A Study of The Evolving Image of A New School Within the
Context of School Effectiveness
A summary of a master's thesis by Merla Bolender
SSTA Research Centre Report #97-08: 30 pages, $11
||When a school opens its doors for the
first time, the development of the school's image (reputation) begins. This reputation is
determined by the perceptions and observations of students, staff, parents, and the larger
community. As parents exercise more and more choice in selecting a school for their
children, developing a positive school reputation becomes increasingly important. A
positive school image is influenced by the effectiveness of learning and teaching within
the school. Consequently, educators trying to positively influence the school's reputation
must focus their attention on factors associated with successful and effective schools.
The purpose of the study was to investigate the development of school image within the context of a new elementary school. The study described the initiation of the school and the first years of its operation through the eyes of active participants: parents, teachers, administration, central office personnel, and a community partner. Using the case study model, data were gathered primarily through fifteen semi-structured interviews and a focus group interview. Data were then analyzed through the lens of attributes of effective schools.
Part One of this report provides a review of the literature and offers an historical context for the study. The findings of the study are described in Part Two. Part Three offers a discussion of the findings and their implications for parents, teachers, school leaders, and school boards.
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Schools do not operate in a vacuum. They are composites of teaching and learning relationships and interactions among students, staff, parents, and the larger community. A positive school image is influenced by the effectiveness of learning and teaching within the school; however, to speak of image in solely 'effectiveness' terms may be misleading. Truly, as Glickman (1987) pointed out, successful schools embody both effectiveness and 'goodness'. Hence, there is much to be gained from devoting attention to image. The future of a school is negotiated with its constituents largely upon the presentation of its image, and the opportunity for improvement and growth depends, to a great extent, on the effectiveness of this activity (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1991).
The concept of school effectiveness has been of significance for the past fifteen years. Researchers in the United States (Edmonds, 1979; Goodlad, 1984), Europe (Creemers, 1992), Britain (Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore, & Ouston, 1979; Mortimore, Sammons, Stoll, Lewis, & Ecob, 1988) and Canada (Renihan, Renihan & Waldron, 1986) have conducted extensive studies to determine factors associated with effective schools. A commonly held conclusion of these studies is that the school a child attends does affect development and achievement (Rutter et al., 1979).
Effective school correlates have been identified and have subsequently represented vehicles to school improvement. These are:
1. effective instructional leadership,
2. clear purpose,
3. safe and orderly climate,
4. expectation of minimum mastery by all students,
5. testing for program evaluation and redirection,
6. clear academic goals,
7. parental involvement,
8. evidence of collegiality. (Rutter et al., 1979; Goodlad, 1984)
More recently, as an offshoot of school effectiveness research, more attention has been directed to organizational culture and the development of conditions conducive to creating effective school culture (Rosenholtz, 1989; Barth, 1990; Fullan & Hargreaves, 1991).
Against the backdrop of school effectiveness is the responsibility of leadership at the school level to develop such environments (Barth, 1990; Fullan, 1992a; Sergiovanni, 1992a). Leithwood (1992) argued the need for transformational school leaders who will develop and maintain collaborative cultures, empowering teachers through shared decision making and collective problem solving. The leader becomes a guide rather than a gatekeeper (Fullan, 1992a) in the business of teaching and learning by directing and supporting a collective school vision.
In fact, leadership is a key function in school effectiveness, school culture, and school image. However, much of the literature to date deals with established educational contexts. There has been a sparsity of research regarding the initiation and construction of new schools and the development and emergence of image within those new settings.
LITERATURE REVIEW AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT
A study of school image, its evolution within a new school setting, and its relationship to noteworthy influences necessitates an examination of relevant literature. This section of the report briefly reviews literature and research related to school effectiveness, leadership, school culture, and school image. But first, current demands on schools are reviewed.
Demands on Schools: The Search for Alternatives
The search for alternatives to public schooling has heightened in the last ten years as the public shows increasing dissatisfaction with the present form of public education. Home schooling is one popular alternative. In Saskatchewan, the number of home schooled children has increased by 30% each year since 1993 (Yeager, 1995). The Saskatchewan Home-Based Educators expects the number of children studying at home to reach 3,000 by the turn of the century.
Additionally, charter schools are emerging as a viable alternative for parents frustrated with the ineffectiveness and lack of accountability of the public school system. Charter schools are attractive to many parents for two reasons: (a) they are seen as being more accountable to parents by giving them a greater voice in their children's education; and (b) they offer the promise of changing top down bureaucracy to front line decision-making as determined by parents and teachers at individual schools.
Dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the public school system are not passing fads. The public is clamouring for results; they want to see good and effective schools. "In schools, treading water is no longer an option. School people must either propel themselves in some direction, be towed, or sink" (Barth, 1990, p. 152). As a result, there would seem to be a more urgent need than ever to weigh these trends and alternatives in terms of what the school effectiveness literature is suggesting about choice and direction.
School Effectiveness Literature: An Historical Sketch
The 1960s was a time for critiquing social myths and beliefs in North America. Societal attitudes toward schooling were increasingly pessimistic as it was thought that background and social influences determined achievement more than formal, instructional schooling (Madaus, Airasian & Kellaghan, 1980). To turn the tide, studies were needed that would "promote a clearer understanding and explanation of the process of schooling" (p. 190).
During the 1970s and 1980s, studies by Edmonds (1979) and Goodlad (1984) found that all children can learn, regardless of their background and that some schools are more effective, or 'satisfying', than others. During the same time in Britain, Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore and Ouston (1979) studied inner-city schools to dispel the myth that schools have limited influence on the development of students. Their research showed the opposite, that it does matter which school a child attends. From this research, a list of characteristics of effective schools was compiled (see Introduction).
School improvement projects began as a way to implement school effectiveness research. In the Netherlands in the 1970s, schools implemented "large-scale innovation projects aimed at changing the structure of the Dutch educational system" (Creemers, 1992, p. 50). In Canada, Stoll and Fink (1994) studied the quality of an Ontario school system and attempted to apply the characteristics of effective schools to pilot schools. At the same time, Renihan, Renihan and Waldron (1986) studied schools in Western Canada for evidence of effective school attributes. From both research projects came noteworthy observations for school improvement projects:
* school effectiveness and school improvement can be linked,
* changing schools means changing school cultures,
* commitment is needed from all stakeholders, and
* change comes from within the school.
Sustaining school improvement in schools was a refrain heard in school improvement projects into the 1990s (Fullan, Bennett, & Rolheiser-Bennett, 1990). The marriage between school effectiveness research and school improvement practice was viewed as beneficial to both parties. Building on this marriage, Barth (1990) argued that the school itself was the key to effectiveness, by using all of its energy to work towards a common vision. He stressed that the vision must come from within the school and must be developed and directed by the staff, rather than be imposed or prescribed externally. Fullan and Hargreaves (1991) supported this view that improvement efforts must begin within the school and that a staff united in purpose could direct positive change in a school. Leadership of the school was noted as essential to nurturing and directing a staff in their pursuit of a shared purpose (Fullan, 1991).
Leading an Effective School
School effectiveness research reshaped the role of principal, from that of gatekeeper to instructional leader (Fullan, 1992a). Observed in action, the instructional leader is seen interacting with teachers, making learning and teaching a priority. Leadership of an effective school bears "the mark of the principal as central for leading and supporting change" (p. 82).
However, implementing change or innovation was not the effective leader's role (Fullan, 1991; Barth, 1990). Rather, the leader draws the starting line for others, urging them to take the first step, supporting and encouraging as they renew and challenge themselves. Barth (1990) defined the role of the school principal as "one of enabling rather than controlling (p. 145). As such, the principal creates an environment that encourages risk-taking and trial-and-error.
Characteristics of leaders of effective schools have emerged from the literature. First, effective principals are mavericks; they have a risk-taking attitude (Vanderstoep, Anderman, & Midgley, 1984; Levine, 1992). They are not satisfied with the status quo, nor are they stymied by organizational roadblocks. Leaders of successful schools model risk-taking and promote it in their teachers because they hold tightly to their expectations for success in their schools. Consequently, these leaders empower their teachers by sharing decision-making and leadership with them, thereby influencing the "capacity to improve from within" (Barth, 1990, p. 36). This is the second characteristic of leaders of effective schools: a fierce commitment to teacher empowerment through collaboration.
This emphasis on facilitating and sustaining collaboration marked a revised definition of an effective leader, from instructional to transformational (Leithwood, 1992). Sergiovanni (1992a) delineated the goals of a transformational leader within a school community:
* to commit to core values that are agreed to and acted upon by all staff,
* to practice the ethic of caring,
* to establish a clear vision and sense of direction with the staff,
* to encourage more collective style decision-making.
