The Nature of the Professional Leadership Culture and its Perceived Relationship to Student Learning
The purpose of this case study was to examine the perceptions of school-level professionals regarding the nature of the professional leadership culture and its perceived relationship to student learning. For the purposes of this study, the professional leadership culture was defined as shared assumptions, practices, beliefs, and values concerning leadership activities that were understood and practised among professional members. There is a wealth of research and theory relating to school culture (e.g. Seashore Louis & Wahlstrom, 2011); yet there remains a gap in our understanding of how professional leadership culture is developed and sustained, and how this phenomenon relates to student learning within the school. There has also been an increasing volume of research on the impact of formal (administrative) leadership on student learning (Leithwood, 2011). However, research into the impact of the professional leadership culture more generally has been scant. Schein’s (2010) organizational culture and leadership model provided the theoretical support for the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data. A qualitative case study approach was used. Qualitative data were collected from one school (pre K to 8) in one urban school division. Data collection involved semi-structured interviews with school administrators and teachers. Researcher observations of school level professional interactions were also used as a complementary data source. This study provided support for Schein’s model, though several elaborations were made, based on the professional contexts of this case. Regarding the professional leadership culture of the school, professionals recognized professional leadership culture as a group phenomenon rather than an individual one. By far the most pronounced and frequent representations of the professional leadership culture were: the pervasiveness of collaboration among professionals, a culture of trust, and a supportive environment. It was apparent that these qualities had, over time, become significantly embedded in the culture of the school. The practice of shared leadership in the form of co-teaching was viewed as a major influence on student learning at this school. At this school, teachers exerted their influence on student learning by modelling working together. They believed that one strong way to improve student learning was through collaboration. Teachers also agreed that administrative leadership built on the sharing of leadership between teachers and administration also had an indirect influence on student learning, mainly through administrative collaboration and through the priority given to support for teachers. Implications from this study prompt some reflection for theory building around the nature and role of context in organizational culture. Suggested areas for future research included replication studies in other school contexts, and studies eliciting the voices of parents, students, community, and various other school professionals as pertain to improving student learning through the building of relationships. The study also raises questions about the nature and roles of the professional leadership school subcultures: how these are related to the broader culture and how a study of these subcultures may extend theories related to organizational culture.
culture, leadership, education, learning
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)