King, Tamara (2016) Comparing Leadership in Effective and Less Effective High Schools in Jamaica. In: 29th International Congress of School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) 2016, 6th - 9th January 2016, Glasgow, Scotland.
Abstract

Various strands of school effectiveness research have united around the understanding that school leadership is important to student outcomes. However, a rich and varied research literature and advancement in the conceptual and methodological underpinning of this research, the type of school leadership and how it works to influence student achievement remains a black box (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2006; Spillane, Halverson, & Diamond, 2001). Moreover, not much is known about how leadership is enacted and practiced in schools with varying record of performance in Jamaica. According to Scheerens (2001) developing countries can shake up and enliven school effectiveness research because they are able to highlight the ways that, partially culturally embedded, contextual conditions are relevant to the development of the field's knowledge base. Utilising a case study research design, this research investigates how principals lead in effective and less effective Jamaican high schools. It maps the leadership behaviours, approaches and priorities in five cases and gauges leadership’s role in facilitating those school conditions that have been linked to quality learning (e.g., quality of teacher pedagogy, school organisation, principals’ influence on teachers’ motivation and working conditions, school culture, the building of trust among teachers, promoting teacher collaboration, etc.). These school conditions are shown to be major conduits, through which leadership impacts student achievement indirectly (such as under, Hallinger and Heck’s, 1998 mediated-effects model). Therefore, the extent to which these conditions are honed and sustained within each case study school is examined. Leithwood and Jantzi (2006) framework outlining four broad categories of leadership (setting direction, developing people, redesigning the organisation and managing the instructional program) as well as the leadership practices associated with each, has been used as a comparative tool for analysis. Similarly, May, Huff and Goldring’s (2012) outline of the type of activities carried out by principals which are key to establishing the link between leadership and student achievement was also used as an analytical lens: (a) principals' involvement in framing and sustaining their schools vision or mission and planning specific goals and strategies for school improvement; (b) instructional leadership functions such as monitoring instruction and providing feedback, analysing student data, and supporting teachers' professional development; (c) their work to enhance the organizational and social structure in their schools; (d) their efforts to improve the culture and climate in their schools; and (e) their investment in their personnel by hiring and retaining qualified teachers. Data gathering methods included qualitative interview and unstructured observation, while constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2014) approach to data analysis has been employed to tease out and illuminate and findings.

Findings suggest that leadership in more effective case study schools is able to communicate a sense of trust, autonomy and empowerment among teachers. Additionally, the practice of leadership in Jamaican schools was closely shaped by sociological factors such as its school’s history and context (families’ background and education, their socio-economic status, geographical location in terms of suburban or inner-city) than leadership frameworks independent of those contexts.

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