Brettell, Nicola Ann (2016) An Investigation into how to Build an Effective Learning Environment for Secondary School Leaders and Managers. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis provides an in-depth interpretation of the actual learning process that occurred on a Post Professional Development programme (PPD) in Educational Leadership and Management in order to establish what constituted an effective learning environment for secondary school leaders and managers. The participants’ perceptions of the effectiveness of their learning and the impact this had on their social reality were scrutinised in detail as it is their understanding of the learning that created the social reality that the research sought to uncover.

The research was based in the constructivist paradigm and so was approached from the perspective that individuals construct their own reality so there can be multiple interpretations of the same event. An in-depth longitudinal case study approach was used that incorporated qualitative analysis techniques which included semi-structured interviews with eight participants and four line managers, forty-nine anonymous unit evaluation documents and a reflexive research journal. These methods of data generation uncovered the perceptions of the participants as social constructions.

The datasets, each representing an alternative interpretive angle, had presented positive perceptions of the learning experience and showed agreement between the participants and the line managers on the key role that the learning environment had played in the successful learning. In line with the constructivist position this effective learning environment was seen to have provided the necessary conditions for the participants to engage in both individual and collective meaning-making. The environment had been seen as an authentic leadership experience, characterised by pressure and support mechanisms that had operated simultaneously on both the macro-level (the programme environment) and the micro-level (the learning strategies). It had been the interplay between the
mechanisms on more than one level that was seen to result in the authenticity which had enacted the dynamics of leadership for the participants.

This productive mix had led to the learning journey being viewed as a collaborative pursuit where meanings had been continually negotiated, individually and collectively, which had resulted in feelings of affinity and shared endeavour. This process had generated a shared bank of resources (experiences and materials) that had led the cohort to experience a sense of belonging to each other and the environment. A design had been provided for the cohort to develop into a learning community characterised by a critically reflective, collaborative culture. The creation of a learning community was viewed as an important support mechanism which provided the necessary space for the participants to engage in various forms of discourse and critical reflection (Mezirow, 2003; Hodge, 2014). The necessary conditions had been fostered to allow the cohort to engage in transformative learning and experience a changed perspective (Mezirow, 1996). The authenticity of the experience had, in this case, led to the participants’ revised leadership practice being applied habitually regardless of context which is seen to be indicative of the depth of personal and professional transformation (Hoggan, 2014). Their transformed perspective was demonstrated by a commitment to create collaborative, critically reflective cultures in their own workplaces and beyond. Therefore, this research provides a more precise interpretation of the positive role that pressure and support mechanisms can play in the creation of an effective learning environment for secondary teachers with leadership responsibilities.

FINAL THESIS - Brettell.pdf - Accepted Version
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