Sharing And Performance Gaps Filled Four Person Principalship Education Essay

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In the last 30 years there has been a considerable shift of attention by educationalists to the study of leadership in schools to examine what leadership and how leaders use, share and devolve power. Shared leadership has its historical roots in political systems. The Western Roman Empire is peppered with examples of diarchy and there are many other examples of shared leadership in the ancient, medieval and modern world. The concept and practice of compartmentalising or sharing of leadership responsibilities is nothing new.

Modern notions of shared leadership are connected with flattening hierarchical structures and moving towards more heterarchical organisations creating, 'structures that empower teachers to collaborate with one another and to lead from within the heart of the school, the classroom' (Coyle, 1997, p.239). Furthermore, Coyle describes a sense of 'powerlessness' at all levels in a hierarchy not always appreciated by the disparate groups within it.

When individuals are not working cooperatively organisational 'rivalry mobilizes individual egoism while binding it to group goals. This may create a powerful force threatening the unity of the larger Enterprise' (Selznick, 1957, p.9). It is an indication of the great inertia within schools that Selznick's statement, over 50 years old, still describes existing structures in schools today.

My proposed study aims to examine practical aspects of both 'distributed leadership' and 'collaborative leadership'. I identify in the literature search that neither of these terms are clearly defined and leadership is a volatile research area described as one of the most 'studied issues of our time' (Tourish, 2008, p.522) and one of the most 'studied subjects in human history' (Grint and Jackson, 2010, p.349). My personal research confirms this: published leadership studies are extensive, varied and with conflicting definitions and focal points.

This assignment sets out a plan for a small-scale study to investigate the perceptions and attitudes of administrators involved with the recent co-principalship model I was part of at an International School in an attempt to identify the extent to which gaps were filled, roles were shared with associated reasons.

I aim to define the terms used in the study, place the study in context through a literature review, devise the research question and then plan out the strategy, methodology, ethics and analysis of the investigation finally ending with a discussion of the validity and possible significance of this work.

2. Context

This investigation involves a K-12 International Baccalaureate (IB) World school with approximately 450 students on roll, and about 260 in the secondary school (11-18). The school was founded in the mid-1990s and began with only three positions of responsibility: the Director, High School Principal and English as a Second Language (ESL) Coordinator who oversaw all aspects of administration and leadership and also subsumed in their roles Elementary and Middle School Principalships and IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) coordinator.

As the school grew, Secondary School positions of responsibility developed to include Middle School and High School Principals, and IBDP and IB Middle Years Programme (IBMYP) Coordinators. Development was not strategically planned and I could convincingly argue that it grew ad hoc and reactively.

Between 2003 and 2008, the position of Secondary Principal absorbed the roles of Middle and High School Principals and Deputy Director. The Secondary Principal became responsible for the following main areas within the Secondary School:


Student well-being (pastoral guidance and discipline)

Day-to-day management of the secondary school

Leadership of the secondary school (and whole school in the absence of the Director)

With the sudden, unforeseen departure of a newly appointed Secondary Principal, the Director put a partially distributed leadership model in place: a co-principalship of four people responsible to the director. This was constituted from two Deans of Student Well-being and two IB Coordinators (fig.1).

Fig.: Positioning of leadership roles within the co-principalship

Although this change led to a partial flattening of the hierarchical structure, there was no change in the overall outcomes expected between the two models (fig.2).

Fig.: Change in hierarchical structure (former on the left)

Because of a need for speedy implementation, little time was spent on coordinating the job descriptions of the four individuals resulting in a lack of clarity of responsibilities in some areas and creating interesting challenges for the co-principalship.

To understand reasons to change from a hierarchical to heterarchical structure, it is important to explore the body of work regarding leadership practices and models.

3. Literature Review

Literature concerning shared leadership is awash with confusion because it is and has been extensively studied. Leithwood (1999, pp.6-7), refers to a survey of 121 journal articles on educational leadership that identified 'six different approaches to school leadership' and the 'focus of 54 articles was on leadership, but no attempt was made to label the form or model of leadership in question.'

