Teacher Leadership Does Culture Make a Difference

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Research about educational leadership models and teacher leadership has mostly been done in western contexts such as the USA, the U.K and Australia (Dimmock & Walker, 2000). One problem of transferring educational concepts from the West is underestimating the impact of culture on the successful implementation of a policy in a context where the culture is different (Goh, 2009), because leading an organization is interwoven with the culture of those supervised (Busher, 2006). In some contexts, the organizational structure of an institution differs from that of the country. In such a case, educators are most likely to face challenges when applying leadership styles that differ from what is considered the norm in that cultural context (Law & Glover, 2000). Cultural diversity has been associated with differences in world views that have bearing on behavioral differences (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). These differences manifest themselves into perceiving oneself as a member of one group and the perception of others as outsiders (Giles, Wiemann & Coupland, 1991). This necessitates more cross-cultural studies because most of the studies about culture come from the business field (Dimmock& Walker, 2000). In educational institution, leaders' understanding of their own cultural background and that of their faculty is essential because many educational institutions now have staff from different cultures (Slethaug, 2007 cited in Walker & Riordan, 2010). This is particularly true in the field of TESOL in the Arabian Gulf where most faculty members are non- Arabs and the management is mostly Western. This case study aims to explore the interrelationship between teacher leadership and culture at a multicultural English Department at an institution of higher education in the State of Qatar.

Literature Review:

Studies that examine leadership from an Arab perspective have been conducted solely in the fields of business and cross-cultural psychology. There are numerous frameworks for examining and comparing cultural values at the societal level and their impact on family, education, workplace, and state (Hofstede, 2001). Research pertaining to the Arabian Gulf derives from either the work of Geert Hofstede (Dedoussis, 2004) or from the Globe Project (Abdallah & Al-Homoud, 2001). These studies have been criticized for 1) attempting to homogenize the different cultures (Walker & Dimmock, 2000), 2) issues relating to data collection, analysis, and validity (Smith et al., 2007), 3) the change in values because of economic development (Inglehart & Baker, 2000), 4) and applying these findings to a national level without accounting for individual and organizational differences (Robertson et al., 2001).

In this vein,

Theoretical framework

1.1 Teacher leadership:

There is no clear cut and agreed upon definition for the term 'teacher leadership'. The lack of consensus on a definition for the term can be attributed to the fact that it is broad and includes many aspects (York-Barr & Duke, 2004). The same view is shared by Lord and Miller (2000) who state that there is lack of understanding of the term teacher leadership and how it works. The focus of the concept teacher leadership is based on the capability of teachers in having and giving input on issues related to the school , which are not only associated with administrators and managers (Harris & Muijs, 2003).

The leadership roles assumed by teachers can be formal or informal (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001). Undertaking informal teacher leader roles includes, among other things functions done by the teacher inside the classroom such as planning lessons, communicating goals, supervising the students, and creating a pleasant learning environment (Berlinger, 1983 cited in Muijs & Harris, 2003). Taking the initiative and sharing experiences with other teachers are also examples of informal teacher leadership. On the other hand, being in a formal teacher leadership position involves responsibilities associated with job titles such as coordinators, supervisors, curriculum experts, or heads of departments (York- Barr & Duke, 2004). Holding such jobs usually results in moving away from the classroom (Ash & Persall, 2000; Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001). A teacher leader could have no teaching duties so that s/he engages fully in his/her leadership position, or teach full-time while performing leadership tasks, or have reduced teaching load to undertake the additional leadership duties (Lord & Miller, 2000). Some researchers like Katzenmeyer and Moller (2001) believe that teacher leaders lead both inside and outside the classroom and this leads to contributing to the wider community. This will lead to improvement in educational practices. Based on this definition, the role of a teacher leader is not only confined within the classroom context and but goes beyond it in making a change and influencing others.

The scope of much of the definitions of the term teacher leader discussed is limited to what teachers do inside, outside the classroom, and the positive outcomes of teacher leadership on students' achievement. A more comprehensive and delineated understanding of the concept is covered in Leithwood's et. al (2003) study in which they categorized leadership. Some of the facets covered in their study and did not receive as much attention in the literature were: personality, orientation to people, and communication skills. (finish) - from Patricia

The tendency in the literature is to link teacher leadership with administrative roles in lieu of informal roles performed in the classroom. Danielson (2006) is of the opinion that formal teacher leadership roles designated by administration do not constitute real leadership. True leadership is the spontaneous response to a need which is initiated by the teacher. For the purpose of this study, teacher leadership refers to teachers' ability to lead outside the classroom without having a formal job title.

1.2 Factors influencing teacher leadership

1.2.1 Teachers' own perceptions and those of other colleagues of teacher leadership

The teacher leadership literature reveals a number of impediments that make exercising teacher leadership difficult (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001). Barriers to teacher leadership can be teachers themselves. Teachers may not view themselves as leaders because they think they are only teachers (Lieberman et. al, 2000). This reflects some teachers' conviction that being a teacher involves teaching only and the task of a school administration is to manage and lead (Barth, 2001). Another related facet is the assumption that it is part of the teacher's job to implement plans devised by others higher up in the school management (Boles & Troen, 1996). Colleagues can inhibit exercising teacher leadership when they are not accepting and supportive of teacher leadership endeavors (Little, 2000) by making teacher leaders feel isolated (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001). However, colleagues can also be a supporting factor of teacher leadership and this will be discussed in the next section.

