Managing Multiple Changes In Rural School Divisions: The Director's Role
By William Gulka (1993)

SSTA Research Centre Report #93-01: 32 pages, $11.

Introduction Educational organizations have always had to contend with and manage changes. Historically, the phenomenon of educational change has concentrated upon the need to manage a single innovation at the school level. In more recent times, however, the norm has become that of introducing multiple changes at the system level of operation. The management of multiple changes on a more continual basis is a more accurate portrayal of the activities that occur at the level of the school division.

This dissertation summary investigates and describes how directors of education in rural school divisions managed the implementation of multiple innovations.

Purpose of the Study
Significance of the Study
Review of the Literature
  • The Rural Context
  • Rural School Divisions
  • Directors of Education
  • The Saskatchewan Situation
Conceptual Framework
  • Data Collection
  • Data Analysis
Summary of the Findings
  • The Directors' Role
  • Political Factors
  • Technical Factors
  • Cultural Factors
  • Planning for Implementation
  • Supports
  • Capacity of Change
  • Will for Change
Emergent Patters
  • Director-Board of Education Partnership
  • Key People
  • Learning Opportunities
  • Conceptual Clarification
  • Systemic Perspective
Implications for Managing Multiple Changes
  • Staff Stability
  • Temporary Systems
  • Resources
  • School Autonomy
  • A Triple Perspective of Change

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The phenomenon of change has undoubtedly always been a major preoccupation for schools and educational organizations. Current educational change initiatives, be they in the form of effective schools movements, school improvement projects or the implementation of a host of curricula or programs and policies that beg consideration, can safely be said to occupy a significant proportion of the time, energies and resources of educational organizations. Although both "maintenance needs" and "developmental concerns" (Schlechty, 1988) need to be attended to in educational organizations, the confusion and overloading that accompany multiple changes (Firestone, 1989) frequently result in the pressing demands of change initiatives competing with the system's routine activities. While the literature to a large extent has discussed the complexities of single innovations, usually at the school level (Cuban, 1984), educational changes today typically tend to be multiple innovations (Fullan, 1993; Fullan, Anderson & Newton, 1986) that take place in a "system setting". As is the case for most organizations, the major concern for educational organizations has become that of managing change (Tichy, 1983).

One important point that is increasingly being emphasized in the literature is the fact that schools and school districts can no longer be thought of as discrete, isolated, independent realities. Sarason (1982) sets the new understandings for interorganizational and intersystemic relationships and linkages in proper perspective when he speaks of "the porous boundaries between school and society" (p.72). For a host of technical, political and cultural reasons, the various elements that comprise a school system are best described from a perspective that stresses interdependencies, shared values and common goals (Tichy, 1983). Murphy and Hallinger (1988) state that educational organizations can properly be regarded and explained from a systems perspective with a "people orientation".

Reference to the extensive literature on school improvement, school reform, educational change, and the implementation of innovations, programs and policies reveals two themes that extend through this literature: the school as the target for change (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; Garcia & Vizbara-Kessler, 1984), and the critical role of the principal in successful change efforts (Fullan, 1982; McLaughlin & Elmore, 1982; Newton & Wright, 1987; Sarason, 1982). It should not surprise us that the efforts and attention of scholars and researchers were previously directed at this dimension of educational change because it is indeed at the school level that programs are put into operation, changes get introduced, and policies get translated into programs and activities (Hall, Putnam & Hord, 1985). As McLaughlin (1987) notes, "Change ultimately is a problem of the smallest unit" (p.174).

A key difference needs to be noted when the school is contrasted with the school division with respect to implementing programs or introducing changes. Although changes initiated at the school level may be implemented, school administrators experience difficulties in procuring resources, time, recognition and support from the system, and sustaining the change (Fullan et al., 1986). The situation becomes even more complicated when individual schools pursue provincially-mandated reforms that are not supported by the school division (Gulka, 1990; Gulka & Newton, 1991).

Many changes that schools are expected to implement arise from external sources, usually provincial departments of education and, increasingly more, the courts (MacKay, 1986). Funds and resources are allocated to "the system" rather than to individual schools, linking the schools of a given school division with the system to implement the mandated program or policy. The change endeavour becomes a system "concern" in which schools are obligated to participate.

The director of education is the individual who, together with the school board, "formulates goals and district policies that transmit community expectations into classrooms" (Deal & Celotti, 1980, p.471), and is "ultimately responsible for the translation of policy into practice" (Crowson, 1987, p.49). In the matter of mandated change, the director is the focal individual, the key to what happens and how it happens (Cox, 1983; Fullan, 1982; Gulka, 1990; Gulka & Newton, 1991; Hall et al., 1985; Huberman & Miles, 1984).

However the school is viewed--as the "center of change" (Fullan & Steigelbauer, 1991), the "target of change" (Garcia & Vizbara-Kessler, 1984), or the "unit of change" (Fullan & Stiegelbauer)--"it cannot do it alone" (Purkey & Smith, 1985). In Deal and Celotti's (1980) words, "Without higher levels of organizational support, the problems of classroom change may result in a rapid turnover of innovations" (p.473). Sarason (1971) also stresses the fact that directors cannot by themselves make change happen; they initiate and stimulate change endeavors. They make change happen through others, particularly principals (Murphy & Hallinger, 1982).

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As a result of the 1981 Curriculum and Instruction Review of Saskatchewan's public education system and its 1984 Directions report, a major curriculum reform initiative was launched. Two of the 16 recommendations that resulted from the Directions report were selected to form the focus of this study. These recommendations are the introduction of a core curriculum in Saskatchewan schools and the development, encouragement and support of a formal school improvement initiative for interested schools and school divisions. The first of these recommendations--the mandatory introduction of a core curriculum--is designed to "modernize" and reform the program offerings of Saskatchewan schools. This core curriculum is comprised of four parts: the Common Essential Learnings (CELs), the Required Areas of Study (RASs), the Adaptive Dimension, and the Locally Determined Options. The CELs and the RASs are currently being implemented in Saskatchewan schools on a province-wide basis. The implementation of the CELs was a focus for this study.