Pye (2005. p.32) mentions Dubrin (2000) as estimating 'around 35,000 definitions of leadership in academic literature' and refers herself to 'the jungle of leadership literature'.

However, one recurring perspective is of division of labour. West (1978, p.242) wrote that,

'By reorganizing the available manpower and changing roles and responsibilities, the secondary school principalship can become manageable and workable with greater job satisfaction for administrators and increased benefits for pupils, teachers, the school board and taxpayers. Reorganization involves the establishment of a "co-principalship" where each administrator has equal authority…'

This is still current thinking and a report, published nearly 30 years later, states that 'Within the schools context, distributing leadership is a potential means of ameliorating some of the workload issues which are currently being faced by school leaders, by making the role more attractive and the size of the job more deliverable' (PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 2007, p.8)

In many respects this simply seems common sense. Reducing the workload on overburdened principals should improve their effectiveness and job satisfaction. What is more important is what is not explained: who absorbs the distributed workload and what is the motivation for doing so?

West seems to have been one of the first to use the term co-principalship although he doesn't define it clearly. As this study is primarily interested in the formal roles of teacher leadership (positional) rather than the informal (situational) roles of teacher leadership I concentrated on examining literature about what co-principalship is rather than devolved or transformational leadership models. However, without context, "principal" is ambiguous as it has different equivalents in different contexts in English speaking schools in the world (Fig.3).

Figure : Ambiguity of the term "principal" in different school contexts.

This ambiguity does create problems when reviewing the literature. For instance, Bunnell (2008) describes the "Yew Chung model of dual culture co-principalship" without ever defining the term. The location of Eckman's (2006) study is in the US so the role of co-principal has to be guessed although Court's (2004) study on co-principalships is well defined due to a "thick description".

However, this study assumes shared leadership towards the top of any hierarchy will have similar correspondences, and can be effectively treated as identical for practical purposes. I expect the issues I examine will also be relevant to many types of shared positions.

Finally, I the model co-principalship needs examining. Court (2003, p.162) limits co-principalship to 'two people sharing a dual leadership'. I find this too restrictive and see no reason why it should not be 'two or more people'. However, Court usefully defines several types of co-principalship based on a number of studies by other academics. I have reduced this to a table (fig.4) and added Venn diagrams to illustrate possible extents of role overlap between two co-principals:

Fig.4: Types of co-principalship, adapted from Court (2003, p.162)

I have also given each type an arbitrary label for ease of reference but in no way imply that any model is fixed and I fully expect hybrid models to exist. I use the term 'hybrid' in a different way to Gronn (2009) who suggests 'hybrid' as a new unit of analysis of 'distributed' leadership 'treating pluralities of leaders as numerically equivalent or all-of-a-piece, for example, an aggregated understanding makes little allowance for different levels of leadership and for qualitative differences among leading units' (p.382) as opposed to studies that tend to prominently feature personalities that 'do not leave the scene, but continue to exercise significant and disproportionate influence in comparison with other individual colleagues.' (p.393).

This raises several questions about the nature of any co-principalship team. How are performance gaps addressed? What forms does leadership take and what are the reasons for this? These are the questions that I want to begin investigating and if and why there is motivation is to address performance gaps within the team. If motivation were high and performance gaps filled I would take this to indicate a more integrative co-principalship (type III) and if low a split task or supported co-principalship (type I or II respectively).

4. Research question

My research question is: "What are the opinions, perceptions and attitudes of administrators to the extent to which roles were shared and performance gaps filled in a four-person co-principalship ream?"

In this context I am defining "co-principal" as 'someone who shares a similar hierarchical senior positional leadership with others and where each co-principal has a wholly or partly differentiated job description'.

5. Research strategy

As a past event, the research options are limited. Triangulating methodologies is not possible nor is opportunity for primary raw quantitative or qualitative data to be collected through participant observation or measurement. The detailed opinions of participants needs to be ascertained so I believe that the collection of qualitative data through survey methodology will be the most appropriate approach.

