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Changing leaders, changing times? A description and analysis of leadership practices at upper-school level in secondary school clusters in Flanders.

How does leadership take place in school organizations that have increased in size (schools united in 'school clusters') and complexity (there is an increasing demand on school organizations to develop their own local policies on several domains)? In Flanders 'school clusters'are an interesting case to study 'upper-school leadership'. We addressed the question in three studies.
In part 1 we report on a systematic review of the literature on school leadership. In chapter 1, we describe two evolutions in the educational landscape (enlargement of scale and an increasing pressure on schools and school clusters to develop local policies) and raise the question of how to properly conceptualize andstudy leadership in school organizations that have increased in size and complexity. We summarize the specific research questions and methods used for a review and analysis of the literature. In chapter 2 we providean overview of definitions of school leadership, four prominent conceptualizations of school leadership (instructional, transactional, transformational and distributed leadership), research on 'effective schoolleadership' and school leadership in a context of enlargement of scale.In chapter 3 we present an analysis of the literature. The conclusion is twofold. First, there appears to be a stalemate between what we call 'concentrated' (leadership as concentrated in the capacities and actions of the formal leader) and 'distributed approaches' (leadershipas stretched over different actors and the context). Second, in most ofthe theorizing and research on school leadership emphasis is put on thetask dimension of leadership, paying little or no attention to the emotional dimension. We conclude that there is a need for a conceptual framework of school leadership that transcends the stalemate between concentrated and distributed approaches, and takes into account both the task and the emotional dimension of leadership. In chapter 4 we present such anintegrative framework. The central element of the framework is composedof the actual leadership practices that take place in a school organization as the result of the contextualized interaction between organization members. The framework provides a map of the different constitutive elements of the interaction of actors and the context, that also allows totake into account the relationships between these diverse elements.
In part 2 (chapter 5) we report on a first empirical study. We constructed qualitative-interpretative case studies of four school clusters (two in primary and two in secondary education), based on interviews with themembers of the boards of principals. The interviews were transcribed, coded and analyzed in multiple steps (within-case and cross-case analyses) using micropolitical theory. The central claim of the theory is that organization members actions (and sense-making) are largely driven by their interests. Organization members will use their sources of power and influence in order to further their interests. We conclude that the interests of principals at the upper-school level relate to both the school as an organization (school interests) and the principal him/herself (individual interests). Balancing multiple interests shapes principals' (micropolitical) actions and helps to explain how leadership practices at the upper-school level take place. Principals act based on an assessment of the interests that are threatened and/or achieved through initiatives at the upper-school level. Cultural-ideological interests (particularly safeguarding the educational identity of the school) are of crucial importance. When these interests are threatened principals will (partly) withdraw from the upper-school organization.
In part 3 we report on an ethnographical case study of one school cluster in secondary education. The goal of the study was to describe and analyze the actual interactionsbetween principals at the upper-school level. Chapter 6 describes our research interest in decision-making processes of the board of principalsat the upper-school level. We elaborate an interactional approach on frame analysis that allows to study co-constructions of meaning in interaction. In chapter 7 we describe the methodology and methods used to studythe processes of framing and decision-making, combining discourse analysis and ethnography. Discourse analysis (as developed in social psychology) allowed to analyze language-in-interaction, while ethnography helpedto understand the social context wherein language is used (and that is constructed by discursive acts). During the course of one school year weattended and (audio)recorded every meeting at the level of the school cluster. The recordings were transcribed and analytically divided into issue trajectories (collections of interaction sequences with regard to one subject during the course of time). In chapter 8 and chapter 9 we present the results of an analysis of two issue trajectories, respectively the development of a teacher evaluation policy, and the evaluation and future of the school cluster. In chapter 10 we summarize our answer to theresearch questions. The framing processes (introducing and contesting frames, and dealing with frame differences) explain how the members of the board of principals (and the school boards) collectively construct meaning on issues, their own identity and relationship, and the interactionprocess itself; how they negotiate meaning and eventually make decisions. These processes of framing relate to the interests of the people involved. 
In the final part of the dissertation we reflect on the results and relation between the three studies and describe both the empirical and theoretical-conceptual contributions of our research. Empirically our work provides insights into the constitutive elements of upper-school leadership practices (situated within the conceptual framework of part 1). The theoretical-conceptual contribution lies in the explorationof the intersections between distributed leadership theory, micropolitical theory and an interactional framing approach. 
Date:1 Oct 2008  →  12 Feb 2013
Keywords:Secondary school, Leadership
Disciplines:Education curriculum, Education systems, General pedagogical and educational sciences, Specialist studies in education, Other pedagogical and educational sciences
Project type:PhD project