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Studying educational leadership and management

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Saturday, 26 Sep 2020, 14:40

Over the last two years, I’ve been working towards an MA in Education. I’ve studied two modules, EE812 Educational leadership: exploring strategy and EE813 MA Ed dissertation: leadership and management. I’ve blogged about some of my experiences of studying EE812 and studying EE813 before.

This blog post presents a vigorously edited fragment (or summary) of some of the ideas that have found their way into my EE813 dissertation.

I’m blogging this for the following reasons: (1) it has been a useful exercise to clarify my own thinking about bits of my dissertation, (2) to highlight authors and researchers that I found interesting to fellow students (with the thought that perhaps some might find them interesting too), and (3) to highlight bits of research that might be potentially useful when thinking about middle leadership and institutional change (which are the key themes of my dissertation).

Leadership and Middle leadership 

One of the things I asked myself was: what is the difference between leadership and management? I like the definition provided by Morrison (2013) who writes that leadership is about setting the direction of travel whilst management can be described as “ways of ensuring the vision happens in practice”.

One really interesting paper that I’ve found is by Alan Bryman. Bryman (2007) looks at research published about effective leadership in higher education and identifies thirteen behaviours. When considered as a whole, these behaviours could be seen as a simple framework. I’ve summarised them below:

  1. set a clear sense of direction/vision
  2. prepare to facilitate the direction that has been set
  3. being considerate of those who are led
  4. ensuring fairness and integrity
  5. trustworthy and personal integrity
  6. allowing open discussion
  7. communicating well
  8. acting as credible role models
  9. creating a collegial work environment
  10. advancing cause of department/school
  11. providing feedback on performance
  12. providing resources and facilitating scholarship
  13. making academic appointments that enhances reputation

Another paper that I’ve found (and one that I’ve drawn on for a lot) is by someone called John De Nobile.

De Nobile (2018) presents a model of middle leadership in his paper “towards a theoretical model of middle leadership in schools”. Schools, in his context, represents high schools, but there isn’t any reason why can’t use the same model to think about other contexts.

Reading this paper helped me in a couple of ways. It enabled me to see that ‘middle leadership’ or the study of ‘middle leaders’ was a subject in its own right. It has also enabled me to understand what a ‘theory’ looks like in the area of leadership or management studies. 

De Nobile’s model presents a ‘management-leadership continuum’. It suggests a number of inputs and outputs, and provides some suggestions about how different middle leader (or management) roles may be 'enacted'. He suggests that his MILS model could be “operationalised to guide further research into the way middle leaders operate, the influences that support or constrain them” (p.410). One thing that I would like to do is to ask some fellow staff tutor colleagues whether they also recognise aspects of De Nobile’s model, and whether it might be a useful tool to think about their role (but all that is for another day).

Change in higher education

When writing my dissertation for EE813, I drew on some ideas that were introduced during my study of EE812 (which, I guess, was the idea). One topic that I kept returning to time and again was the different ways in which change could be understand or conceptualised. 

In EE812, I was introduced to two theorists: Fullan and Kotter. 

Drawing on the EE812 module resources, Kotter presents an 8 stage change model: (1) establish a sense of urgency, (2) develop a guiding coalition, (3) create a vision of the future situation, (4) communicate the vision in different ways, (5) empower others by removing obstacles, (6) plan for and celebrate short term wins, (7) consolidate improvement and encourage the generation of further ideas, and (8) institutionalise new approaches.

Again, referencing the EE812 module materials (and my dissertation) Fullan, by contrast, presents a 10 stage model. The stages are: (1) do no assume that your vision is the one that could or should be implemented, (2) change requires those involved with implementation to work out their own meaning; a process of clarification, (3) assume that conflict and disagreement are inevitable and fundamental, (4) assume that people need pressure to change, (5) change takes time (specific innovations may take 2-3 years; institutional reform may take 5-10 years), (6) do not assume lack of implementation is outright rejection; other reasons may include time, resources or other significant concerns, (7) take steps to increase the number of people affected, (8) evolutionary planning is essential, (9) it is not possible to know everything before decisions need to be taken, (10) assume changing institutional culture is the real agenda. 

Simply put, Kotter's model can be thought of a top down (or rational) approach, whereas Fullan's broadly represent a bottom up approach. With Fullan's model, there’s an acknowledgement that change is complex. This is, of course, because people are involved, which makes change (and, specifically, education change) a socially complex process.