Interviews and questionnaires are common types of survey research instruments. Patton (2002, p.353) indicates that 'The standard fixed-response item in a questionnaire provides a limited and predetermined list of possibilities.' However, questionnaires will not be suitable for the introspective responses I seek. As Lofland (1971, p.7) states, 'To capture participants 'in their own terms' one must learn their categories for rendering explicable and coherent the flux of raw reality.'

Interviews will therefore be my data collection method and consequently I will only collect qualitative data.

6. Research Design

Bassey (2007, pp.142-155), in summarising the works of others, essentially defines my investigation as a case study, so by selecting all four co-principals I effectively sample the entire research population. (I had considered the Director and Heads of Faculty and if I were looking at the effects of the co-principalship on the school they would form part of the larger sample.)

Small samples require higher participatory responses and Jennings (2004, p.221) rates only the face-to-face interview response as high relative to other survey methods (although highest in implementation time and relative costs) while Anderson (1998 p.168) claims 'few respondents refuse to be interviewed, leading to 100 per cent response and good validity for the sample interviewed,' (while also pointing out more difficulties compared with other forms of survey). This is the trade off between breadth and depth as Patton (2002, p.244) puts it,

'There are no rules for sample size in qualitative inquiry. Sample size depends on what you want to know, the purpose of the inquiry, what's at stake, what will be useful, what will have credibility, and what can be done with available time and resources.'

Making this a focus group, a one-to-many face-to-face interview, would not be useful in this investigation as the 'explicit goal of focus group research is to extract the range of perceptions and alternative viewpoints that people might have on a particular topic' (Goldenkoff, p.342). Instead, I will employ in-depth, one-to-one interviews, which according to Darlington (2002, p.48) are the most common type of qualitative data collection.

One pertinent issue is that of me as subject (one of the co-principals). If I were the interviewer, this would lead to both ethical and validity issues. To avoid this I could use a third-party interviewer or pair-up subjects so they interview each other.

The first choice could reduce trust in the subjects but should increase validity overall (especially with a professional interviewer). Realistically, I will pair up subjects as I cannot afford a professional interviewer nor find a voluntary third-party interviewer.

However, rather than just simply have each co-principal interview a partner and then reverse the roles I want to mix the pair each time based on the amount of overlap of their defined roles so that interviewer and interviewee pairs will change each time (fig.5). I hope this will prevent a simple repetition of stories and also help facilitate reflection.

Fig.5: Interview pairs. Arrows lead from interviewer to interviewee.

Interview training will also be necessary to ensure that we follow the same interview procedures and conduct in as neutral a way as possible.

Morgan and Guevara (2008, p.469) point out that there is a continuum of approaches to interviewing which range from ethnographic interviewing designed to 'draw out the participant's own accounts,' to using a highly structured survey questionnaire that 'prespecifies both the content and possible responses for each question.' Seidman (2006, p.15) cites nine further sources that detail this continuum.

Ribbins (2007, p.209) identifies four broad types of face-to-face interview according to their structure, planning, who controls them and how they are controlled: 'Seen as a continuum at one pole are 'verbal questionnaires', followed by 'interviews', then 'discussions' and at the other pole are 'chats'.'

Many researchers refer to structured, semi-structured and unstructured interviews. There must be a degree of freedom in this study's interviews to allow open responses but also structure to ensure some standardisation as there are multiple interviewers. Patton (2002 p.249) identifies what I am seeking as a 'standardised open-ended interview' where working and question order is determined in advance but the questions are open-ended. The benefits being, a better 'comparability of responses', 'facilitating organisation and analysis of data', 'reducing interviewer biases' as well as the transparency of the 'instrumentation used in the evaluation'. Patton lists the weakness of the tool as 'little flexibility' and 'constrain and limit the naturalness and relevance of questions and answers'. While partly agreeing with Patton about the weaknesses (I think if it were less structured it also runs the risk of not obtaining useful responses) I consider this the best option.

I propose interviews to last a single session (which I expect to be from 90-120 minutes in duration) although I can also see the benefit of multiple sessions that deal with discrete issues (such as context, specifics of working in the team, opinions etc.). Finally, the interview locations should be quiet, be unlikely to have disturbances or have anyone overhear the conversations.