In summary, transformational leaders share "a genuine belief that their staff members as a group could develop better solutions than the principal could alone" (Leithwood, 1992, p. 11).
Is the transformation model of leadership the most current and effective model for leaders to follow? Sergiovanni (1992a) added a dimension to the transformational leadership model, that of the school leader as a servant. He argued that a leader committed to serving their community epitomizes the care ethic by respecting, and being of service to, staff and students. Sergiovanni (1992a) developed this dimension out of his disappointment with the direction the study of leadership had taken. He argued that in trying to decide what drives leadership, researchers have neglected professional and moral authority, thereby separating "the hand of leadership from its head and its heart" (p. 3). If leadership theory is to accurately reflect current practice, "then we need to move the moral dimension in leadership away from the periphery and right to the center of inquiry, discussion, and practice" (p. 3).
Much of the literature on effective schools and leadership includes references to and overlaps with that of school culture. Leadership is closely linked to culture, according to Schein (1985), for "they are two sides of the same coin, and neither can really be understood by itself" (p. 2). Consequently, the literature review continues with an examination of (1) how culture is built in schools, (2) the characteristics that are visible in the culture of effective schools, and (3) how school culture can change to include these characteristics.
Culture in Effective Schools: A Healthy Pulse
Schein (1985) defined the culture of an organization as the "basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously, and that define in a basic 'taken-for-granted' fashion an organization's view of itself and its environment" (p. 6). Holly and Southworth (1989) defined school culture as "the context and setting of the school, its internal processes and the meanings by which staff members make sense of their working world" (p. 100). Both definitions imply a process that is on-going and evolutionary in nature, and that is fueled by "external pressures, internal potentials, responses to critical events, and ... chance factors" (Schein, 1985, pp. 83-84). Culture is the life-force that pulses through the organization, the essence that enables people to work comfortably, to concentrate on their priorities, and to behave predictably based on organizational assumptions and beliefs.
The leader's role in culture building is paramount among other leadership functions (Schein, 1985) for it is the leader that drives and sustains the notion of a clear, shared vision defined and developed by all members of the school (Barth, 1990; Goldring & Pasternack, 1994; Rosenholtz, 1989). Schools that pursued a shared vision were called 'high consensus schools' by Rosenholtz (1989); they have built a culture where "shared goals, beliefs, and values led teachers through their talk to a more ennobling vision ... that bound them, including newcomers, to pursue the same vision" (p. 39).
What are the visible characteristics of the culture of a high consensus school? First, an effective school culture values collaboration, where "every teacher must be concerned about the health of the school as an organization" (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1991, p. 78). Collaboration promotes effective school culture because it helps break down teacher isolation (Rosenholtz, 1989). In schools where self-reliance is the norm, teachers are more protective and conscious of their 'turf' and become unwilling to admit problems or see others' problems. This mindset leads to more isolation. However, school cultures that participate in shared problem-solving and decision-making place value on interdependence and support among staff members.
Second, an effective school culture operates more like a community than an organization (Barth, 1990). A community shares successes and failures, supports one another, and behaves according to internalized beliefs and norms (Barth, 1990; Sergiovanni, 1992a). A community acts on a covenant of core beliefs (Sergiovanni, 1992b) that roots community members to common ground. Anxiety and uncertainty surrounding what to do or not to do, what is appropriate or what is not, is gone. Teachers are not unnerved by unexpected or non routine settings, neither do they blame someone else nor ignore problematic situations. "Teachers instead proclaim their sense of confidence. They appear to know just where they stand and seem sure of the foundations below them" (Rosenholtz, 1989, p. 138).
The third characteristic of a healthy school culture is teacher confidence. An effective school culture relies on assumptions and beliefs to anchor, stabilize and guide teachers toward familiar responses to their environment (Schein, 1985). Confident in their day-to-day workplace, teachers are more ready to accept challenges, take risks, and express creative ideas and solutions (Rosenholtz, 1989). As confidence builds, so too does teacher optimism and enthusiasm. The workplace becomes more satisfying as teachers receive professional fulfillment from their work through more control of problem-solving and decision-making, support from colleagues, and increased learning opportunities by sharing knowledge and experiences (Rosenholtz, 1985).
Thus far, the treatment of culture in effective school literature has examined definitions of culture, implications for leaders in building effective cultures, and characteristics evident in schools with healthy cultures. Now the discussion turns to the question of how school cultures can change to be more effective.