1.2.2 Collaboration and collegiality

Collegiality and collaboration have both been identified as factors contributing to teachers' empowerment and commitment (Fullan, 1994; Jarzabkowski, 2000). A sense of collegiality leads to loyalty, trust, and a sense of community (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001). Collegiality and collaboration are used interchangeably in the literature and there is a lack of consensus on their specific meaning. Hargreaves (1994) is a good case of point as he suggests that various forms of collegiality and collaboration exist and each has a different purpose. He further notes that collegiality as a term lacks clarity. ……………

1.2.3 Professional development

Within the literature, it is argued that teachers' engagement in professional activities support their leadership roles. Effective teacher leaders strive to improve their teaching skills (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001). These professional development activities should also focus on aspects pertaining to teachers' leadership roles (Harris & Muijs, 2003) such as delivering workshops, conducting action research, and collaborating with others (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001; Sparks, 2002). Formal professional development activities include attending workshops and conferences whereas informal ones involve reading about issues related to professional development area of interest and planning with teachers (Ackerman, Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001). The principals' role is to advocate teachers' professional development by offering time and resources (Muijs & Harris, 2003). Developing teachers' leadership skills will enhance/ optimize the likelihood that staff members will be successful when taking on a leadership role (Danielson, 2006).

1.2.4 School culture and the role of the principal

1.3 Why should teacher leadership be promoted?

One argument for promoting teacher leadership is involving teachers in the decision-making process will lead to making more informed decisions. Teachers have a deep understanding due to their daily contact with students (York-Barr & Duke, 2004). Another argument in favor of implementing teacher leadership is to increase teachers' feelings of ownership (ibid). This change in teachers' role is needed because their feeling of powerlessness affects their roles and standing (Moore, 2001). Teachers' involvement in decision making makes them less apt to feeling they are passive victims (Barth, 2001). She states that teachers would feel as a result of such empowerment as "a first-class citizen in the school house rather than remain the subordinate in a world full of superordinates"(ibid, p. 445). Teaching is a solitary job and creating an environment where teacher leadership is encouraged will result in creating a more professional work environment (ibid). Research findings also show that teacher empowerment boosts teachers' self-assurance and sense of fulfillment at work which play a role in better performance as a resulted of being highly motivated (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001).


Qatar background info

The English Department investigated in this study is multicultural. There are over 120 faculty members from 25 different countries. However, the vast majority are British and American. The management team consists of the Head of Department and five other coordinators, four of whom are westerners. These coordinators assist the Head of Department (HOD) on different issues and these five make decisions on all matters pertaining to academic, administrative, and personnel affairs. The next level of management includes four level supervisors (middle managers) - one supervises each level of the program.

All Faculty serve in one of the five committees and this constitutes 10 - 20 % of their annual appraisal grade. The coordinators make decisions in their areas through consultation with their committee members. Faculty's involvement in decisions pertaining to policy is done indirectly through their committee work. Their direct involvement is by completing surveys, being part of focus groups, and giving feedback on the different areas of the program. Decisions and important news are communicated to Faculty and staff through email and Blackboard.

A case study was employed in the study because it "involves the study of an issue explored through one or more cases within a bounded system." (Creswell, 2007). Yin's definition- what is the bound system?

Theoretical justification - why interpretive paradigm?

Why not positivist paradigm?

The participants in the study were 10 Faculty members in an English Department of an Institution of Higher Education in the State of Qatar, a peninsula in the Arabian Gulf. The Western participants were British and American. The Arab Faculty members come from four different Arab countries. The small sample size of the study makes it difficult to generalize the findings but should offer insight into the role of culture and its interrelationship with the views of teacher leadership.

Informed consent forms were sought from the participants. There was no need to obtain permission from gatekeepers because my own workplace was studied. To ensure the privacy of the participants, pseudonyms are used and the nationalities of the participants are not revealed in order for the respondents not to be easily identified.

The goal of a qualitative inquiry is to understand a phenomenon from the point of view of the participant and this can be achieved by having a purposeful sample which (Merriam, 2002) defines as pre-determining the essential criteria for choosing who is to be interviewed or sites to be observed (ibid). The study sampling technique is purposeful since participants were chosen according to their nationalities and cultural backgrounds.