7 Ethics

I'm following BERA's Revised Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research (2004) and the principles of beneficence, honesty and accurate disclosure as described by Charles and Mertler (2004, pp.12-22). The latter helps to augment the former.

Beneficence means research should not, in any way, harm any individuals physically, emotionally, mentally or professionally. Seidman (2006, p.13) makes us aware that subjects should not be exploited for scholarship as 'interviewing as a process … turns others into subjects so that their words can be appropriated for the benefit of the researcher.'

Honesty includes ensuring that raw and processed data are not to be suppressed or manipulated in a way to deceive. As mentioned later, there are ethical issues in this study with me being involved as both subject and researcher.

Accurate disclosure means full information about the purpose and procedures of the research is given, confidentiality and anonymity maintained, and permissions sought from guardians of minors when necessary. Data also need to be stored securely. Charles and Mertler point out that accurate disclosure should not be confused with full disclosure which would conflict with anonymity and confidentiality.

I will also follow the advice of Dawson (2002, p.154) and produce a short code of ethics to cover anonymity, confidentiality, right to comment or withdraw, the final report and Data Protection for each subject, together with a longer statement of ethical practice upon request.

8. Methods of Data Collection

Since beginning the process of writing this assignment I have moved to China posing some issues with data collection. My next physical point of presence in Europe will be in 8 months time. I could wait risking memories to fade or be corrupted but as I know the participants involved are technologically savvy the interviews can be done as follows:

All the co-principals have access to videoconferencing software (Skype, iChat etc.) and the time difference between East Coast China and Vienna is +7 hours which gives two possible windows for interviews on a workday and rather more flexibility on a non-work day. Videoconferencing also allows us to work without call costs to either of us limited only by the quality of the internet connection.

We also have access to Pulse Live Scribe to record notes (and simultaneous audio recordings synchronised to the notes). During interviews, interviewers will take written notes to mark points in dialogue to be further addressed without interrupting the flow of the interviewee. Rugg & Petre (2007, p.107) stress that some form of recording, other than written notes (notation) is essential as respondents will be talking too quickly to make accurate notes. Furthermore, they indicate limitations to using solely audio recordings as 'a classic mistake is to let respondents use terms like 'this one' and 'that one' which make perfect sense when you can see where they're pointing, but which will be completely meaningless when you're listening to the audio tape six weeks later.'

The use of applications such as iShowU will allow video and audio records of the conversations made (as will most webcam software for both Macs and Windows). This will allow me to make contextual links between written notes, spoken words and any relevant actions (provided no one strays too far from the line-of-sight of the webcam).

Three-way conferencing could allow me to 'eavesdrop' and record other interviews but Chinese Broadband speeds would cause the quality to be too low and when the interviewers can be in the same physical location it could be 'unnatural' to use videoconferencing. Instead, webcams (one on the interviewer and one on the respondent) can be used and the captured data compressed, encrypted and shared through a cloud such as SkyDrive. Live Scribe data can be shared the same way.

However, the technical aspects are fairly simple to implement and attention needs to be applied to the interview instrument as well which is given in Appendix A. This was drawn up considering two main aspects: response and relevance.

The response aspect was whether questions were likely to produce replies by considering ease of answer, appropriate language and unlikely to cause embarrassment. Also, descriptive questions are placed at the start to ease both interviewer and respondent into the session and the end questions are clearing house probes to pick up anything the respondent wanted to say that wasn't addressed by earlier questions.

The main body of questions was created to be directly relevant to the study to allow rich description, reflection and opinion to emerge where possible. Peterson and Behfar (2005, pp.156-158) put forward a hypothesis of six statements regarding group leadership that they claim 'finds empirical support at the individual level, but as yet is largely untested at the group level' (see Appendix B). Two of these statements, 1 and 4, have been used as the basis for questions because of their direct relevance to my research question and I also felt there might be opportunities to test these. This schedule would also benefit from being examined and tested by others, including the co-principals, before use to help improve its content validity

As a scientist (albeit it holistically educated) it has been very challenging to work in the social sciences where 'theory' and 'hypothesis' have very different meanings. Also, I normally deal with quantitative data. I chose this project partly because it deals with qualitative data as I hoped it would be a better learning experience for me. My next challenge is analysing qualitative data.