If the essence of organizational culture was "the paradigm by which people operate" (Schein, 1985, p. 147), then culture can change as the paradigm changes. If the paradigm was not enabling people to survive comfortably within the organization, then something must give. Further, change in culture may also be directed by functions demanded of it by the organization. In the beginning stage, culture is a positive growth force within the organization, guiding behavioural patterns based on commonly held core beliefs. At the mid-life stage of the organization, culture becomes diverse due to conflicting issues of preservation or change: is it working effectively or does it need redirection? At the mature stage of the organization, the culture has evolved to the point where it may not meet the needs of the organization's members. Then change must occur (Schein, 1985).
It is at this point that the culture must adapt to demands and conflict. An effective culture will renew itself from within the school (Barth, 1990; Fullan, 1992a) for it is "capable of promoting the incorporation of new ideas into teachers' current perceptions and practices" (Holly & Southworth, 1989, p. 102). This interaction between external influences and internal values can work positive changes in the culture if done collaboratively and with supportive leadership.
The leader's role in this change is to anticipate and initiate changes without engineering them. Barth (1990) called this role "the leading learner" (p. 18). Through the leader's orchestration of change, Barth argued, the school will have greater harmony because each of the players is a part of the change process.
This role of orchestrating change underlies the guidelines offered by Burrello and Reitzug (1993) to school leaders intent on building effective school cultures:
1. The school leader anticipates change by continually scanning internal and external influences and issues and in so doing, acts responsively rather than obtrusively. Obtrusive action by the leader would be to initiate change in a vacuum rather than as a response to contextual factors.
2. The leader asks questions rather than provides answers.
3. The leader facilitates and encourages conversation and contemplation toward change rather than planning or directing it.
4. Mistakes and failures are shared by all.
5. The leaders maintains strict adherence to the core set of beliefs upon which the school community is built.
Building a healthy school culture is closely linked to effective leadership practice. Culture is the pulse that directs and reflects commitments made by the school community. The school, in turn, presents an image to its constituents - students, parents, community - that reflects school culture.
Image: Facing the Public
School image has been defined by Renihan and Renihan (1988) as "the sum of subjective opinions about the quality of the learning and social environment ... the collective 'feeling' developed by the various publics as a result of their observations and experiences of the school" (p. 82). To speak of image in solely 'effectiveness' terms may be misleading. The image reflected into the community goes beyond accountability for test results, attendance, and dropout rates. Schools must also be accountable to their beliefs and values: "What we see as worthy should mediate what we do" (Glickman, 1987, p. 624). Truly successful schools, argued Glickman, are not so focused on effectiveness that they miss chances to enhance the 'goodness' of learning. A 'good' school, continued Glickman, goes beyond effectiveness. It is characterized by smiles, openness, care, and concern in addition to its effectiveness.
Parents want their children to attend this kind of school, one that embodies both effectiveness and goodness; therefore, "educators who care about the fate of all children must define goodness before they worry about effectiveness" (p. 624). Thus, a wise school pays attention to its image because the school's future depends on it.
In seeking to improve school image, determination must first be made as to the effectiveness of the current image. Renihan and Renihan (1988) have developed a range of image types for this purpose. Each type is defined by two dimensions: pastoral concerns (nurturing effective relationship, respect, openness) and cosmetic concerns (promoting school success in the community, attending to appearances). The following describe the image types:
* synergistic schools - highly effective both pastorally and cosmetically
* candy store schools - high emphasis on appearances, little attention to relationships
* disaffected schools - low emphasis both pastorally and cosmetically
* monastic schools - low emphasis on appearances, high emphasis on relationships
* survivor schools - mediocre in both dimensions
The role of the principal is to continually monitor and measure the image of the school, both formally and informally, through its stakeholders: What image is desired? Are these elements evident in the school? How do these elements mesh with the school's beliefs and vision? Should change be made? How will change be monitored? The answers to these questions give the principal benchmarks as to the evolution of the school's image. With this kind of monitoring and feedback, school image can continually improve.
For example, a candy store school (cosmetic profile high, pastoral profile low) revealed a school where parents participated as token advisors only. An effective principal would find ways to nurture the relationship with parents to enable them to be more active participants in developing school image. On the other hand, a monastic school (cosmetic profile low, pastoral profile high) showed a school where parents were very supportive. In this case, effective leadership would look for ways to heighten the profile of the school within the larger community.
Renihan and Renihan (1991) stressed the importance of the participatory role of parents and public in changing school image. As schools share information with parents and educate them in issues affecting their children's education, schools can only benefit by building stronger cultures and more positive images.