The second recommendation--the school improvement initiative--flows from and is based upon the school effectiveness research and literature. The result of this recommendation was the formation of the Saskatchewan School Improvement Program (SSIP) in 1985. The SSIP Program is designed to improve school climate and to enhance school effectiveness and the delivery of educational programs. SSIP is, at this point in time, a voluntary initiative available to Saskatchewan schools and school divisions.

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Purpose of the Study

While the need to manage a single change describes the concern that is faced at the school level, the management of multiple changes on a continual basis is a more accurate portrayal of the activities that transpire at the level of the school division. The complex business of managing multiple changes occupies a significant proportion of the time, resources and energies available in a school division. The literature indicates what directors need to do to effect change (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; McLaughlin, 1987), but the unanswered question is how they structure, arrange and manage change in their school divisions--how do they go about it?

The purpose of this study was to investigate and describe how directors of education in rural school divisions managed the implementation of multiple innovations. Particular attention was given to:

1. How the director's role interrelates with cultural, technical and political factors (Corbett & Rossman, 1989) over time;

2. Ways in which the school division leaders plan for and support the implementation process; and,

3. What directors do to promote and develop a capacity and will for change in rural school divisions.

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Significance of the Study

In their study of how changes are managed in school divisions, Fullan et al. (1986) state that there is "some general notion in the literature that the Chief superintendent can be a critical force" (p.2) in change endeavors at the system level. Crowson (1987) and Garcia and Vizbara-Kessler (1984) attest to the importance of the role played by directors in educational change endeavors. Numerous researchers and writers have identified leadership strategies and attributes that characterize effective administrators (e.g., Tichy & Devanna's (1986) "transformational leadership" and Sergiovanni's (1984) "leadership forces"). Still, the role of the school system leadership remains one of the least thoroughly researched roles in educational administration, particularly the director's involvement in change efforts (Crowson, 1987; Cuban, 1984; Fullan, 1982, 1985).

At the present time, the implementation of a core Curriculum into all Saskatchewan schools and school divisions is in the early stages of the process. At the same time, the voluntary introduction of the SSIP Program into many of these same schools and school divisions is occurring as well. Because the Core Curriculum and SSIP programs are relatively "young" innovations, this inquiry was able to capitalize on a "golden opportunity" to study the actual, ongoing implementation of multiple changes in the early stages of the implementation process. Any data and information that would assist in not only further understanding the process of change but in suggesting ways or techniques to initiate change endeavors more successfully should be considered valuable. Particularly useful would be information on the role directors in rural school divisions play in managing multiple change initiatives. These critical understandings would hopefully be useful in any planning efforts that might make this, or other, change efforts more manageable, and increase the probability of innovations enjoying a longer period of useful continuation.

A variety of factors serve to constrain efforts at implementing new programs in any school division. Prime examples of these restraints are (a) limited resources, materials, and consultative and fiscal supports; (b) limited or no capacity and will to change; (c) the difficulties of applying an urban "one-best-way" model of education to all settings; and (d) high staff mobility and turnover. The effects of these constraints generally tend to be more pronounced in rural school divisions than in urban settings. In spite of these difficulties, good things are happening in some rural school divisions. There are rural school divisions where efforts at implementing new programs and curricula are actually succeeding, and where the implementation of multiple change initiatives is being managed quite well. This "story" needs to be documented and made available to others who might profit by these instances of "success".

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Review of the Literature

The current bureaucratic, hierarchical arrangement of educational organizations and school divisions dictates that resources, power and support structures are delegated to and in turn allocated by school boards. The division-level leadership is the source of any legitimate change endeavors. At the same time, the necessity of involving all those affected by the change to participate in the implementation process has been well documented in the literature (Fullan, 1982; Kilmann, 1984: Sarason, 1982). It is also becoming increasingly apparent that significant, lasting change endeavors are those which are approached from and conducted within a system-wide basis, utilizing a systemic focus and perspective (Fullan et al., 1986; Hall et al., 1985; Murphy & Hallinger, 1988; Tichy, 1983).

This systemic approach and outlook is becoming increasingly more evident in the way in which the relationships between central office and individual schools are viewed and understood (Sarason, 1982). Two important developments that flow from this systemic perspective are gaining importance in the literature. The first of these can be described as Senge's (1990) "learning organizations", in which the leader is regarded as an organizer of people, resources, relationships and supports. A holistic, global outlook which tolerates diversity rather than "one best way" (Nachtigal, 1982a) and emphasizes "learning teams", organizational learning (Berman, 1982) and leadership wherever and whenever it is found (Ogawa & Bossert, 1989) is important to this type of organization.

Closely related to this concept of "learning organizations" is the notion that there exists in educational organizations the capacity and will to change and improve (Firestone, 1989; Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; McLaughlin, 1987). Many writers, including Berman (1982), Ingram and Mann (1980), McLaughlin and Elmore (1982) and Sarason (1982) early noted the tremendous variability in capacity and willingness to implement new programs and policies, and to introduce change that existed in central state-level authorities and local-level jurisdictions.

The notion of educational organizations building the capacity to change (Fullan & Steigelbauer, 1991; Fullan et al., 1986; Hargrove, Graham & Ward, 1983; Owen, 1991; Schlechty, 1988) is a particularly stimulating concept that is steadily gaining credibility. This involves not only acquiring the capability to cope with ongoing changes, but learning how to cope with and manage future changes. Louis (1981) states it best in the following words:

In the capacity-building function, information is used in itself to improve the system's capacity for generating information. While the system may never become completely independent of external sources of information, it becomes more able to function autonomously and to solve its own problems without depending on an external source. The notion of capacity building involves changing the ability of the organization itself to search for and process information. (p.176)

This notion has assumed particular importance and some sense of urgency in rural educational contexts (Hathaway, 1990; Nachtigal, 1982b).

It is commonly accepted today that school divisions are comprised of layers of actors that are nested in other societal-environmental contexts and layers (Cuban, 1984; Davis, 1989). At the local level, the school board, director and school-level staffs comprise distinct subcultures, and these subcultures are further characterized by distinct groupings (e.g., principals vs. teachers; elementary teachers vs. secondary teachers).