9. Methods of Data Analysis

A mass of data is collected in qualitative investigations and this means looking for patterns and relationships, being aware of the limitations of the analysis, justifying why data has been included or excluded and above all being systematic. In short, making sense of the data.

For any analysis, interviews first have to be transcribed. With only four interview transcripts I would first attempt to analyse the data using manual analysis with a pen, paper and spreadsheet. However, a more sophisticated method may be needed.

To find meaning in from the data in the transcripts, Glaser (1978, p.6) indicates that grounded theory can also be used.

'Grounded theory method although uniquely suited to fieldwork and qualitative data, can be easily used as a general method of analysis with any form of data collection: survey, experiment, case study. Further, it can combine and integrate them. It transcends specific data collection methods.'

Using grounded theory for analysis involves making the transition from transcribed text to symbolic representation. The information is broken into units and then coded so it can easily be categorized for analysis. This is referred to as coding and as Greener (2008, p.57) points out, it is important to, 'keep a "code book" or list of exactly how the codes you devise for your data relate to the questionnaire or other research element' so anyone can correctly verify what each code represents.

A paper by Mills et al. (2006) relates the 'epistemological orientation' of Grounded Theory and in doing so places the development of grounded theory in context and reveals divided approaches without a single systematic way to create codes. Currently, Strauss and Corbin's approach to code creation and abstraction from the raw qualitative data seems favoured over Strauss' approach. Benaquisto (2008, pp.51-52) gives a clear explanation of Strauss and Corbin's coding which I have summarised below (fig.6).

Fig.6: Summary of coding after Benaquisto (2008 pp.51-52)

However, recently Corbin and Strauss (2008, p.198) have pointed out that the steps in this process are not fully discrete and 'open coding and axial coding go hand-in-hand' - the distinction is 'artificial'.

As this will be my first time doing this type of qualitative analysis I would expect it to be a steep learning curve, much of which will simply involve learning from failure and success.

Consequently, I have tried to leave ample room in my timetable for analysis because of this. Qualitative analysis software is available to help make analysis easier, however, as mentioned previously with few transcripts these tools may not be necessary.

I want to try this methodology for two reasons. The first is that if I don't experience it I will never fully appreciate the method nor get any better. Secondly, there is a vast body of support for using grounded theory analysis. For example, Calloway and Knapp (1995) explored grounded theory methodology involving group and one-to-one interviews and their comparison showed grounded theory was not only applicable to analyze and interpret interview data but that theory can be detected regardless of methodological differences.

The next issue though is how reliable and valid the relationships, data and the methodology generated are and whether the research question is indeed being answered.

10. Validity and reliability

No research can avoid bias. Even quantitative, empirical studies in physics are not immune to biases. Qualitative studies involve far more biases by their nature of involving the views, opinions and perspectives of people. These biases all affect the validity of a study and as Cohen et al. (2005, pp.105-106) state,

'Validity is an important key to effective research. If a piece of research is invalid then it is worthless. Validity is thus a requirement for both quantitative and qualitative/naturalistic research.'

Cohen et al. continue by paraphrasing Gronlund,

'Validity, then, should be seen as a matter of degree rather than as an absolute state (Gronlund, 1981). Hence at best we strive to minimize invalidity and maximize validity.'

Therefore, what is more important is to be able to recognize the ways that validity can be tested (Cohen et al. list eighteen different types which is probably not exhaustive), which tests are most pertinent (or can be applied to any particular study), what should be examined and the significance of the degree of validity in any particular test.

The first concern I have is the validity of the sample size in my study. Charles and Mertler (2003, p.162) draw attention to the issue that:

'If too few respondents are interviewed, the data are not likely to represent the population. Investigators hope to interview at least 30 respondents…'

My study has a small number of respondents but, as I mentioned previously, includes the whole sample population.

