The aim of this paper is to describe and understand how mini-projects driven by teachers in one Swedish upper secondary school contribute or not to the school’s internal capacity for school improvement. The school in focus, in this paper, was one of three participating schools and a part of a larger school improvement and research project called “The world's best regional education system” that was introduced in 2012 and finished in 2015. The project aimed at supporting and developing the three schools' internal capacities for improvement. The goal of the project was to improve student performance/achievement, develop the whole schools’ leadership and to develop the school's capacity to manage and lead improvement processes. One desire in the current upper secondary school was that each teacher would become entrepreneurs (leaders) in their own field and run their own projects. This resulted in "mini-projects" that almost every teacher initiated and developed to different degrees.
Three internal capacities for school improvement have in studies of Björkman (2008) been acknowledged as important keys for the school improvement process to emerge; internal and external forms of collaboration, staff development and leadership. These three internal capacities and the concept of teachers’ leadership are the foundation of this papers theoretical frame together with the concept of school improvement and capacity building. The research question that frame the study is:
1. How does teacher-led mini-projects contribute to the school’s internal capacity?
2. How does the teachers' leadership of the mini-projects contribute to the school's leadership capacity and how does it affect school improvement at the school?
From research we know what it takes to manage and create sustainable school improvement and change. Improvement requires leadership at several levels, i.e., both a committed principal and teachers that drives change. It requires a culture of collaboration and a willingness to change (Harris & Muijs, 2005). According to Harris (2003) the school can reach further in their development “by placing teachers at the centre of change and development there is greater opportunity for organizational growth”. (p. 47)
Capacity building is dependent on the teacher’s capabilities to lead within the organisation(Harris & Muijs, 2006). The teacher can also be a powerful initiator to lead reform effort when they have the time, energy and support to do so and feel that they have the ownership of providing change (Fullan, 2001; Moos, 2013).Teacher do not see themselves as leaders although their activities in the classroom often is a leadership achievement (Harris, 2003). The concept teacher leadership is useful, in research, in the way that teacher take professional initiative on learning that is focused on improvement for both classroom and school level (Harris & Muijs, 2005). In this paper the concept of teachers leadership are used and defined according to Harris & Muijs (2005, p.45): “…teacher leadership is conceptualized as a set of behaviours and practise that are undertaken collectively… /…/ …separated from person, role and status and is primarily concerned with the relationships and the connections among individual within a school.”
Research in the field of school improvement and leadership is extensive. Research on teacher’s leadership is a field that is limited. Mostly, research on leadership, at schools, are concentrated to the leadership that principals conduct (Harris & Muijs, 2005). In the field of research, teacher’s leadership is more often seen as a key to improvement (Muijs & Harris, 2006). This paper could therefore contribute to valuable knowledge in the field of teachers’ leadership and capacity building for school improvement.
The methodology used is a case study design and the collected data consists of interviews in the beginning of the project and in the end of the three years, observations during the project and texts produced by some of the teachers concerning their own driven mini-project. The case is an "intrinsic case study (Stake, 2006. p. 3) ie there is an intrinsic, immanent, interest in the case. The case is the upper secondary school included in the project VBRUS (The world's best regional education system) and therefore chosen for this case study. The case study is suitable when the empirical material and research question, in this paper, aims to investigate a phenomenon where the boundary between the phenomenon and the contextual factors and conditions of the phenomenon are not clear (Yin, 1994). The study is seeking deeper knowledge of events in the present, focusing on the how questions (Yin, 2007) and the causal relationship to what happens (Stake, 2006) and seeking knowledge of the specific, not to strive to generalize the results (Stake, 1995). A holistic case design is used though the survey unit is studied from a more global perspective than from embedded units that is the analyses is on the organization level and not at a individual level. Benefits according to Yin (1994) is "The holistic design is advantageous when no logical subunits can be identified and when the relevant theory underlying the case study is itself of holistic nature." (p.41)
There are some preliminary tendencies, but it is still research in progress. I hope to give a more complete picture in the paper at the conference. The preliminary tendencies are that the mini- projects have contributed to the improvement of the school, it has forced the teachers to see themselves as part of something bigger, not only as a leader in the classroom. School improvement is something they say they own today. It is, according to them, not only a matter of initiative the headmaster takes, it is a whole school responsibility. In that sense, the mini-projects has smoothed out "the peaks of leadership". As for the way in which the mini-project have helped to increase the teacher's leadership, they feel mandatory to operate in their own field. The project has become a driving force, a whip on the need to pursue. The mini-projects have given them time, mandate and legitimacy to invest in their own ideas. The motivation has been kept alive by the continuous meetings among colleagues. Although al of the teachers has not initially bought the idea of running a mini-project and a lot of time and energy was wasted at finding a perfect project. There are many good ideas that have emerged from the mini-projects and there are an experience to build on in the future. Now the school have a foundation of knowledge about other teachers’ projects and it is a source of inspiration. It has become easier to express what the school is doing and what the school is good at and it simplifies the marketing of the school.
Intent of publication
The purpose of the paper is that after the conferences valuable feedback rewrite the paper to an article for publication.
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