This diversity prompted LaRocque (1986) to comment on "the complex role of district administrators who are primarily responsible for policy implementation in the district" (p.486), while Huberman and Miles (1984) allude to the "[director's] complex role of managing district-school relationships for the purpose of bringing about improvements" (p.197). The importance of institutional context and local setting to the successful implementation of policies and innovations has for some time been recognized by many of the writers (Berman, 1982; Fullan, 1981; Hargrove et al., 1983; Ingram & Mann, 1980; McLaughlin & Elmore, 1982; Owen, 1991; Sarason, 1982).

This complex educational reality raises important considerations for directors in terms of implementation endeavors and strategies. Paramount among these are regulating diversity while simultaneously generating and developing some degree of organizational uniformity and culture (Cuban, 1984; Kilmann, 1984; Tichy & Devanna, 1986), establishing coherence and fit between the innovations and system goals and values (Leithwood, 1989), considering the fidelity-mutual adaptation "problem" (Hargrove et al., 1983; McLaughlin, 1987), and becoming good at change in terms of building capacity and willingness (Fullan et al., 1986). Effective school division leaders are realizing that it is only by adopting a systemic perspective that these important considerations have any opportunity of being seriously and adequately addressed. The trend, then, is "not to build a system of schools but a school system" (Hall et al., 1985, p.143).

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Nachtigal (1982a) points out that equating rural school systems with urban ones is deceiving because the comparison fails to recognize the many differences that serve to distinguish the two settings. The setting in which this study was conducted is described in terms of (a) the rural context, (b) rural school divisions, (c) directors of education, and (d) the Saskatchewan situation.

The Rural Context

Despite the fact that more than half of Saskatchewan's population resides in urban centers, the province's rural character continues to be an influence on the temperament, outlook and manner in which its people interact. Farm holdings have increased in size and many of the small villages and towns have all but disappeared. The rural areas are becoming increasingly sparsely populated and centres of population, commerce and social activity tend to be farther apart than they were just twenty-five years ago. A severe population drain, prompted in no small measure by the current economic and agricultural recession, is hastening the centralization of rural schools.

Rural School Divisions

Of the approximately 110 school jurisdictions in Saskatchewan, about 60 can be classified as rural school divisions. An additional 25 school divisions, about half of which are small separate school divisions, have only one or two schools in their systems. Rural school divisions are typically small in terms of student population, administrative and professional staff, and program options. Unlike urban school divisions, these rural school divisions have local school districts in addition to a board of education. These rural school divisions are for the most part constrained by the "one-best-way" urban model of organizational structuring and program delivery (Nachtigal, 1982b). A smaller number of larger centralized schools has made the busing of students a fact of life for rural families and a major budgetary item for the division office.

Rural school divisions, because of their relatively small configurations, are generally required to adopt multigrading as a solution to low grade enrolments or low pupil-teacher ratios. Any specialized services tend to be purchased as shared services because rural jurisdictions are typically able to afford only limited support services. Fiscal constraints generally permit little more that a core program in the smaller schools. In addition, the capacity for change within the system is invariably limited, reduced or restricted.

Directors of Education

The Saskatchewan Education Act (1978), s.107, refers to the director of education as "the chief executive officer of the board of education". The director of education in a rural school division is frequently the sole central office administrator, occasionally has an assistant appointed and infrequently can boast of support staff such as consultants or specialists. These directors have no bureaucratic buffer to protect them from problems and difficulties. Consequently, their impact, both positive and negative, is generally immediate and pronounced.

Rural schools generally have limited school-level resources and most do not have full-time principals. Consequently, there tends to be a greater level of personal director involvement in developing programs and the process of change. The school division tends to be somewhat loosely structured and it is more difficult for the director to create a "system".

The Saskatchewan Situation

As a result of the 1981 Curriculum and Instruction Review of Saskatchewan's public education system and its 1984 Directions report, a major curriculum reform initiative was launched. Two of the 16 recommendations that resulted from the Directions report formed the initial "innovations" to begin this reform initiative. These recommendations were the introduction of a core curriculum in Saskatchewan schools and the development of a formal Saskatchewan School Improvement Program (SSIP).

The Core Curriculum is a mandatory innovation which all Saskatchewan schools are obligated to implement. Of the four components of the Core Curriculum, the Common Essential Learnings (CELs) were the first to be introduced into Saskatchewan schools in the 1988-89 school year. The SSIP Program was formed in 1985. It is a voluntary initiative available to interested Saskatchewan schools and school divisions. All schools and school divisions in Saskatchewan are presently engaged in the early stages of implementing the Core Curriculum (including the CELs). As well, many of these same schools and school divisions have voluntarily elected to become involved with the SSIP Program.

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Conceptual Framework

A review of the literature related to the director's involvement in managing multiple changes at the system level alerted the researcher to a number of concepts which offered the potential for providing some understanding of the process. Sarason (1982) talks about "the porous boundaries between school and society" (p.72). For a host of technical, political and cultural reasons, it makes sense to describe the various elements that comprise a school system from a perspective that stresses interdependencies, shared values and common goals (Tichy, 1983). Murphy and Hallinger (1988) suggest that educational organizations can usefully be regarded and explained from a systems perspective with a "people orientation".

Senge's (1990) notion of "learning organizations" can be used to define school divisions as places where learning is an organizational "way of life" (Carkhuff, 1988). Based on the concept of learning teams (Kilmann, 1984; Senge), leaders are regarded as organizers of people, resources, relationships and supports (Senge). Deal and Celotti (1980) write that, "Without higher levels of organizational support, the problems of classroom change may result in a rapid turnover of innovations" (p.473). In the matter of mandated change, the director is the focal individual, the key to what happens and how it happens (Cox, 1983; Fullan, 1982; Gulka & Newton, 1991; Hall et al., 1985; Huberman & Miles, 1984).

