings about positions, relations and hierarchies within school organisations?
  • What advantages and challenges may arise when new methods are added to qualitative face-to-face interviews within the field of educational leadership?

A rather limited number of methods and approaches are employed within the field of educational leadership. The most common are surveys and interviews (Thomson, 2017; Moran Jackson, 2019; Castillo and Hallinger, 2018; Hallinger, 2018; Tian et al., 2016). Qualitative methods still dominate, although quantitative approaches are increasing in number (Gumus et al., 2018). Few studies make use of alternative data sources, such as videos, blogs, and photos (Moran Jackson, 2019). In an interdisciplinary and complex research field such as educational leadership, this could imply limited and to some extent defaulted perspectives.

Our visual method was designed within a larger research project about steering and governing in, and of, Swedish schools. The creation of the method grew from a need to develop the interview technique to explore understandings of the organisations from the informants’ points of view. The most common motive for using visual material in a data collection process is an ambition to access data, as it enables the collection of data other than verbal data alone. Another argument is that visual material facilitates communication between researchers and respondents, particularly when participants are asked to express abstract ideas, and supports verbal communication. Visual methods are also believed to promote reflection, as words and pictures can work in synergy to enhance meaning (Pain, 2012; Pink, 2013). By adding visual material to semi-structured face-to-face interviews, we created a visual method to stimulate the informants’ reflections about complex matters as hierarchies, power and relations. These themes are central phenomena within the field of educational leadership. We wanted to explore what happens to the research process when transforming a traditional method by adding visual material to otherwise traditional qualitative face-to-face interviews. During the conference we evoke further exploration of alternative methods by presenting our findings by using moving pictures.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources UsedThe 57 informants in our empirical and inductive study were selected and approached in the following way. In the Swedish educational system, municipalities are organisers of compulsory and secondary education, and thus we started off by selecting municipalities. The first selection criteria was that the average results, and the average grades of pupils in the last year of compulsory school, should be comparable between the selected municipalities (Kolada 2019, Siris 2019). Secondly, the average percentage of pupils who perceive themselves to be safe and secure in school, should be in the same range in the selected municipalities. Thirdly the municipalities should be of the same size, in population numbers. Two municipalities were selected (purposive sampling; Cohen et al., 2011). They identified two schools each (convenience sampling; Bryman, 2012), for the study.  Approached from a systems thinking perspective (see Shaked & Schechter, 2017), semi-structured face-to-face interviews were made with politicians (n=4), superintendents (n=2), assistant superintendents (n=4), principals (n=4), teacher leaders (n=14) and teachers (n=29). Individual and group interviews were conducted.

By accompanying the semi-structured interviews by a paper sheet with sticky notes we created a visual method. A sticky note with the informant´s function was put in the middle of the sheet, which was divided in three levels. Encouraged by the interviewer the informants added sticky notes with functions that they found central for their own function accompanied by semi-structured interview questions. The themes discussed during the interviews concerned key actors on different levels in the school organization, roles and functions, knowledge and competence, loyalty, trust, communication and systematic quality assurance. By adding a visual method, the informants were given a hands-on tool to arrange and to describe the education organization that they are a part of. This made it possible to visualize positions, relations and hierarchies. We video-recorded the sticky-note mapping to enable analysis of movements simultaneously with verbal narratives. At the end of the interview project a total of 43 images had been created during the interviews. In the process of analysis, the visual and auditory material were encapsulated in still pictures. These described more in detail how the interviews developed and certain aspects of the interviews that should be considered in the analysis. The still images were useful for further analysis, for example, to detect patterns in positions and relations within and between organisations, and for presentation of the result.

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or FindingsThe co-creation of images during the interviews elicited dialogues about complex subjects such as hierarchies, relations and positions. The method helped us to gain an understanding of how leaders describe their perceptions of authority and power in school organisations. By adding visual material to the interviews, a creative and active interview environment was created. The method made the informants take a stand on complex questions and matters, and to take different perspectives, thus gaining new insights about their own organisations. This provided us as researchers with a rich data material and uncovered our own biases. By making subjective understandings visual, the implicit was made explicit.

As researchers we were challenged to coordinate the designing and exploration of the method and to ask new questions, which was sometimes challenging. Another challenge was to translate the rich visual material into condensed text to make it fit into the traditional journal format. This made us look for alternative ways to present research within our field. Research conferences that offer alternative ways to present, discuss and share research can be a valuable venue to develop research methods.

To sum up, by adding a visual method to qualitative face to face interviews, it is possible for researchers to create a creative and active interview environment, and to analyse the data from different angles within a holistic approach (understanding parts vs whole). The method offers a flexible structure which enables longitudinal studies within and between different organisations. Inspired from what we have seen, we suggest that the method can facilitate international studies of educational organisations within different school contexts, European and other international contexts. Adding visual methods to more traditional interviews can make dilemmas in educational leadership visible and is useful when finding strategies to manage and lead various (groups of) actors in educational organisations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2021.
Keywords [en]
Method development, visual method, educational management, educational leadership, school organisation
National Category
Pedagogy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-200260OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-200260DiVA, id: diva2:1703605
Conference
ECER 2021, European Conference on Education Research, Online, September 6-10, 2021
Available from: 2022-10-13 Created: 2022-10-13 Last updated: 2022-10-14Bibliographically approved

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Grimm, FridaNorqvist, LarsKatarina, Roos

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