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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Abstracts

Teacher resistance against school reform: reflecting an inconvenient truth

Volume 33 Number 5,  2013; Pages 486–500
Ewald Terhart

Teachers are now widely encouraged to analyse data from students' standardised tests, in order to improve their own teaching and raise their students' results. However, a range of studies indicate that the teaching workforce often ‘ignores, misinterprets or misuses’ data obtained from standardised testing in the classroom. The author discusses research on the issue, particularly in relation to Germany. In several German states, school performance tests are analysed centrally and then returned to schools; individual teachers receive detailed performance data about their students, which is compared to data from other classes in the school and from similar classes in other schools. But research by Maier (2009, 2010) found little or no constructive reaction to this data from teachers. In fact, the level of acceptance of standards-based testing fell during the testing process. Studies elsewhere suggest that teachers resist such tests when they see them as a means to erode their professional control over the teaching process. Research in the USA (Ingram et al, 2004) found a number of ways in which teachers experience standardised testing as loss of professional control. For example, teachers may have already developed their own yardsticks for measuring the effectiveness of their teaching. They may, for example, use anecdotal information and informal, intuitive professional judgement. Teachers may not believe that the test results capture the most meaningful and important aspects of student performance. They may have become cynical about standardised test data after seeing it used for political purposes. They may feel unduly blamed for their students' poor test performances. Further reasons for resistance include the failure of previous reforms to make a difference, a belief that education authorities and governments lack understanding of classroom realities, and the belief that the requirement to analyse test data adds to a workload that is already excessive. These problems may be overcome by long-term engagement with teachers, to give senior educational leaders and policy makers a better grasp of how teachers experience and interpret standards-based accountability measures. Some studies have found that teachers are positive about applying results of standardised tests where the school has 'an established culture of cooperation' with regard to accountability practices. Teachers are also more willing to accept the use of standardised test data when they have been trained in data analysis.

KLA

Subject Headings

Educational planning
Education policy
Schools
Teaching and learning
Teaching profession
Germany

When others’ performance just isn't good enough: educational leaders’ framing of concerns in private and public

Volume 12 Number 4,  2013; Pages 301–336
Claire Sinnema, et al.

When a staff member’s performance is unsatisfactory school leaders must respond, to ensure that teaching and learning are not adversely affected, and also for reasons of formal accountability. This issue impacts on leaders at a range of levels, from managers in education authorities to leaders of teams within schools. School leaders may be tempted to avoid the ‘time, effort and unpleasantness’ involved in challenging poor performance, by minimising criticism and by rating a staff member's performance too highly. The current article reports on a mixed-method study of Australian school leaders’ attitudes and responses to poor performances of staff members reporting to them. The respondents in the study were all participating in professional learning activities, designed to help them resolve concerns via constructive conversation. The group consisted of 22 principals, 27 superintendents and 28 other school leaders, representing a wide range of experience levels in their respective roles. Respondents were asked to provide detailed written descriptions regarding a concern, ‘such as a performance or ethical concern’, which they held about a subordinate staff member. It was found that one third of the cases had persisted for more than a year. While 90% of participants had attempted to resolve the issue with the staff member, more than 60% of them said these attempts had been unsuccessful. The superintendent subgroup then participated in an additional activity, a role-play in which they attempted to resolve a concern about a staff member through conversation with them. This additional activity was designed to investigate how their framing of the concern – to themselves, and then to the staff member – contributed to the outcome of the conversation. When talking with the staff member, the leaders were found to frame their concerns in substantially more moderate and diplomatic way than they had framed it to themselves in private. This approach is unhelpful, since it allows divergent understandings of the issue to persist, and the vagueness of the language used may in fact arouse suspicion. To resolve issues of concern school leaders need to talk honestly and searchingly, but also respectfully, to the staff member concerned. The article also discusses earlier research on the different ways in which expert and typical principals approach problems. A 1989 study found that expert principals were more likely to feel confident and calm, to identify ways in which constraints could be overcome, and more likely to perceive issues in terms of school and student achievement than personal repercussions on themselves. Experts were less likely to rely on assumptions, or to imagine that others shared their assumptions. They were less concerned to keep parents happy but more concerned to provide parents with information. Some of the same findings were supported in a 1995 study, which also found that expert principals tended to situate problems in a wider context, and explained the problem more clearly. A 2008 study on instructional problem scenarios found that expert principals were less likely feel constrained by the feelings of groups affected by potential solutions.

KLA

Subject Headings

Educational accountability
Teacher evaluation
School principals
School leadership

Leading innovation in schools

Volume 18 Number 8, September 2014
Robyn Collins

Industries experience two forms of innovation. One is called 'disruptive' because it disrupts markets or creates new ones through new technologies or methods, in unanticipated ways. Such disruption occurred when cheaply manufactured cars replaced the horse and cart, and when personal computers made IT accessible to ordinary people. In the health sector, 24-hour phone referral services, staffed by nurses, have the potential to disrupt traditional doctor-patient relationships. Sustainable innovation, by contrast, introduces improved technology or methods without disrupting markets. Online learning has the potential to bring disruptive improvements to schools, but so far innovation has been of the sustainable kind, in forms such as the flipped classroom, or access to experts online – ways to improve teaching and learning without fundamental changes to past practices. The article lists a range of schools in Australia and elsewhere that offer models of sustainable innovation. Schools have been cautious about innovation, due in part to change fatigue, but also to an awareness that new technologies do not, in themselves, improve learning. Research evidence suggests that innovation will only take root in a school when it aligns with existing cultural values: ‘best practice’ models cannot be successfully imposed from without. The article suggests a method for internally-generated innovation, which starts with a process for identifying existing issues within the school.