Numerous writers in the areas of organizational theory and educational administration premise their research and scholarly work on the notion that organizations, and indeed social systems in general, can be viewed as being three-dimensional composites of cultural technical and political variables that interact and interrelate in a cyclic (Tichy, 1980) or simultaneous manner (Kilmann, 1984; Tichy, 1983; Tichy & Devanna, 1986). The extension of this triple organizational-systemic perspective to the conceptualization of the change process as occurring along three paths is easily made (Corbett & Rossman, 1989; Tichy, 1980, 1983; Tichy & Devanna).

In formulating a conceptual framework for this study, reference was initially made to Tichy's (1983) Network Model of outlining organizational change. This model captures the cultural, technical and political essences of the change process in a very succinct manner. In addition to portraying the organizational interrelationships and dynamics that occur during implementation, antecedent and outcome variables are indicated as well. While the model presents an excellent overview of the way change occurs in, for example, a school division, it does not identify specific factors and variables that impact upon implementation. The model, nevertheless, presents the researcher an excellent heuristic device with which to attempt an understanding of the process of change.

Corbett and Rossman (1989) recently completed intensive multisite studies of the implementation process at the school level. The compilation of their findings resulted in an implementation framework entitled "Three Paths to Implementing Change", which outlines the manner in which implementation unfolds at the school level. This framework utilizes the cultural, technical and political dimensions, and identifies antecedent, intervening and outcome variables that influence the process of change. Corbett and Rossman have, in a very specific manner, extended Tichy's (1983) Network Model, and filled in the blanks with variables that the literature and their research have identified as impacting on the process of change at the school level. Corbett and Rossman's (1989) "Three Paths to Implementing Change" was adopted as the conceptual framework to guide this inquiry.

The conceptualization of the implementation process as consisting of three paths was found to be useful for understanding the process of change from a school division perspective. A number of factors which support a systemic view of change are discussed in the literature. Because the director's involvement in change typically occurs at the system level, these factors help us to understand the director's role in the process of managing multiple changes. While school-based and division-level change share many similarities, they also differ in significant ways. Consequently, the framework was redesigned to reflect the implementation process from a systemic perspective.

Corbett and Rossman's (1989) "Three Paths to Implementing Change" has many features that makes it particularly useful for a study of the implementation process at the school division level. Among these are the preservation of a systemic perspective while at the same time accounting for the three paths of implementation, the ability to describe the implementation of multiple innovations in multisite settings, illustrating the development of leadership in the system, and explaining the development of a capacity and will for change in a rural school division.

Figure 1 illustrates the "Managing Multiple Changes in Rural School Divisions" framework that guided this study. This conceptual framework incorporates the variables and factors identified in the literature as influencing division-level change.

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This study is an example of naturalistic inquiry. It is referred to as a type of case study (with inherent assumptions and limitations) that utilized a multisite format. As a form of "disciplined inquiry" (Shulman, 1988), a naturalistic case study was deemed to be the most appropriate method for presenting an accurate portrayal of the manner in which directors in rural school divisions manage multiple changes while at the same time accounting for the natural settings and contexts, and presenting an interpretation of these events "from the actor's own frame of reference, not the frame of reference of the investigator" (Owens, 1982, p.7). The sequence of activities that constituted this study was based on Lincoln and Guba's (1985) three successive phases. Treatment of trustworthiness for such a research approach has been established by Guba (1981). Credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability have all been considered in designing this study. All participants were made aware of the legal and ethical criteria within which this study was conducted. An audit trail was maintained to account for the activities and decisions which comprised this study.

Data Collection

A reputational approach was utilized to select three directors of education in rural school divisions in Saskatchewan who were perceived as being actively engaged in the implementation of the CELs. These school divisions were also involved with the SSIP Program. One "SSIP School" in each school division formed part of the sample of this study.

Four kinds of data were collected to achieve the objectives of this study:

1. Semi-structured interviews were the primary sources of data, and were held with four groups of participants in each of the three sites during Phase II of the study: (a) the directors and their assistants, (b) board of education members and local district trustees, (c) the principals, and (d) at least three teachers from a school in each school division. The equivalent of three interviews were held with the directors and their assistants while the principals were interviewed twice. Teachers, board of education members and local trustees were interviewed only once.

2. Nonparticipant observations were made at each site during Phases I and II of the study. The observations were limited to attendance at meetings, workshops, inservice activities, planning sessions and school-based activities related to the implementation of the innovations. These observations served as an alternate field technique to collect additional and complementary data to corroborate the data collected in other ways, and to assist with triangulation.

3. Documentary data were gathered and reviewed during Phases I and II of the study. The primary sources of documentary data consisted of government publications and documents, school division documents and records, and school-based documents, plans, records and artifacts.

4. The researcher's field notes and log of activities, compiled during the three Phases of the study, served as an important source of information in terms of general observations of ordinary and unique events, general impressions and understandings.

Data Analysis

During the presentation of the description and analysis of the data, the researcher was mindful of Donmoyer's (1985) thoughts on making meaning from the data: "Data cannot speak for themselves. For data to speak, they must be translated into a language, and languages are inventions, not discoveries." (p.17)

The Constant Comparative-Interactive Data Analysis approach to the analysis of the data was utilized in this study. It was used to provide description and to generate formal grounded theory. In the Constant Comparative method of data analysis, four categories of activities describe the specific steps through which the researcher works. Glaser and Strauss (1967) refer to these as unitizing (coding), categorizing, theory delimitation and theory writing. The Constant Comparative Method as applied to this study entailed a very precise and laborious process of data extraction, display and categorization. The first step involved committing single units of information to individual color-coded cards representing the four sources of data. The next step entailed grouping or clustering cards which represented the same or closely related topics. Finally, these numerous "piles" of cards were regrouped into broader meaningful categories. A comprehensive description and analysis was completed for each site. This "thick description" was condensed and abbreviated into a format more appropriate for a thesis report.

A major outcome of the Constant Comparative Method was the labelling of categories around which data cluster. These labels were used as headings under the major aspects of the conceptual framework: political, technical and cultural. Although the literature and conceptual framework made a significant contribution to the labels attached to the clusters, an effort was made to be sensitive to "surprises" that might emerge from the data, phenomena or events that were not anticipated, yet which appeared to figure prominently in what was happening.