Bringing everything together

Another paper I discovered was by Balogun and Johnson (2004) who studied how middle managers responded to institutional restructuring. An important quote that I noted was “when senior managers redesign their organisations, they need to consider the social factors alongside the other aspects of the work settings” (p.544). Also, sense checking was also considered to be necessary “during organisational change it is essential to tap into, monitor and understand the multiple interpretations that are developing among recipients” (p.545) to track the process of change. The point being that different people or groups of people can understand things in different ways.

I discovered that some authors connected together the themes of change and middle leaders. A good example of this is where Edwards-Groves et al. (2019) wrote “middle leaders are able to reframe abstract initiatives and policies and articulate them in relation to locally realised practices in real terms” (p.331). There’s an implication here that middle leaders are important since they can act as important buffers and bridges between institutional change initiatives and the situations in which they are implemented. To become buffers and bridges middle leaders need to have the time and opportunity to understand and make sense of policy changes so they can begin to constructively interpret ways in which they may be realised.

Although they were writing about secondary schools, this is something that is explored by Bennett et al. (2007) who wrote: “there needs to be scope for discovery and creation of new ways of working from the bottom-up …  simply to demand a new role for middle leaders is not going to bring it into existence” (p.467) The role of middle leaders, it is argued, need to be discovered and interpreted. This takes us back to the work of Fullan, who suggests that “change requires those involved with implementation to work out their own meaning”. 

One thing that has struck me from all this study is that middle leadership is (using a term from EE812) relational. In other words, it’s all about relationships and interactions between people. The power of middle leaders (and thus the ability to enact change) comes from collaboration and discussion.

Reflections

All of my reading for my EE813 dissertation has been directed by the EE813 module and its predecessor, EE812. I’ve even found the time to delve into a set text for EE811 Educational leadership: agency, professional learning and change even though I haven’t studied that particular module (I was able to use 60 points of study from another institution towards my MA).

Another area that is relevant is the subject of systems thinking, which used to be featured within OU Technology postgraduate modules. Although systems thinking (as a topic) is often allied and connected with computing and information technology, it isn’t really about computers; it’s about understanding socio-technical systems. This means that it’s about understanding of human activity systems, and how different people might use and share information that might be provided by an information system. Aspects of this are touched on in the Computing undergraduate module TM353 IT systems: planning for success.

The point I’m trying to make by mentioning all this is simple: if you wish to enact change, you also need to understand that systems need to change too. This, of course, means that systems need to be understood, and that everyone who is affected by any systems change need to be involved with that change. An important starting point to look to the subject of Soft Systems Methdology (do forgive my use of a Wikipedia article in this blog)

This blog was written a week after my dissertation was submitted. I have no idea what mark I’m going to get, since I’ve never formally studied educational leadership and management before. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll get a pass. 

This said, whilst a good mark would be nice, it’s always the learning that really matters, and I really do feel I’ve learnt a few things from EE812 and EE813. 

References

Balogun, J. and Johnson, G. (2004) ‘Organizational restructuring and middle manager sensemaking’. The Academy of Management Journal, vol. 47, no. 4, pp.523-549.

Bennett, N., Woods, P., Wise, C. and Newton, W (2007). ‘Understanding of middle leadership in secondary schools: a review of empirical research’. Leadership and Management, vol. 27, no. 5, pp.453-470.

Branston, C. M., Franken, M. and Penney, D. (2015) ‘Middle leadership in higher education: a relational analysis’. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, vol. 41, no. 1, pp.128-145.

Bryman, A. (2007) ‘Effective leadership in higher education: a literature review’. Studies in Higher Education, vol. 32, no. 6, pp.693-710.

De Nobile, J. (2018) ‘Towards a theoretical model of middle leadership in schools’. School Leadership & Management, vol. 38, no. 4, pp.395-416.

Fullan, M., Cuttress, C. and Kilcher, A. (2013) ‘Educational change: implementation and continuation’, in Wise, C., Bradshaw, P. and Cartwright, M. (eds) Leading Professional Practice in Education, Sage Publications Ltd, pp.111-123.

Kotter, J. P. (1996) Leading change, Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press.