The development of school image is shaped directly and indirectly by many influences. An understanding of the extent to which the characteristics of effective schools, effective leadership, and school culture influence the image of a school is crucial to creating positive images (reputations) in schools. Without healthy school culture elements, such as risk-taking and shared decision-making, relationships within and without the school community would be weak and ineffective. Support from parents would not be forthcoming and staff morale would not be strong because neither groups would feel empowered as voices in the school community. Without a collegial approach to leadership, school culture would flounder for lack of a leader who would initiate and enable necessary change. School image would in turn reflect an uncertainty, a lack of rootedness to core values that guide decision-making and change necessary to building and maintaining a healthy school culture.
DESCRIPTION OF THE FINDINGS
This writer conducted a study of a new school in an urban centre in Saskatchewan with the purpose of investigating the emergence of school image in a new elementary school. The study described the experience of the initiation of the school and of the first years of its operation through the eyes of participants in that experience. Several questions were important for the inquiry:
1. What were the perceptions of how school image evolved as they related to effective school characteristics?
2. What were the perceived forces, externally and internally, which influenced the efforts of the staff to develop school effectiveness/school image within the new school context?
3. What were the significant events leading up to the opening of the school?
For this review of the study, data related to questions one and two are presented and discussed below.
Image Through the Lens of School Effectiveness Attributes
Using effective school characteristics as starting points for reflection, participants were asked to describe their perceptions of the school's reputation over its first four years. Leadership was, according to the participants, the most important factor in developing a positive school image. Teachers, parents, and administrators highlighted several facets of effective leadership:
1. Being supportive and decisive.
2. Being collaborative.
3. Recognizing and affirming staff members.
4. Setting the tone for the school.
6. Exercising trusteeship, or guardianship, for the children under their care.
7. Attending to the cosmetic image (appearance) of the school.
This list reflects recent literature on effective schools and effective school leaders. For example, Leithwood (1992) spoke of collaboration as a vehicle for sharing power with people rather than imposing power over them. As well, the ethic of caring has been seen to be fundamental to the core values of a collaborative school culture (Barth, 1990; Sergiovanni, 1992a).
School vision was perceived to be established by the principal. Parents and teachers referred to the school's commitment to community, collaboration, and cooperation as the foundations that gave impetus to the school's commitment to computer technology, resource-based learning, a non-competitive philosophy, and a service orientation. However, rapid growth of the school was seen as deterrent to sustaining some of these priorities over time. New staff did not necessarily reflect the same commitment of initial staff to these priorities. Increased numbers in the school caused the pace of school life to accelerate, making it more difficult to find time to devote to collaboration around these commitments.
Parents and teachers expressed a desire to be part of the mission-building process in the school. Collective definition of a school's vision strengthens individual commitments into a more powerful 'whole' commitment (Barth, 1990; Goldring & Pasternack, 1994; Leitner, 1994). A common vision synergizes teachers and parents by focusing their efforts towards the same goals. Schools that do not collectively define the mission of the school may expect short-term gains and long-term ineffectiveness (Fullan, 1992b). It is not difficult to conclude, therefore, that school's image will be directly influenced by the strength and direction of its shared vision.
School climate was perceived to positively influence the school's image when climate was seen to be both warm and welcoming, and safe and orderly. Parents and teachers wanted a school climate that was safe and orderly for all members of the school, a climate where rules were enforced consistently and fairly. Rapid growth in the school population was seen as a challenge to this kind of climate. Parents and teachers were of the opinion that school image would benefit from direction attention to climate, particularly as the school grew. More specifically, participants thought that the more safe and welcoming the school climate, the greater the sense of community within the school. It was this sense of community that enhanced the school's reputation in a positive way.
The fourth characteristic used to examine school image was that of involvement with the local community, both with parents and with a local care facility. Parents were involved as volunteers and as members of the Parent Association. Teachers encouraged and valued volunteers in the school, and a large number of parents volunteered. Involvement in the Parent Association was initially of a fund-raising nature. After a few years, however, the Association wanted to expand its role into more 'political' areas of the school, such as working with the school to develop a conflict resolution program. While appreciative of parents' support and service to the school, teachers were somewhat uncertain of the role of the Association. The working relationship between teachers and parents seemed to need clarification if time and energy were not to be wasted blocking each other's efforts.