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Summary of the Findings

The cross-site analysis yielded a number of findings related to the director's role in the management of multiple changes in rural school divisions. These findings are discussed and summarized under five major topics which are incorporated in the questions which guided this study. These are the director's role in managing change in terms of the political, technical and cultural factors, planning for implementation, supports, building a capacity for change and developing the will for change.

The three paths of implementation are portrayed graphically in Figure 2. Solid arrows indicate relationships which happened more or less independently of the directors' manipulation or interference. Double arrows indicate those relationships within the directors' control, things which they would influence directly. Dotted arrows indicate those relationships which directors had either limited control over, or which were unique to specific sites.

The Director's Role

Corbett & Rossman's (1989) "Three Paths to Implementing Change" framework suggests that the director's role in the implementation activities in rural school divisions can be discussed in terms of political, technical and cultural factors. At the same time as the factors in a given path may predominate at a given point in time, there is considerable interpath activity and influence. While the director's role in the implementation activities is determined and influenced by these factors, he at the same time is able to some extent to shape and determine the context and environment in which he operates, and thus to influence the course of change. The director's role as it interrelates with these three sets of factors is summarized under the headings of political, technical and cultural factors.

Political Factors. Goals and policies are expressions of the things that count, the important matters and issues that needed to be addressed in these school divisions. These goals and policies were found to be the product of the intersection of the vision (what might be or can be) and the contending priorities (reality; current concerns or problems). They were jointly set through the collaborative efforts of the director, the division office staff and the board of education members. They found concrete expression in the short- and long-term plans formulated for the school division in the political path, and indicated what would be supported with resources in the technical path.

The long-term planning was found to impact upon the implementation process in two major ways. It defined the nature and extent of the director's involvement with the important matters that were identified and for which plans had been formulated. These plans also indicated to the temporary systems (committees; planning groups, working groups) those activities that they were expected to engage in and plan for at the school level. The board of education supported these plans, lending legitimacy to these activities. The boards' support of the long-term plans extended in a secondary fashion to the temporary systems and the schools.

The directors' political involvement in the implementation process was accomplished in a variety of ways. Their direct or consultative involvement in the activities of the temporary systems served to keep everyone on track as well as to offer genuine support and guidance in planning at the school level. Their involvement with the learning opportunities (professional development; inservice activities) for the most past was limited to encouragement and assistance, reinforcing the perception that these activities were priorities that the board of education supported. The actual learning activities were in the main facilitated by the assistants, school-level leaders or external professionals. However, the directors frequently conducted inservice activities for their key people, and on occasion served as presenters for Saskatchewan Education training sessions.

Much of the directors' work was accomplished through their key people. These people provided or arranged learning opportunities for their staffs, supported them in their tasks, and fostered their support. It is with these key people that leadership in the school division resided. Together with the director, these individuals and groups maintained pressure and momentum for change, and supported learning opportunities with encouragement and assistance.

Technical Factors. The two focal points of the technical path were found to be the temporary systems and the learning opportunities. The temporary systems planned and facilitated both school-based and division-wide learning activities, and were assisted by the director, the assistant or by external agencies. The directors indicated that long-term plans for the school division and their personal involvement served to link the school's plans and activities with the broader focus adopted for the school division. While the allocation of resources was initially a political decision, the allotment determined the types of learning opportunities that could be provided for the staffs.

The learning opportunities were the center of an intense amount of attention, support and pressure from the temporary systems, the directors, key people and external agencies. The directors' involvement included political (pressure and influences), technical (assistance and support) and cultural (symbolic importance and encouragement) strategies. While implementation was typically the desired outcome of these learning opportunities and activities, a concerted effort at conceptual clarification was found to be a deliberate part of the implementation effort in all three sites. All three directors in this study enjoyed the assistance of a second central office person which freed them to focus on planning, encouraging and generating support for the changes.

The nature of the school staffs determined the calibre of the temporary systems and the nature of the learning opportunities that needed to be provided. The temporary systems were found to be only as strong in leadership as the individuals who comprised them. The "maturity" of the staff determined whether the learning opportunities were developmental or orientation-focused, and whether a "broken front" approach was required. Staff stability also affected the level of trust that existed between the schools and their communities.

Cultural Factors. The directors' symbolic leadership was their primary activity in the cultural path. The nature of this activity centered on selling the change, encouraging staff participation, creating understanding and fostering supporting patterns of interactions. Conceptual clarification was never done in isolation or out of context. It was directly connected with some learning activity, interaction or conversation. For the professional staff, a link between the practical (technical) path and the conceptual (cultural) dimension was sought.

School staffs were the most strategically situated in terms of immediacy and accessibility for generating community support for the changes. The schools' efforts, when successful, encouraged community members to attain some degree of conceptual clarification and understanding of the changes. This enhanced insight fostered behaviors, conduct and activities that supported the changes. The ultimate goal was to generate a constituency of supporters which valued the changes and created a critical mass of constituents which supported and maintained a momentum for change.

The directors' symbolic leadership originated with the vision. The expression of this symbolic leadership was a testament to and support for the important things in the school division. These were worth supporting because of their inherent worth, and because they were priorities which the board of education had elected to support. The importance of creating a culture of change, and establishing norms and values supportive of change was frequently affirmed and talked about.

Planning for Implementation

The implementation of innovations at the school division level requires the system leaders to plan for two things: the process and activities needed to achieve implementation, and the manner in which the process is to be supported. Depending upon which point in time is being referred to, the preferred or dominant approach to the implementation process can be either political, technical or cultural. Nevertheless, those responsible for planning the implementation process and arranging the necessary supports need to attend to and prepare for the simultaneous provision for the three dimensions of the implementation process.

The director and board of education elevated mandatory innovations to the status of school division priorities which required compliance for implementation. Voluntary innovations became priorities because they addressed some contending priority or supported ongoing initiatives. These innovations were integrated into the long-term plans and priorities for the school division. Their legitimacy and priority stemmed from the board of education's articulated and moral support, and the resources with which the board was prepared to support these initiatives.