Morrison, A. R. (2013) ‘Educational leadership and change: structural challenges in the implementation of a shifting paradigm’, School Leadership & Management, vol. 33, no. 4, pp.412-424.

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Reflections on studying EE812: Educational leadership

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Saturday, 1 Jun 2019, 17:43

Some years back I went to Birkbeck College to study for a postgraduate certificate in higher education (PGCE in HE) for the simple reason that the OU didn’t have one of its own. Rather than having a PGCE in HE, the OU has a programme (called Aspire) which enables tutors to make submissions to become fellows of the Higher Education Academy (which was something that I had already achieved through an earlier pilot version of the programme). 

I enjoyed the Birkbeck PGCE in HE. I especially enjoyed the classroom teaching where the lecturers presented some really useful background information about the HE sector that I was missing (despite having been working in HE for quite some time). I also liked the fact that it introduced really useful bits of education theory that allowed me to make sense of the design of some of the modules and courses that I had been working on. To put it simply: I found it useful.

After finishing, I asked myself a simple question: what next? Or, what else could I study? 

I did a few internet searches and found some part time master’s programmes at nearby universities. The programmes I were looking at were about higher education and education management. 

There were a few reasons why I started to look into this area: I’ve found myself in a position where I’ve been doing more and more management ‘stuff’, and I felt as if I ought to get more of a thorough grasp of what I supposed to be doing. Plus, I was inspired by one of the tutors I have been working with who appeared to have formally studied both further education and higher education as a subject. Another argument was: more education is good, right? The stuff that I learn might be useful in my job.

One institution where I didn’t immediately look was the institution in which I work. After some investigation I realised it was possible to take the credits I had gained from Birkbeck and transfer them into an MA programme (I didn’t realise I could do this!) I then realised that I could study a 60 point postgrad module that had the code and title: EE812 Educational Leadership: exploring strategy, and then finish with a postgrad dissertation module.

What follows is a quick blog summary of how things are going. I’m currently mid-way through EE812 module.  There have been some ups and downs, and I don’t (yet) know how everything will end (since I’ve yet to complete the final tutor marked assessment and the end of module assessment). 

I’m sharing all this since it might be useful for someone (and also it will enable me to straighten out some of my thoughts about what I’ve learnt). 

Preparing to study

After realising that all the study materials were only available online (and we were not going to be sent any books) I decided to order a print on demand copy of all the module materials. I also realised that there was a ‘reader’ textbook that was connected to the module. Although all the papers and readings from that book were available through the module website, I decided to order a copy of the textbook, Education Leadership: context, strategy and collaboration, from a second hand bookshop so I could have my own copy (and underline stuff easily).

After getting these two things sorted, I realised that there was something else that I could do that might be useful. 

Preparing my Kindle

About ten years ago I was given a first generation Amazon Kindle by a family member who wasn’t using it. Over the years that I’ve had it, I’ve only used it a handful of times. I remember that I once used it to download some OU module materials, but after doing this as an experiment, my Kindle sat, unused and unloved on a shelf whilst I got on with other things.

After a bit of internet searching, I realised I could download all the unit materials from the module website to my PC and then transfer them to my Kindle by sending them to an email address that was linked to the Kindle. I found out what this was by logging into my Amazon account, and clicking around until I found a section called ‘manage your content and devices’, clicked on the devices link, and then clicked on ‘Kindle’ to find the email address (which ends with ‘kindle.com’).

You can download the module materials by clicking on the resources tab on the module website, and choosing ‘downloads’. This presents different types of documents that can be downloaded, such as PDF versions, ePUBs, Kindle versions and Word documents. To download all the Kindle versions, I clicked on the Kindle ebook link, clicked on ‘select all’ to choose everything, and then clicked on ‘download selected files as zip’. 

After I had downloaded everything, the next stage was to send everything to my Kindle email address. This isn’t, however, as easy it sounds, since there is a maximum limit of the number of Kindle files that could be sent in one go. To work around this, I emailed the Kindle files in batches of 10. If you Kindle is connected to WiFi, you don’t have to do anything further; in under a minute (with my internet connection), the Kindle received and installs all the Kindle files.

The final step was to sort all the module materials that have been transferred to the Kindle into some sort of order. I like to sort everything out into ‘collections’ (which is a bit like a folder). I create a new collection called EE812. I then move each bit of module materials into this new collection. After I’ve finished doing this, I turn the Kindle WiFi off (to save power), and I’m ready to get reading.