KLA

Subject Headings

School principals
School leadership
Educational planning

The perils of change leadership

Volume 39 Number 2, October 2014; Pages 36–38
Karen Starr

The article reports on interviews with Australian principals on the issue of change management, and resistance to change amongst teachers and other members of the school community. The principals, nearly 100 in all, were either newly appointed or very experienced; they were drawn from all three education sectors. The changes they described covered areas such as the curriculum, school restructure and amalgamation, the introduction of new technologies, a new entreprise agreement, and revision of the school performance appraisal policy. Resistance to change took various forms. The most extreme involved death threats, attempted blackmail, or theft or destruction of personal property or professional information. Other opposition involved ‘blows to professional identity’, including a vote of no confidence in the principal. The respondents described suffering from social exclusion, withheld information, and ‘clandestine caucusing’. Attempts had been made to erode their authority, via slanderous rumours, nitpicking criticisms, and embarrassing or difficult questions raised in public. The principals felt constrained to behave diplomatically when their opponents did not. In some cases they were also concerned about factionalism within the staff, or about the disruptive effect of negative critics on the 'silent majority' of staff members. Most resistance was experienced by principals who were either new to the role, or new to the position at their school. Some female leaders identified gender as an issue in the hostility they experienced. The most significant resistance was to policy mandates, related to issues such as ‘increasingly complicated workloads’, accountability requirements, and the speed of change. Opponents tended to distrust employing authorities, who were seen as disregarding academic evidence or knowledge acquired over time from the school level. Principals tended to be less critical of resistance when it related to these externally-generated changes. A different source of discontent was the ‘growing culture of complaint’. Parents were increasingly likely to frame demands in terms of ‘consumer rights’ and to pursue their goals via litigation, the media, or lobbying of figures within education authorities, peers or subordinates, to discredit the principal. The respondents were also concerned that a growing managerial burden was hindering them from building relationships of trust within the school. The changing school environment places ever more burden on principals to manage change: this has implications for principal training, selection, and appraisal.

KLA

Subject Headings

Educational planning
School principals
School leadership
School and community
School culture

The governing of international schools: the implications of ownership and profit motive

Volume 34 Number 1,  2014; Pages 2–20
Chris James, Paul Sheppard

International schools are broadly defined by several qualities: they have a significant proportion of students from other countries; a ‘diverse teaching staff’; a curriculum incorporating elements from several national systems; and a governing board that reflects the student population. International schools tend to enjoy substantial, but not complete, autonomy from national regulation. They also tend to rely financially on student fees. Globally there are over 5000 English-language international schools, and their number continues to grow rapidly. Originally designed for the children of expatriates, many students now come from families in the home country’s ‘local economic elite’. The schools may be owned privately, by an individual or a groups of shareholders, or they may be community-owned via a trust or foundation. In either case, they may be run on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis. This article describes findings from a study of the governance of international schools, looking especially at how governance relates to ownership and the profit motive. Evidence was obtained from a survey of head teachers of international schools, and from interviews with the head teachers, with owners of the schools, and with representatives of accrediting organisations. Several themes emerged. Board members often reported difficulty in maintaining a strategic focus as called for by their role as governors: they tended to be drawn instead into operational issues, acting in a de-facto management role. Respondents also reported a blurring of the line between for-profit and not-for-profit. The great majority (86%) of the schools were in the community-owned, not-for-profit category. Within this grouping, schools varied according to the method of appointing new members to the governing board. The most widely approved model was a ‘hybrid': some members were elected, which helped to ensure wide participation, while others were appointed by current members, encouraging continuity in leadership.

KLA

Subject Headings

Education management
Educational administration
Schools
International education

Teachmeets

Volume 39 Number 2, October 2014; Page 10,12
Matthew Esterman

Teachmeets are informal events for professional learning and networking, run by educators themselves. Characteristically a TeachMeet consists of short presentations by participants, covering teaching tips, professional concerns, inspiring experiences, or snippets of unusual bits of learning. Participants vary widely in terms of experience, year levels taught, and sector. The highly informal nature of the events makes them easy to organise and take part in. Social media plays an important role in coordination and dissemination. While many school leaders support TeachMeets, attendance should never be mandated, as this runs counter to the spirit of choice and local initiative that gives them life. In Australia the number of TeachMeets has grown rapidly since they began in 2010. They are linked through a national network. There is also a TeachMeet network in Britain. TeachMeets in Australia have been supported by an Innovation Grant from The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), and other organisations.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Teaching profession

Intellectual nutrition for the snack food junkie

Volume 96 Number 1, September 2014; Pages 59–63
Donna L Miller

Students’ enthusiasm for junk food served as a point of engagement when the author launched an inquiry-based technical writing project in her classroom. To begin the project she showed her students several examples of technical writing, working with the class to identify ‘common purposes, tone, point of view and style’, and helping them to learn the way that text, design and graphics interact in the technical writing genre. Next she asked her students to bring a favourite type of junk food to class, pick an ‘exotic ingredient’, then research its nature and its impact on the body. During the research process students were required to note details of their sources, which they would later need to cite. They were also called on to ‘assess their sources for accuracy, credibility and potential bias’. The students eventually presented their findings in the form of an informational pamphlet, using publishing software. Another form of technical writing likely to appeal to students is the ‘how-to’ document, giving procedural instructions, or 'process writing' that describes technical processes.

KLA

Subject Headings

Students
Writing
Teaching and learning

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