Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 44:3, 348-364
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
Adapting concepts of micropolitical theory to teacher evaluations in public Arab schools in Israel, this study examines how features of the cultural and socio-political context inform principals’ evaluations and tenure decisions in Arab Israeli schools.
Specifically, it focuses on how wider national and local socio-political power structures are echoed in the interactions and micropolitics of the particular schools and operate to influence the outcomes of such a process.
This study addresses the broader level of context where the sociopolitical and cultural features of the community involved in teacher evaluation are considered.
Drawing on concepts from micropolitical theory as related to formal and informal power relations in interactions, the meanings attributed to those interactions and how these direct interests in formal teacher evaluation processes, the authors’ overarching question is:
In what ways do the cultural and socio-political contexts of the Arab public schools influence teacher evaluation?
Drawing on concepts from micropolitical theory they also specifically ask: What micropolitical strategies do Arab principals and teachers report in connection with teacher evaluation?
Research context and participants
The current study is grounded in the context of elementary and junior-high Arab public schools where teacher evaluation for tenure (in teachers’ second or third year of practice) is mandatory.
The selection of schools was based on a convenience sampling.
The study did not focus on a particular religious sect within Israeli-Arab society (Christian/Muslim/ Druze).
Participants were 20 principals and 20 teachers of both genders, enrolled in schools in different villages and towns in northern Israel.
Selection was based on participation in a process of teacher evaluation for tenure in the past two years and consent to participate in the study.
In two cases, it was possible to collect data from different participants in the same school which helped ‘develop an in-depth and contextualized understanding’ of the interactions between the actors involved in the teacher evaluation process (Kelchtermans 2007, 477).
In order to obtain a concrete picture of the evaluation process, the authors interviewed both the principals and the teachers they evaluated.
In some cases, principals were interviewed prior to the interview with the teacher and in others, teachers were interviewed first.
Participants were interviewed one-on-one using in-depth semi structured interviews which were designed on the basis of aspects pertaining to teacher evaluation in general and on culturally unique emerging aspects in particular. Interviews were 45 minutes long on average and were executed in school or over the phone by one of the authors.
Findings and discussion
The results shed light on how the multifaceted micro and macro aspects of context transcend the immediate physical boundaries of the school context.
In this regard, contextually-oriented considerations serve as the ‘steering wheel of interactions’ between the actors of the school organisation, teacher evaluation purposes, decision making processes and their expected outcomes.
In this sense, the micropolitical significance of the selected teachers and principals’ actions can be fully understood if both micro and macro contextual features are considered.
Both teachers and principals seem to have developed a certain level of ‘micropolitical literacy – the competence to understand issues of power and interest in schools’ (Kelchtermans and Ballet 2002, 765).
The findings show that principals’ authoritarian supervisory styles echo cultural norms and guide their attitudes towards teachers.
At the same time, principals were found to mitigate their overt authoritarian power demand with familial metaphors and practices which derive from the cultural view of the head of the family in a traditional collectivist society.
Similarly, teachers in this study, as subordinates to principals, have learned how to cope with the realities of the teacher evaluation process imposed by the cultural norms of their society.
In Kelchterman’s terms, they have learned to effectively apply micropolitical strategies (such as agreeing and being submissive) in order to safeguard their interests and obtain tenure.
In other words, micropolitical strategies are used to deal with the cultural and macropolitical realities.
Both principals and teachers, as members of Arab society in Israel, which is commonly conceived as having a significant power imbalance, have endorsed its level of power distribution and interacted accordingly.
This may explain principals’ adoption and use of power and authority on the one hand, and teachers’ acceptance of subordination as well as their reluctance to express disagreement with superiors, on the other.
Such modes of interaction are reflected by a lack of openness, concern for face keeping and acceptance of one’s place in the hierarchy (Kirkman et al. 2009 in Daniels and Greguras 2014), which may be interpreted as an effort to comply with the collective character of the particular case of Arab schools in Israel.
The collectivist dimension seems to be also evident in principals’ juggling between the policy imperatives and their local imperatives.
Furthermore, principals’ modes of action throughout the evaluation process illustrate the discrepancy between how they believe policy purposes can be met and how decisions are actually made in the end.
It was found that principals show loyalty to the Ministry’s regulations and are firm in their demands for abiding by them.
On the other hand, they are faithful to their collective sense and find it irresponsible on their part to make strict professional decisions which are disconnected from an ethics of care towards a disempowered group of society.
This dual role that principals take upon themselves and the discrepancy in their actions can be explained by the fact that principals perceive themselves as subordinates to the Ministry-led policy and as such interpret their interaction with its purposes and uses as is culturally expected from them (i.e. showing adherence).
In addition, their emphasis on abiding by regulations can be seen as their way to detach themselves from the historical reality of decision making in the Ministry of Education, the largest employer in Arab society, according to which the ISA (Israeli Security Agency) and the heads of large families interfere and dictate who is to be appointed or tenured within its jurisdiction.
More specifically, Arab principals, who run a system within a familial surrounding of an Arab village or town, try, through the use of deliberate declarations of abiding by the Ministry’s regulations, to supposedly further themselves from the socially and politically pressured environment of the collectivist society in which they operate.
Principals’ loyalty to their local imperatives and adhering to the collective interest of Arab society lies at the heart of their actions.
Indeed, principals are well aware of the hardships novice teachers go through to get appointed and of the lack of work opportunities for Arab women.
To that end, once a teacher is appointed, principals do their best to help her keep the job.
Prioritising the interest of the group over the concerns of the individual is a characteristic of Arab society (Dwairy 2006; Jaraisy 2013).
This may impact how teacher quality is defined and addressed in this particular context and consequently the strategies used to attain it.
The complex nature of teacher evaluation processes brought to the surface in this study invites teacher educators to think about preparing prospective and novice teachers for high-stakes teacher evaluation processes in their contexts. For example, it seems important to develop teachers’ literacy of the micropolitical aspects of teacher evaluations, to introduce them to the stages of the process and to their rights and roles within it (in our case, being pro-active in interactions with figures of authority).
It is also important to prepare principals as to how to conduct evaluations, while raising their awareness of novices’ responses and mis/interpretations of the evaluation process and outcomes.
The results of this study can inform other contexts of the ways in which the cultural politics of a local minority may actually override the seemingly overwhelming power of the dominant majority.
More specifically, and as the results highlight the contrasting modes of action by those at the head of the hierarchy, other contexts, especially those with a centralised education system, can show caution regarding the use of micropolitical strategies used to deal with macropolitical realities.
Finally, the findings can inform other contexts of teacher education as to how socio-cultural and political tensions and mis/alignments might direct interpretations of teacher quality and their implications for teacher evaluation processes and outcomes.
Daniels, M., and G. Greguras. 2014. “Exploring the Nature of Power Distance: Implications for Micro and Macro-level Theories, Processes and Outcomes.” Journal of Management 40 (5): 1202–1229
Dwairy, M. 2006. Counselling and Psychotherapy with Arabs and Muslims: A Culturally Sensitive Approach. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, Colombia University.
Jaraisy, A. 2013. “Psychosocial Treatment in the Arab Society.” In Social Work in Israel, edited by M. Hovav, A. Leventhal, and Y. Katan, 506–526. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House. [in Hebrew].
Kelchtermans, G. 2007. “Macro-politics Caught up in Micropolitics: The Case of the Policy on Quality Control in Flanders.” Journal of Education Policy 22 (4): 471–491
Kelchtermans, G., and K. Ballet. 2002. “Micropolitical Literacy: Reconstructing a Neglected Dimension in Teacher Development.” International Journal of Educational Research 37: 755–767