Sorting out my study files (and stationary)

When I started, I had one lever arch file for everything: the print-on-demand module materials, and all my accompanying notes. 

After about a month of studying, I realised that this wasn’t working; I needed a second lever-arch file that could be used to hold the printouts of readings that were referenced from the module materials and downloaded from the university library. I figured out that it was useful to write the activity number for every reading on top of every paper, so I roughly know what it was. 

Figuring out a study approach

When I first became an OU student, one of my tutors set an exercise that really got me thinking: take a blank piece of A4 paper, divide it up into days of the week on one axis, and hours of the day on the other. Cross out the hours on the day that you were busy, such as doing work, travelling to work, having dinner, and socialising. The hours that you have left could (potentially) be hours where you could fit your university study in. I remember realising that there was not enough time to fit everything in, and I had to stop doing something.

I managed to be pretty organised during my first time around, but this time I’m finding it difficult to find the time to read everything that I need to, and to think about how the readings relate to the things that I do in my day job (which is a bit part of the module). I tend to ‘snatch’ periods of study, but manage to find chunks of time on the run up to the TMAs. I’ve also developed a habit of carrying the reader textbook to most places, along with the Kindle so I can read on the train as I travel to and from meetings (if I’m not too tired, of course). 

Study reflections

There used to be (and, arguably, there still is) a part of me that can easily became somewhat grumpy if the term ‘strategy’ is mentioned in a meeting. 

I think my grumpiness stems from a perception that this is one of many ‘business terms’ (or terms that sound ‘business like’) that can be used to bamboozle or obfuscate. It can also be considered to be meaningless if used in the wrong context. I may also be grumpy since it presents hints of future change, and no one likes change. 

In some respects, I feel this grumpiness is in itself changing. I think it’s changing into a curiosity that is more rigorous than is used to be before. Whenever that word is dropped into a meeting, I now ask myself (and others) the question of: ‘what do you mean?’, and also ‘why is it important?’ 

In some ways, I’m not really the perfect student for EE812, but I don’t think that matters. The perfect student might be someone who is a deputy head or a subject leader at a primary or secondary school, or a senior manager at a further education college, or some other institution. This said, the discussions and readings that are presented, do still feel broadly appropriate for higher education.

One of the things that has been really interesting is that the module has sharpened my awareness of the different management and leadership actions that are happening around me. A part of this comes from the assessment approach that the module adopts. The assessments requires you use and apply your context to demonstrate your understanding of the module materials.

The module presents different perspectives about what management and leadership is all about, and I’ve recognised some of the approaches that some of the different leaders (both current and previous) have applied.

One really interesting consequence of the study is the reason for different institutional units or initiatives are now becoming clearer to me. The module talks about professional learning communities, and I can see that these do exist (in different forms) within the institution.

Like so much of learning, study can give you a vocabulary and a framework to both explain and understanding things. If it has sharpened my thinking, it has also sharpened my ability to see the good and the not so good.

There’s also another consequence: there is a lot of change happening in the university at the moment, and some of it can seem a little overwhelming on occasions. Unexpectedly (to some degree), I’m also a part of that change too. I’m using the study as an opportunity to figure out what some of that change might mean. In doing so, I guess I may become more prepared, and more able to speak about it too.

Unpicking the challenges

Other than studying for my PGCE at Birkbeck College I haven’t done any formal study of Education before. Education isn’t my ‘home’ discipline (Computing and IT is), which means that I’ve been a bit outside of my comfort zone.

One of the hardest things has been understanding the requirements of the assessments (and I don’t think I’m quite there yet in doing the kind of writing that is expected of me), and doing all the reading.

There is a lot of reading: there’s the module materials, the set text, and all these papers, and we’re encourage to go find even more. Some of it can be pretty hard going, especially since I feel that (on occasion) I’m not especially well versed in the conventions of the discipline. There are two examples of this: the first is about what ‘theory’ is, and the second is about terminology and the use of language.

The term ‘theory’ seems to be used quite a lot. I came to the module with a scientific understanding of what is meant by theory, but I soon came to realise that ‘theory’ in this module roughly means: ‘an idea about something, or a way of looking at something’ which has been suggested by an academic or researcher. What we have to do as students is connect our own educational setting to the different theories that are presented through the module. There lies two significant challenges: doing the thinking (to make the connection), and doing the writing (to present the connection to your tutor).

