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Controversial issues in preschool principals’ leadership
Umeå universitet, Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Centrum för skolledarutveckling. Umeå universitet, Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Statsvetenskapliga institutionen. (CViL)ORCID-id: 0000-0003-3006-1720
Umeå universitet, Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Centrum för skolledarutveckling.ORCID-id: 0000-0001-6240-587x
Umeå universitet, Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Centrum för skolledarutveckling.
Umeå universitet, Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Centrum för skolledarutveckling.ORCID-id: 0000-0002-4636-1886
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2023 (Engelska)Ingår i: ECER 2023 Programme, 2023Konferensbidrag, Muntlig presentation med publicerat abstract (Refereegranskat)
Abstract [en]

This paper highlights the concept of controversial issues in preschool principals’ everyday practice. Controversial issues are something that teachers and principals have to address more frequently in schools and preschools in recent years (Council of Europe, 2017). One explanation for this development might be, according to the Council of Europe, that teachers and principals are working in a rapidly changing global environment. For instance, we have had a worldwide pandemic, conflicts in the surrounding world that increase migration, an ongoing climate crisis and a fast technological development that create insecurities. This development calls for a readiness capacity on the organizational level but also a leadership that is sensitive and able to identify controversial issues that arise in preschools today and tomorrow.

When reviewing research on controversial issues in preschools and schools it is evident that the main focus is directed toward teachers and their practice, i. e. on how they teach in relation to topics that are perceived as controversial in an educational setting (see e.g. Bautista, isco & Quaye, 2018; Sætra, 2019). Further, research on how controversial issues are perceived and dealt with from a principal’s perspective is scarce. The concept of controversial issues is not easily defined and there is no uniform definition of the concept. In this study we use a definition that controversial issues are all issues that create tension or disputes on an organizational and/or societal level such as, for example, segregation, migration, equality, religion, sexuality and gender which may be difficult to know how to handle and/or respond to (Council of Europe, 2017).

As described above, controversial issues are topics that is difficult to handle and sometimes there are no easy solutions or clear paths for the principal in order to deal with or in the process of deciding what to do. In other words, these issues could be described as professional dilemmas for the principals. A dilemma can be defined as a situation where values, obligations and/or commitments collide or conflict and there is, for the involved actors, no obvious right way to do or act (Honig, 1994, 1996). In order to describe and understand these professional dilemmas the concept of dilemmatic spaces is used. A dilemmic space can be understood as a landscape of interactions between different actors within a specific social setting and where frictions in relation to societal and professional norms and values manifest (Olsson, 2022). Through the concept of dilemmatic space, actors, norms, values and action patterns can be framed which can affect how principals are positioned or position themselves, which in turn affects their leadership practice. In this paper we understand the concept of dilemmatic space as being relational and dialectic (Fransson & Grannäs, 2013). This means that not only people are positioned based on their standpoints and their moral positioning but also in relation to various norms, values, patterns of action, decisions, rules, roles and functions are related and positioned in relation to each other, and these positions creates a space, an area where dilemmas might occur that principals have to deal with (Fransson, 2012; Fransson & Grannäs, 2013).

The aim of this study, which has an exploratory point of departure, is to analyze the controversial issues and discuss in relation to dilemmatic spaces. This is done by focusing on which issues preschool principals experience and articulate as controversial in their practice. Further, why these issues are perceived as controversial and how the principals are affected by them and how they position themselves or become positioned and what space they can operate in when trying to deal with them.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources UsedThis study is part of a larger project, CVIL (ControVersial Issues in Leadership), that aim to study controversial issues in Swedish (K-12) principals’ everyday practice. Within the project’s first stage 29 interviews with principals were conducted, seven of these were with preschool principals and are used as the data set in this paper. The interviews were semi-structured (Bryman 2012) and the principals within the study were from different contexts (in relation to socio economic context, rural/urban settings etc.). In addition, some of the interviewed principals had worked as leaders for some time and others were relatively new in their position. Five researchers, connected to the project, conducted semi-structured interviews. The two main questions in the interview guide were: Which controversial issues are most important to you right now as principal, and what are the controversial issues that you have had in the past?, Each main question was followed by probing questions such as: Why was it a controversial issue for you?, How did you handle this issue?, Who was involved?, Who was affected by it?. In what way, and so on, Each interview lasted between one to two hours