Data Collection:

I collected data using interviews because using interviews enable respondents "to discuss their interpretations of the world in which they live and to express how they regard situations from their point of view" (Cohen et. al, 2007, p. 267). Another advantage is during the interview, the interviewer can ask follow-up questions to expand on the issue, to seek clarification, or to contextualize (Books, 1997). A semi- structured interview format was employed to "obtain descriptions of the life world of the interviewee with respect to interpreting the meaning of the described phenomena." (Kvale, 1996, p. 5- 6). The interview had ……. items. The teachers were interviewed individually. The interview questions were constructed by referring to relevant teacher leadership literature. Interview questions were discussed with Faculty members with knowledge and expertise in the area of culture and educational leadership to ensure the face validity. The interview was piloted with two participants who had the same characteristics as the research participants. Prior to conducting the actual interview, all interviewees were sent a cover letter explaining the purpose of the study which stated its broad topics and included a request to audio-tape. The individual interviews lasted forty minutes.

To triangulate the data, focus groups were used as the second data collection tool. The purpose of conducting focus groups is to obtain the collective view of a group regarding an issue (Morgan, 1997). Two focus groups were conducted: one with Arabs and the other with Westerners. The transcriptions of both interviews and focus groups were sent to participants for purposes of data validation. The data was analyzed inductively because most qualitative studies aim to produce new theories and explanations rather than starting with a priori theories or hypotheses to prove (Gibbs, 2007).

The role of the researcher is very important in the interpretive paradigm in both data collection and analysis since the researcher is not detached from the topic of investigation (Cohen et. al, 2007). Social and educational research is viewed as "a social activity that it is influenced by factors like politics and power relations within the research context." The values and motivation of the researchers have effect as well (Blaxter et. al, 1996, p. 15). This necessitates the researcher to be reflexive about his/ her impact on the study (Denscombe, 1998). To this extent, I am aware of the possible influence of my cultural background on the study.

Research questions:

Results & Discussion:

Leading in class is "second nature" to teachers

Both Arab and Western staff members felt that it was normal to lead in class and that it is the real leadership role for teachers. Informal leadership roles identified by the respondents could be categorized into: teachers' role, relationship with the students, and teacher personality. Teachers' role in class was the focus of most of the participants. Leadership aspects identified under teachers' role include: being a facilitator, modeling positive behavior, establishing boundaries and managing class, awareness of latest innovations and theories, achieving the goals and objectives of the curriculum. The role of being a facilitator, a role model, and successful management were the only roles mentioned by two participants. The second category is relationship with the students. The study sample mentioned motivation, establishing trust with the students, knowing students' culture and interest, instilling respect in the students. The personality aspect of a teacher leader as approachable was mentioned by one Western participant. One Arab participant states, "Leading in class is second nature to teachers." Another Western participant comments, "Teachers are in charge in class because they know who they are."

There are opportunities to lead outside class but …

All participants in the study irrespective of their cultural background did not associate teacher leadership with leading outside class. Leadership outside class is exercised through giving feedback on different issues relating to curriculum and other issues. Two Western participants expressed the view that "One of the ironies of teaching is that in order to have a greater leadership role you need to move away from teaching… You need to move to administration." They expressed the sentiment that once you have a formal leadership role you can start to make a difference outside the classroom context. The differences between the Arab and the Western participants emerged when answering this research question. The Western participants' responses focused on different aspects relating to organizational culture, and leaders' personality traits that limit exercising leadership in the Departmental level. One American participant believes that it all depends on the leader of the program and states "if teachers are allowed to follow their passion, they can become leaders in their own areas." Another British participant touches on the role of colleagues in fostering or impeding teacher leadership. In the individual interview, she maintains "with colleagues it is hard to foster some kind of leadership because you feel intimidated… you have no right." She stated the need for respect of people's age, gender, experience, position, and how long they have been in the Department. She is of the opinion that "In some institutions, some colleagues may resent teachers making decisions if they do not hold an official leadership title." According to the participants, resentment of colleagues taking on leadership roles without having a formal job title can be attributed to personality traits rather than societal culture.

One British participant was of the opinion that due to strong hierarchy in the Middle East management systems teacher leadership cannot be applied outside the classroom. He believes that "If you try to break into that hierarchy, you are bypassing the chain of command." All Western participants agreed on the need to distinguish between stereotype and personal experience. An American respondent contends that "like any bureaucratic institution, there are levels that you can rise to where you won't be resented. But once you start getting past a certain level resentment will kick in." The other three participants agreed with him on the need to understand and know how to deal with hierarchies across different cultures. The American warned that if people insist on doing things the same way they are done in their home countries they "will run into a wall immediately."

The influence of the leader's personality was identified by only one participant who expressed the need for allowing teachers to "follow their passion" which will lead to creating open dialogue where people can feel free to express their ideas.

Most of the Arab participants also believed that leadership roles outside class were limited. One reason given was the fact that teachers are supervised by level supervisors and coordinators and that a teacher's role is to teach in class only. Another reason identified was teachers felt everything was "spelled out "for them which leaves no room for teachers' creative input. Those who believed in having opportunities to lead outside class maintained that announcing vacant level supervisor and coordinator positions reflected the Administration's view that teachers are capable of taking leadership roles.

The Arab respondents expressed mixed views about the role of colleagues in taking on leadership roles outside class. While some respondents felt that their colleagues (Arab transcripts).