One of the terms that appears very frequently is ‘normative’; anything and everything could be normative; it’s a word that seems to find its way into every unit of the module. Initially, I had no idea no real idea about what the various writers were trying to say!

A further challenge, and a fun challenge, is that we had to design and run a short pilot research project to study educational leadership and management. This bit of the module appears to begin to lead us towards the dissertation, and closer into the world of the different ‘theorists’ that are written about. In some respects, this bit of the module is all about providing us students with a bit of academic training about how to do research into this very specific field of study.

Closing thoughts

A few months ago I bumped into one of the module academics at an internal conference. I was asked whether I was enjoying the module. At the time, I had ‘module anxiety’, which meant that I was fretting about the second TMA, and this makes me fear that I might have come across as a little grumpy on that occasion.

As I move towards the third TMA, I read a paper in the reader text book which made me think: ‘actually, I quite liked that one… and there’s a lot in there that I recognise.’ Although I’ve got a long way to go before getting to the end of the module (and I’ve yet to settle into a regular study rhythm, despite having passed the half way point) I finally feel as if I’m settling into the module.

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Becoming a student (again)

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Thursday, 16 Aug 2018, 14:47

Over the last couple of years I’ve been toying with the idea of doing some postgraduate study that could help me in role as an OU Staff Tutor.

I’ve looked at a number of different institutions, including Kings, UCL and Canterbury before discovering that the OU has an MA in Education with a specialism in Leadership and Management. After reading the module description, I decided to sign up!

As I study I hope to be doing some blogging that relates to my experience as a MA in Education student.

Introductory materials

After being formally registered, I discovered that I was able to access an introductory video (YouTube) that was recorded as a part of the OUs Student Hub Live induction event. As I listened to the video, I made a few notes about the different parts of the MA. What follows is a summary of those notes.

Stage 1: EE811 Educational leadership: agency, professional learning and change

As far as I understand things, this first module offers students with some grounding and emphasises the importance of critical thinking an analysis. A point I noted down was that with undergraduate modules, module materials are there to support the students, whereas with postgraduate modules, students are encouraged to interrogate various resources, such as policies, papers and module materials. Students should consider what things haven’t been said.

Topics in the first section include the concept of agency, the importance of professional development and concepts of leadership, such as distributed leadership and transformational leadership.

Stage 2: EE812 Educational leadership: exploring strategy

Since I’ve managed to get a credit transfer from previous postgraduate study in education, this is the module that I’m starting with. Topics will include power and culture. I noted down: unpacking leadership and management, subjects such as culture, identity, context and role.

Since there is an emphasis on strategy, I noted that there will be exploration of issues around conflict, moral leadership and democratic leadership. From the video I remember the point that there is not a formula for leadership that you can pick up from a management text book. Instead, leadership is relational (I understood this in terms of being connected to relationships between people) and context bound. I also noted that within the concept of moral leadership there is also a link to the notion of social justice.

From what I gathered, this module will also help with the development of research skills. This is a point that leads onto the final module.

Stage 3: MA Ed dissertation: leadership and management

During this stage students will have to write a dissertation. This dissertation will be a proper bit of research that has a practical focus that is based on the student’s own context. A key point that I noted down whilst the video was playing was that the topic might be something that a students might have wanted to do within their organisation for a long time. There’s also an emphasis on gathering of empirical data.

Reflections

Whenever I can I do try to look ahead and this video has got me thinking. I’ve asked myself the question ‘what could I study in the context of my own work?’ There are loads of different things, such as aspects of professional development or exploring and studying online teaching practice. Of course, I need to put these initial thoughts to one side until I’ve got stuck into the module. I haven’t formally studied Education within OU before (but I have studied other postgrad modules, such as computing and the social sciences), so I really need to walk before I can run.

One thing I have done is put all the TMA cut off dates in my diary along with the date that the module website opens (which is a couple of weeks before the module starts). From experience, I think I know how best to study, which is: get up an hour or so early to do some reading and note taking. I’ll also be hoping that I can download some materials onto my aging Kindle, so I can read materials whilst I’m travelling.

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