The critical leverage point in the technical path of the implementation process was the learning opportunities. The learning opportunities were selected on the basis of the long-term plans for the school division and the needs of the school staffs involved. Temporary systems, the assistants, external professionals and even the directors themselves facilitated these activities. Whether these activities were awareness or developmental depended on the nature and needs of the school staffs. For example, awareness activities for all staff members for new thrusts, and orientation activities for people new to the school division were provided.

Two aspects of the staffing dimension determined the level of sophistication of the learning opportunities. These were the ability to retain staff or at least keep turnovers to a minimum, and attracting people with some foundation in and acquaintance with the innovations. Retaining key people was critical as these were the people with leadership and expertise who enhanced not only the professional activities in the school division but elevated the schools' expertise and capacity to change.

From a cultural perspective, the directors indicated that they needed to plan for symbolic leadership. This entailed planning for visibility, encouragement, support and communication. Much importance was attached to conceptual clarification. Supporting patterns of interactions needed to be conceptualized to support the implementation activities. The schools played an important role in educating and informing their communities about the changes that were occurring.


The boards of education did not get involved in instructional matters. Consequently, their support for the initiatives was restricted to providing resources, and approving the plans and learning activities which the directors proposed. The directors' support for the implementation process was manifested through their involvement with the temporary systems, learning opportunities and Saskatchewan Education activities. The key people provided additional support for the implementation process by exerting pressure for change, supporting learning activities and providing leadership. The directors and assistants made constant reference to the particular attention given to identifying key people and school-level leaders because the success of implementation initiatives could in large part be attributed to the leadership that supported this expertise.

Pressure was an important aspect of the directors' political support for the implementation process. Its most basic effect was to focus or refocus teachers on the innovation. At this stage of the process, the application of pressure by the directors and the key people was being reconceptualized as a positive feature and an aspect of personal professional development. Pressure also served to maintain the momentum for change.

In the technical path, the implementation process depended upon the learning opportunities that were arranged or provided to allow the participants to become familiar with the innovations. A variety of learning activities and program thrusts that supported and complemented the innovations being implemented were provided to enhance learning and understanding. As well, these learning opportunities required either that they take into account each schools' readiness for the activities, or else that individual schools be readied and upgraded to enable them to benefit from these activities. These learning opportunities required the support of resources, support personnel, temporary systems and key people. One critical aspect of resource support entailed utilizing resources already available in the school division (e.g., reallocating time which doesn't cost money but, in fact, may save money.)

For the cultural path of implementation, the clear, articulated vision provided a focus and sense of direction for the school division, and gave meaning to the directors' symbolic leadership. The directors' symbolic leadership served to attach and attribute value and importance to learning opportunities and supporting patterns of interactions. Through learning opportunities, professional staff members were encouraged to make meaning of the changes. Support for the schools' efforts to explain the changes to the community were beginning to involve parents and other members of the community with the schools' activities.

Capacity for Change

McLaughlin (1987) understands capacity for change to be the possibility of changing as determined by training, resources and consultants. In addition to ability or know-how, this understanding implies that the capability to effect change is required. The development of a capacity for change very much relates to the acquisition of the skills and abilities needed to deal with not only the current innovation being implemented, but to also deal with future changes.

The capacity for change was developed in three ways. The primary activity was the provision of learning opportunities to enable all participants to learn about and become good at change. Temporary systems were in place to provide leadership and expertise for planning and training. Supports for the learning opportunities in the form of personnel and resources were provided to sustain the momentum for change.

In a political sense, long-term plans and the involvement of key people were found to not only support the efforts at change but provided pressure to maintain the momentum for change. As a school division priority, the innovations were supported with resources and the board's articulated and moral support.

In cultural terms, supporting patterns of interactions and conceptual clarification were encouraged. These served to generate understanding, and develop norms and values consistent with the innovations. By extension, the integration of the innovations into the school division routines and practices prepared the participants for future changes.

Will for Change

McLaughlin (1987) describes the will for change that exists in an organization as the commitment to and motivation for change that is in place in the system. Integrated into this concept of the will to change are the notions of leadership, authority, control and power along with the beliefs, values and attitudes. The will for change can exist only when coalitions, constituencies and support groups exist which accept and believe in the changes that are taking place, and are in a position to set their own agendas and use these changes to benefit the organization.

For the political path, the key people were a part of this constituency. Since their power of resource allocation tended to be quite restricted, their major contribution was in the form of supporting the implementation process through encouragement, assistance and pressure. The boards of education ultimately approved everything that happened in their school divisions. The director-school board partnership was found to foster the long-term perspective and support that characterized the will to change.

In cultural terms, the directors' symbolic leadership was a key to developing constituencies. This was accomplished through conceptual clarification and encouraging supporting patterns of interactions. For the professional staff, conceptual clarification was encouraged as an extension of the learning opportunities. For parents and community members, conceptual clarification was generally found to occur through the school's efforts. Interviews revealed that there were occasions, however, when the directors personally facilitated learning activities for community gatherings. Board members and local trustees had the benefit of learning opportunities that addressed their specific needs as well as community- or school-level learning opportunities.

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Emergent Patterns

The summary of findings is organized around five major topics on which the three questions for this study focused. These topics represent patterns of interactions which emerged from the analysis of the data. The discussion which follows extends the interaction of the data, theory and analysis as it focuses on each pattern. It is hoped that this will lead to a better understanding of the factors involved in the process of implementing multiple innovations, how they interact with and influence each other, and the directors' interrelationships with these factors in their involvement with implementing these multiple innovations.

Five patterns which emerged from the data analysis and reference to related research and literature describe the directors' involvement with implementing the changes in their rural school divisions. These patterns are the director-board of education partnership, key people, learning opportunities, conceptual clarification and a systemic perspective. As these patterns are discussed and elaborated, reference to and links with the findings and related literature are noted at appropriate points in the discussion.

