Case study: Leading learning: Exploring the interrelated roles of school leaders
This paper explores the interrelated leadership roles of a principal, regional project officer, master teacher and teacher leaders in improving teaching quality in a Queensland government primary school. Throughout the two-year case study, various leadership structures were enacted and their impact on school improvement analysed.
Research in the area of leadership and school improvement often focuses on the work of principals as instructional leaders who foster distributed leadership practices (Lewis & Andrews, 2009; Spillane, Halverson & Diamond, 2001). David Hargreaves (2011), Frank Crowther and associates (2011), and Peter Senge (1990) are a few of the researchers who have championed models for school improvement. Factors that have contributed to successful model implementation leverage shared understandings and the development of key competencies in partnership with shared accountabilities. Such explanations, however, do little to clarify how the various leadership roles within a school are simultaneously enacted.
This paper seeks to shed light on how the various leadership layers are enacted, bridging the gap between school improvement strategies and the resulting classroom practice.
This case study emphasises the voices of practitioners, articulating their processes for enacting school improvement practices over the two-year period. Two researchers were involved in the writing of this paper: one insider master teacher, one insider/outsider project officer researcher. The analysis looked for specific factors that contributed to context-specific distributive leadership processes, and to consistent pedagogies. These are supplemented with strategy extracts, observations and feedback.
The findings revealed the following:
- key factors essential to the enactment of this distributive leadership model
- the preferred model to build the collective capability of the leadership team
- clarity of the school improvement agenda and processes from all key stakeholders
- contextualised, whole-school, evidence-based pedagogy, as evidenced by:
- a. a positive shift of teachers focus from the delivery of pre-planned lessons to differentiating teaching based on student learning needs
- b. consistent pedagogical practices being observed in 100 per cent of classrooms.
Partnerships between the various leadership levels involve more than explicit roles and responsibilities. Shared ownership (developed through collaborative inquiry) contributes to effective strategy translation and implementation. Although a small case study, this research provides insights into the lived experiences of enacting complex change and improvement policy agendas. Future research would benefit from increasing the scope of the case studies to better understand the processes and approaches that best support practitioners to successfully translate policy to practice in their own contexts.
Susan Paterson has been a Master Teacher working across two schools in the Darling Downs South West Region in southern Queensland since 2015. She is a qualified high school teacher who commenced her teaching career in Alpha in central Queensland in 1983. Susan then worked in north Queensland, where she spent 20 years teaching in secondary and primary schools. She has spent many years in literacy and pedagogy coaching and behaviour and curriculum support roles. This year she is working closely with the Regional Project Officer, Tania Leach, to implement a consistent pedagogy in numeracy at one school to build the capacity of staff to explicitly teach key concepts. Susan is passionate about improving students' academic, social and emotional outcomes, and about invigorating teachers to improve their pedagogy.