Preparing teachers for reflexive leadership roles in schools

December 2020

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 46:5, 676-689

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper focuses on the antecedents of collective teacher efficacy (CTE) as they are manifest in the reflexive practices of teacher professional learning for a group of next generation leaders in the Big School Network in a large metropolitan area in Australia.
The Big Schools Network is an alliance of public education primary schools that have large student enrolments, generally more than 1000 students.
The alliance was initiated by the Principals of these schools and by the Regional Director from the Department of Education.
It enables leaders and aspiring leaders to come together for professional learning, information sharing and strategic planning about issues that are specific to these very large schools.
This study used collective teacher efficacy as a theory of action for a series of professional learning workshops so that the research could be framed around these antecedents as participants engaged in reflexive discussions about their learning and practices within their big school context.

This project aimed to investigate how leadership for developing or next generation leaders (who are also classroom teachers) is enabled or constrained by their own values and priorities, along with the intersecting conditions in their context, including CTE (Neumersky 2012; Searby, Brown-Ferrigno and Wang 2017; Shaked 2019).
This paper focuses on the antecedents of collective teacher efficacy as they are manifest in the reflexive practices of teacher professional learning.
The data for this pilot project were generated from eight next generation leaders in the Big Schools Network from an original group of 20 who were chosen to attend the professional learning by their Principals.
The participants were all emerging leaders in schools, either holding an Assistant Principal role or a Stage Leader role.
Both of these roles require emerging leaders to take reponsiblity for specific strategic goals, for example, the literacy strategy across the school, or consistent planning and practices across particular year levels.
In this way, they were considered instructional or professional learning leaders (see Wilson 2016).
The data for the study were generated from two focus groups that were held after the last professional learning session in November.
The transcripts of these focus groups were analysed alongside the authors’ observations during the leadership modules.
The focus group data were thematically coded around the personal, structural and cultural enablers or constraints for these emerging leaders.
Personal properties outlined by these participants included demonstrating a strong belief system, having a clear vision and confidence in the role, recognising success, social and emotional intelligence, being proactive and strategically focused, forming relationships and being reflective and open to learn and change.

Findings and Discussion
The authors have derived four important themes for discussion from the accounts of these eight participants: the need for more collaboration between schools; the value of focused teacher professional learning; careful design of teacher professional learning (TPL) for next gen leaders to enable reflexive approaches to leadership; and the need for effective, collaborative communication.

The need for more collaboration between schools
The next generation leaders recognised the importance of collaboration between schools in the network.
This collaboration would help them as leaders to recognise effective practices in other schools and celebrate their successes.
Collective teacher efficacy is generally conceptualised as a school-based construct.
However, there have been calls to adopt a collective ethic across school systems (Goss 2017; Zuckerman et al. 2018).
As indicated in the findings, the next generation leaders in the emergent BSN could see the benefit in this cross-school collective.
In summary, the next generation leaders could see the worth in extending the construct of collective teacher efficacy to encompass collaboration with teachers from other schools in the network.
In this way, connections can be formed across the educational eco-system.

The value of focused teacher professional learning
The next gen leaders valued the approach to focused teacher professional learning embodied in the network learning improvement taught in the course.
They argued strongly that any action research undertaken as part of next generation leadership courses needed to link to strategic school directions (Aravena 2019; Taliadorou and Pashiardis 2015).
The elevation of the benchmark for emerging leadership was evident when the next gen leaders acknowledged that it is tougher for new leaders to lead on curriculum projects than it is to do extra-curricular tasks such as organising sport carnivals.
Aspiring leaders or those identified with potential, need to be targeted early for focused professional learning about leadership (Shaked 2019).
In summary, one of the antecedents for collective teacher efficacy is a clear focus and alignment of individual and collective goals.

Careful design of TPL for next gen leaders to enable a reflexive approach
Teacher professional learning (TPL) courses for next generation leaders requires careful design.
Consideration of personal, structural and cultural properties within school and system needs to underpin these courses.
The next generation leaders had some good suggestions on how these courses might be structured to build a sense of collective efficacy as reflexive leaders among the group.
First, these leadership courses need to be designed for adult learners.
Effective courses need to have theory (readings), protocols and opportunities for dialogue and informal networking about real issues and projects with which they are dealing (Cosner, Leslie, and Shyjka 2019; Yancy 2015).
The protocols need to be TPL strategies that build collectivism and reflexivity that the participants can take away and use in their schools with their own teams.
These courses should start early in the school year and continue regularly throughout the year.
The leadership courses need to be differentiated to meet the needs of APs, DPs and Principals in their own contexts, but all three tiers need to come together to share their learnings as well.

The need for effective collaborative communication
The final theme is the most specific in that it examines what the next gen leaders’ thoughts are in relation to effective collaborative communication in teacher professional learning teams (Searby et al. 2017).
This finding is illuminating for the construct of teacher collective efficacy because it examines one of its antecedents at a level that can be understood by and taught to next generation leaders. In this course, there was a strong emphasis on the modelling of discussion protocols that allowed each participant to have a voice and to learn how to actively listen.
When a collaborative communication culture is established, it can enable professional learning teams to work together to find effective solutions to issues in the school (Mitchell and Sackney 2016).
In summary, the need for next generation leaders to foster effective collaborative communication emerged as a key antecedent to the creation of a sense of collective efficacy in their teams.

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Updated: May. 21, 2021