The patterns are temporally arranged for purposes of discussion. All data sources, the cross-site analysis and the findings indicated to the researcher that the initial activities associated with the implementation of the CELs and SSIP Program in these rural school divisions were political in nature. Consequently, the first two patterns--the director-board of education partnership--are located in the political path. The third pattern--learning opportunities--is located in the technical path while the final two patterns--conceptual clarification and a systemic perspective--occur in the cultural path.

Director-Board of Education Partnership

The distinction between the directors' administrative responsibilities and the boards' of education executive and policy-making functions was well defined and clearly understood by everyone. There was absolutely no interference by the boards of education in instructional or personnel matters at the school level. Despite the clear legal division of responsibilities that existed in these school divisions, a strong partnership was found to be at work in these settings. While the directors were perceived as being in charge and having a fair amount of leeway and discretion, everyone was aware of the fact that in reality, the board of education ultimately granted approval for everything that happened. The notion of teamwork and collaboration rather than confrontation and an adversarial approach tended to be the norm. The directors worked hard to maintain and strengthen this relationship.

The directors contributed to this partnership in four ways. In terms of information, they served as the resident educational experts and provided a vital research service for their boards. They acted as teachers to their boards of education and local boards of trustees in terms of providing some conceptual clarification about the innovations. The directors lobbied on the behalf of the teachers and in support of these innovations. Finally, the directors and board members frequently referred to the annual joint director-board of education goal setting exercise.

The directors utilized this partnership to implement the CELs and SSIP Program in a positive manner. They linked the CELs and SSIP to local priorities and needs, and incorporated them into the school division goals and policies. Local expertise was cultivated through pilot projects, leadership opportunities, local programs, community involvement and continuous learning. The directors were continually searching for opportunities, partnerships, alternate sources of funding and materials, and programs to support and strengthen local programs, and to augment the resources available within the school division. The SSIP Program was regarded as an opportunity to make changes happen in schools with turbulent situations. The CELs and SSIP initiatives were appealing in part because provincial support to some extent was provided.

The division-school linkages were strong. A high level of leadership and expertise was in place at the school level. A critical level of resources was provided to support both individual school initiatives and division-level thrusts. Planning and a systemic perspective ensured that individual school staffs could continue the initiatives, provided resources were available to sustain the effort.

Key People

The directors in these three sites were sensitive to the need for building and developing leadership within their school divisions. The directors gave attention to building leadership into the culture, the structures, the processes and the functions within the school divisions. To them, leadership wherever, whenever and in whomever in the school division was critical.

Much attention was devoted to recruiting, attracting and hiring the best possible professionals into the school division. Individuals with a foundation in and acquaintance with the CELs and SSIP were sought in an effort to keep orientations to a minimum and to have everyone "up to speed". Potential and actual leadership qualities as well as "team players" were looked for as well.

The utilization of temporary systems was a key to implementing the CELs and SSIP. In terms of leadership for the school division, they provided direction and a core of people which could take responsibility for facilitating the activities associated with the implementation efforts. These key people played prominent roles on the "learning teams" and temporary systems through which the implementation process unfolded. Many of these same individuals were also members of the CELs and SSIP leadership teams. The talent and leadership represented by these key people, with the support that resources provided, enabled the implementation effort to proceed.

When discussing the notion of leadership in relation to the implementation of innovations in rural school divisions, an integral part of the debate needs to centre on the concept of capacity to change. Fullan and Steigelbauer (1991) suggest that an important task of the director is "to build the capacity of the district and the schools to handle any and all innovations" (p.214). Nachtigal (1982b) refers to this as "building an institutional base" (p.285) for dealing with change. Because high staff turnover can be a particularly acute problem in rural school divisions, the directors needed to ensure "that sufficient expertise and support remain in the community to sustain a change effort when outside funding ends or when project participants move (Nachtigal, p.285). As well, the simple fact is that the directors' work in implementing innovations gets accomplished through others (Sarason, 1971; Murphy & Hallinger, 1982). Hall et al. (1985) and Tichy and Devanna (1986) refer to key people as those who assume responsibility for efforts at change. Their multi-role functions provided an element of direction, focus and stability that was not distorted by bureaucratic layers (LaRocque, 1986; Huberman & Miles, 1984).

The important thing here is not so much that the CELs and SSIP were mastered or successfully implemented but rather that many individuals acquired leadership skills (Corbett & Rossman, 1989) and learned how to cope with and manage other changes (Louis, 1981). A concern expressed with the multi-role functions of these key people was that should they leave the school division, the "vacuum" that is created disrupts the process. While the departure of a key individual may not disrupt the operations and effectiveness of a division-level group in any acute sense, the effect at the school level is compounded many times.

Learning Opportunities

The implementation of the CELs and SSIP in the three sites involved an intense convergence of attention, direction and energy upon the learning opportunities in the technical path. Limited and declining fiscal capacity at the local level, a shift of the burden for education from the provincial government to local jurisdictions, and a tough economic climate conspired to create situations of few spare resources. While these rural school divisions faced severe fiscal and budgetary constraints, there were available a variety of alternate resources that involved minimal or no outlay of finances. Three of these that were important to these rural school divisions were time, information and local expertise.

For the teachers in these rural schools, time was identified as a critical ingredient in terms of their efforts at change. Time costs money only when substitute teachers are required to free teachers to leave their schools or the school division to take advantage of some learning opportunity. To minimize this expense, time was made available within the school division for school-based or division-wide activities. Local expertise or outside professionals were utilized to facilitate these learning activities or to assist with planning activities. A tremendous amount of information and knowledge was acquired, created, utilized, exchanged and transferred among all levels of the school division and with other systems.

Building the capacity for change was an underlying goal of these school divisions. This entailed the acquisition and development of expertise to implement innovations through efforts at the local level to the greatest extent possible, developing skills that could be used for other changes, and generally becoming good at change (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991). The use of temporary systems and learning teams allowed expertise to develop in the schools, leadership skills to develop at a number of levels (Little, 1988), and generally raised the level of understanding of the process of change. While external agencies were not ignored, much use was made of local expertise in the persons of the directors, the assistants and the key people.