All interviews have been recorded and transcribed verbatime. The data was analyzed using content analysis (Berg 2001, Creswell, 2007) with a focus to identify dilemmatic spaces in the light of the principals' perception of controversial issues.Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or FindingsOur preliminary analysis consists of four themes: controversial issues in relation to traditions, norms and values, laws and regulations and local political demands. The first theme, conflicting norms regarding traditions, highlights dilemmas derived from frictions on how to celebrate holidays at the preschools and if all children should or are allowed (by the parents) to participate in these celebrations. These dilemmas can be related to both religious and cultural traditions.  The second theme, conflicting norms and values tend to be a theme which is made visible when the principals describe that ideological beliefs clash between teachers and parents regarding for example the preschool´s participation in activities to support everyone´s equal value such as participating in a pride festival.  

The third theme emerges when professional norms are challenged by laws and regulations or national or local goals and assignments. One of the principals describe that the Swedish National Agency for Education promotes concepts such as evidence-based education which this principal believes is not compatible with her view on how to teach children. The law that requires all abusive treatment between children to be reported is also triggering tensions, as principals believe that this law carries a risk of young children being labeled as victims or perpetrators. The fourth and final theme is when local political demands become a controversial issue for a principal. One example of this is a political initiative focusing a reading and writing guarantee for 5- and 6-year-old children which this principal think is an unreasonable demand on all children, and teachers.  

These results are discussed in relation to dilemmatic spaces that emerges and affects the principal’s need to position him or herself in favor of one side or somewhere in between, even if the principal wish to be able to take a different position.ReferencesBautista, N., Misco, T., & Quaye, S. J. (2018). Early childhood open-mindedness: An investigation into preservice teachers’ capacity to address controversial issues. Journal of Teacher Education, 69(2), 154-168.  

Berg, B.L., 2001. Qualitative research methods for the social sciences. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Bryman, Alan (2012). Social research methods. 4. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Creswell, J.W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fransson, G. (2012). Professionalisering eller deprofessionalisering? Positioneringar och samspel i ett dilemmatic space. I C. Gustafsson & G. Fransson (red.). Kvalificerad som lärare? Om professionell utveckling, mentorskap och bedömning med sikte på lärarlegitimation. Gävle University Press.  

Fransson, G., & Grannäs, J. (2013). Dilemmatic spaces in educational contexts–towards a conceptual framework for dilemmas in teachers work. Teachers and Teaching, 19(1), 4-17.

Honig, B. (1993). Difference, Dilemmas, and the Politics of Home. Social Research. Vol. 61, no 3.

Sætra, E. (2019). Teaching Controversial Issues: A Pragmatic View of the Criterion Debate. Journal of  Philosophy of Education, 53(2), s. 323–339. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9752.12361

Wiman, Lena (2019). Att vara chef i förskolan - villkor, drivkrafter och uttryck. I K. Malmberg & A. Arnqvist (red.). Ledning i förskola - villkor och uttryck. Malmö: Gleerups.

Ort, förlag, år, upplaga, sidor
2023.
Nationell ämneskategori
Pedagogiskt arbete
Identifikatorer
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-216765OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-216765DiVA, id: diva2:1812356
Konferens
ECER 2023: European Educational Research Association; The Value of Diversity in Education and Educational Research, Glasgow, UK, August 22-25, 2023
Tillgänglig från: 2023-11-15 Skapad: 2023-11-15 Senast uppdaterad: 2023-11-15Bibliografiskt granskad

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Rantala, AnnaAhlström, BjörnLeo, UlfLarsson, MagnusPoromaa Isling, Pär

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