The internal trustworthiness of this study is hard to evaluate but I feel that the results will not immediately be generalisable without further studies. Certainly, predictive validity may be used to confirm any relationships drawn from the interviews if it were clear that any of the relationships found were measurable and therefore possible to create and test a predictive model for compatibility of individuals in similar teams.

Construct validity has a place in this study as it can assess the validity of the interview schedule and conduct. Patton (1987) stresses interviews must be done in a consistent and neutral manner while Dillon et al. (1994) believe that successful interviewers must adhere to six rules that include interviewer attitude (avoiding condescension and remaining objective), question structure (avoiding yes/no questions; being direct and informal) as well as the situation (an atmosphere that encourages free responses). However, trying to follow the advice is easy. Realising when these guidelines are broken may not be so obvious to an interviewer and interviewer variability could be considerable. (By having built-in to the schedule some interviewer training I hope to have minimised this.)

I have already mentioned using the co-principals to examine the construct of the interview design but they can also comment on the interview process, transcripts, analysis of the data and also any conclusions arising from the study (a type of respondent validity).

I have tried to remove as much bias from being both investigator and subject of the study although I may still bring bias to the interviews (such as to make the co-principalship seem more successful and therefore reflect upon me more positively) or if the findings show distinct deficits working to distance myself from the situation. Kelly (2004) expresses this clearly when she says intimate knowledge, 'can at times be confusing, marred by questions of ethics and one's own selfish interests, threatened by politics and the unknowability of social facts, and compromised by efforts to remain both engaged and neutral.'

When studying within my own community as a senior member of staff subjects should be perceived as being vulnerable. Axinn & Pearce (2006, pp.108-109) describe a number of ways that a subject may 'want to present him or herself more positively to the researcher,' and cites a number of studies that indicate that both face-to-face interview situations and 'mail-in' survey responses have similar problems with 'social desirability'. I have recently left the school and the subjects were all at the same hierarchical position but there is still the possibility of 'residual vulnerability' for colleagues who feel that they may rely on me for future professional references and/or are friends. These issues can affect the descriptive validity of my study.

Finally, Mertens (2005, p.256) sums the why it is important for the researcher to be scrupulous in providing detail concerning the validity of a study as in 'qualitative research, the burden of transferability is on the reader to determine … the researcher's responsibility is to provide sufficient detail to make such a judgment.'

It is therefore important to ensure that the final report has a "thick description" and full disclosure.

11. Timetable

Fig.7 (below) shows the relative timescales and tasks that need to be performed. Further explanation is given in Appendix C.

Fig.7: Gantt chart of proposed timeline for study completion

12. Significance of the study

Gronn (2009, p.383) summarizes the growing interest in distributed leadership as 'an accumulating body of literature which encompasses conceptual discussions, empirical investigations and a handful of studies that measure the impact of distributed leadership.'

In the introduction and literature review, I made reference to the plethora of literature in the field of leadership. Much of this is outside education and educationalists often draw on studies from other fields. While this is not inappropriate, I believe that studies within the educational domain will have greater relevancy. Existing studies have almost exclusively focussed on where there have been only two co-principals. This study looks at a larger configuration which is rare or possibly unique in its composition.

Although I have referred to Peterson and Befahr's hypothesis, this study will not fully test their hypothesis as it is beyond the limitations of my research strategy. It may hint though at studies which can be done in the future such as a longitudinal study.

While the IB does not specify any particular structural organisation within schools it does mandate the appointment of a co-ordinator for each programme. It is also explicit in the IB literature (IB, 2009b, p.16) that the IBDP coordinator, 'needs to be part of the school leadership team'. Likewise, the IBMYP Coordinator 'is viewed as having a leadership position within the school' (IB, 2009a, p.86). Therefore, I suggest that in IB schools, the academic leadership positions are already in place for a possible transition towards more distributed leadership in the senior management.

Ultimately, by having some basis for understanding how larger teams work to fill performance gaps, heterarchy rather than hierarchy at the top of the management structure may not seem such a radical or risky step forward.