Conceptual Clarification

The directors realized that it was important for the professional staff to engage in conceptual clarification if efforts at change were to succeed at the personal, school and division levels. It was essential that the participants fit the CELs and SSIP into a "larger picture" and link these innovations to everything else that was happening. For the CELs and SSIP to have meaning, they would not be regarded as discrete innovations. Conceptual clarification encouraged dealing with innovations from a systemic perspective which entails a strategic approach in which "every activity [fits] into the overall pattern, and so [has] meaning beyond the task itself" (LaRocque & Coleman, 1989, p.182).

Four techniques were utilized to encourage conceptual clarification for the participants. The most convenient approach was to use available learning opportunities for considering philosophical and theoretical issues related to the innovations and related thrusts, and establishing links among the various activities. A second approach was to expose the professional staff to current research and literature that pertained to the CELs and SSIP or related activities. Third, the directors and assistants regularly encouraged the participants to reflect on their personal professional practices and the implementation of the CELs and SSIP. Finally, the directors welcomed any opportunities for academic study and research in their school divisions. As well as being symbolically and politically important, these activities served to raise awareness of the changes for the professional staff. The results of these studies were valued for their information and as indicators of what was happening in the school division.

Conceptual clarification served to achieve a number of fundamental benefits for the participants. First, it helped to develop an understanding of the purpose and meaning of the innovations. Second, conceptual clarification led to enhanced practices in the classrooms, with the students being the ultimate beneficiaries of the changes. Third, challenges to the innovations could be more appropriately dealt with. Fourth, conceptual clarity was more likely to lead to the development of a support base, a constituency for the changes.

Systemic Perspective

The involvement of the division office staff is at the heart of the strategy by means of which the provincial department envisions the implementation of the CELs and SSIP. Division office representation on each school-based leadership team is required. A strong feature of the two school divisions that approached implementation from a systemic perspective was the presence of an articulated vision which was acknowledged by everyone. The director utilized opportune moments such as teacher supervision, meetings or learning activities to talk about the vision and link it with the CELs and SSIP and the other activities going on in the school division. A variety of artifacts such as a division pin and logo served to give physical testimony and expression to this vision. While an articulated vision did not exist in the school division that favored a school-based approach to change, everyone acknowledged that a focus on children and the changes existed. The director here talked about the school division goals and the CELs and SSIP with his teachers at opportune moments such as during teacher supervision, meetings and learning activities.

In the two systemic-oriented school divisions, the provision of learning opportunities for the professional staff was approached from a systemic perspective. A number of thrusts initiated and supported by the directors which served to complement and support the CELs in a very specific manner were initiated. In addition, a variety of special subject and interest groups were in place to support not only existing programs but the CELs and SSIP as well. The format utilized for these learning activities was "learning teams" and peer groupings of some sort, whether by grade or subject area. All learning activities and meetings associated with these groups were held in the division office.

Another feature common to the three sites was the use of orientations for staff members new to the school divisions. For example, in one of the divisions, the CELs and SSIP leadership teams even at the time of the study were receiving periodic local inservice presentations to complement the provincial leadership training and networking meetings. In the two systems-oriented divisions, teachers new to the division received CELs and SSIP training as part of the sustained orientation program in their first year. One of the divisions followed a similar format with principals new to the school division.

The systemic approach to implementation, while perhaps a necessity in these rural school divisions, yielded a number of beneficial outcomes. First, it served to generate a sense of community and "communal understanding" throughout the school division, and facilitated the creation of a system culture in favor of change and progress. Second, scarce and precious resources could be expended in the most efficient manner in terms of benefiting the maximum number of individuals in the most reasonable manner. Third, this approach enabled the directors to regulate diversity while at the same time generating and developing some degree of organizational uniformity and culture. Fourth, a division-wide approach made it easier to establish coherence and fit between the innovations and the school division goals and vision. Fifth, planning and monitoring were made easier through a systemic approach to change.

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Implications for Managing Multiple Changes

Findings from this study indicate that directors who manage multiple changes need to recognize the fact that implementation efforts at the division level are complex undertakings. This finding has been discussed at length by writers such as Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991), LaRocque (1986) and Huberman and Miles (1984). The rural context presents special challenges to efforts at implementing multiple changes. A number of important considerations for directors involved in managing multiple changes in rural school divisions surface from the findings:

Staff Stability

A stable school staff is the source of the key people which provide the leadership, skills and expertise that the schools and the school division require to cope with changes. Staff longevity determines the kinds of learning opportunities that need to be provided. A "permanent" staff builds the necessary level of trust with its community which is the basis of the school's effectiveness in engaging the community in learning and conceptual clarification.

Temporary Systems

These groupings embody the technical and leadership expertise that exists within the school division. They represent a concentration of energy and attention to the specific tasks for which they were created. They contribute in a substantial manner to the building of a capacity for change in rural school divisions because of the "learning team" format which they employ for learning. They appear to be an effective format for developing a "learning organization".


The current economic situation in Saskatchewan is imposing severe fiscal and budgetary constraints and hardships upon rural school divisions. Despite the limited financial means available to them, the directors who were studied were able to creatively and effectively utilize time, leadership and expertise to implement the CELs and SSIP. Their "active use" approach enabled them to secure support and assistance from a variety of sources. Although time is probably the most plentiful resource available to rural directors, the success and effectiveness of their efforts lay in their ability to use well what they have.

School Autonomy

The constraints of rural school divisions makes a systemic approach to implementing innovations a necessity because this is an efficient manner in which to utilize and allocate scarce resources. Despite the benefits of uniformity and coherence, individual schools need some latitude to express themselves and to adapt the innovations to their own unique contexts and settings. While unity needs to be maintained, it is also essential for diversity to be respected.

A Triple Perspective of Change

In planning for implementation, directors in rural school divisions need to plan for and attend to the political, technical and cultural dimensions of the process. The initial stages of implementation of mandated curricula and programs tend to be political in nature with cultural aspects becoming more prominent over time. Throughout the process, however, maintaining the technical path is essential because of the learning that needs to occur for change to happen. At the same time, the holistic view of the process cannot be abandoned or forgotten.

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