The image of the school is necessarily influenced by the tenor of the parent/teacher relationship. Increasingly, parents who become frustrated with schools are looking for alternatives, such as private or charter schools, or homeschooling (Wallis, 1994; Nikiforuk, 1993). Demands are increasing for schools that communicate regularly and effectively with parents and are accountable to their public. Complacency has no place in the mindset of educators today. Public schools must take these demands seriously and work with parents as partners in their children's education.
Building community partnerships is rapidly becoming a way to benefit a school's reputation. In this case, both the school and the care facility benefited from the partnership. The care facility received volunteer service from the students and an increased quality of life for its residents. The school received positive, public recognition for its efforts, thereby boosting the school's reputation. As well, the students learned to respect and relate to individuals quite different from themselves.
Academic focus was thought by the participants to be reflected clearly in the priorities of the school. However, attention to communicating these priorities to the parents was needed. Parents wanted to understand why certain academic directions were chosen over other alternatives and to see that the benefits of such choices outweighed the drawbacks. Communication was also important in helping parents make the paradigm shift from their educational experiences to those of their children. If parents were convinced that the school was acting in the best interests of the child's education, they stated that they would be more supportive than if they were not privy to the rationale behind such actions or decisions. Parents held the school accountable for their children's educational experiences and wanted input into those experiences.
Closely tied to academic focus were program and achievement issues. Once again, communication was raised as an issue in helping parents make the shift from "the way we learned" to "the way our children are learning". Involving parents as partners in their children's education may be one way to achieve better communication. Educators bring to the partnership their expertise and experience while parents bring the need for effectiveness and accountability, coupled with natural protectiveness for their child's best interest. Both sides need to know, understand, and appreciate the other's mindset.
Collegiality of staff members was another school effectiveness attribute used to view the emerging image of the school. Teachers and administration indicated that the extent to which staff maintained collegial relationships diminished over time. Three reasons were perceived to be factors in this trend: (1) the 'honeymoon' period, or the enthusiasm attached to opening a new school, waned after the first year; (2) it was expedient to be collegial in the beginning to survive the start-up months; and (3) growing number of staff members the first three years made collegiality more difficult. The need for effective communication and opportunities to meet together seemed to be the underpinnings of sustaining collegiality.
The physical environment of the school was the final topic of discussion in the individual interviews. Administration, teachers, and parents raised several points of interest:
1. The design was inviting to students and encouraged learning by innovative use of space.
2. The school was attractive, with lots of natural light. Students expressed pride in attending the school, and teachers thought this pride positively influenced student behaviour.
3. The school was kept clean and tidy.
4. The practicality of some of the design features was questioned by a few parents and teachers (e.g., need larger boot room with bench in the middle).
It was obvious that the first impression made by the physical environs of the school was a lasting one. Giving attention to the cosmetic profile of the school, as a component of image, is one way to positively influence the overall image of the school (Renihan & Renihan, 1988).
In summary, perceptions that were gathered through the lens of school effectiveness correlates provided insights into the emerging image of the school. The extent to which each attribute contributed, positively or negatively, to the developing effectiveness of the school reflected directly the changing image of the school.
Forces That Influenced School Image
Teachers were asked, in the focus group interview, to identify forces, externally and internally, that hindered or helped their efforts to work effectively in the new school. Their responses, which are presented in Table 1, helped to further describe the emerging image of the school.
|Helping Forces||Hindering Forces|
|External to the School||Adequate budget
Consultation re: supplies, resources
|Budget not adequate for growing school population
No consultation re: furnishings, equipment
Unexpected challenges (changes to grade assignments; no library until November)
|Internal to the School||Small size of school
Collegiality from meeting 'new school' challenges together
Like-mindedness of staff
More diversity of staff philosophies
Discrepancy between goal of technology and ability to achieve it
In reviewing these forces, it became apparent that the desire for collaboration and a sense of community were important to respondents. Good communication, sharing, and interdependence are characteristics of effective schools (Barth, 1990; Sergiovanni, 1992a). Norms of collegiality, vision-building continuous improvement, and reflective practices are evident in effective school cultures (Fullan, 1992b). Although buffeted by unexpected occurrences, the respondents voiced a need to continue to work towards a healthy, effective school.
In conclusion, Figure 1 represents the participants' perceptions of the development of the school's image over its first four years. The data gathered through individual interviews, focus group interview, and document review portray a school that initially reflected much enthusiasm and euphoria. As the years progressed, the 'honeymoon' wore off and challenges pressed the evolution of the school's image into a darker period. Turning these challenges into opportunities, the school gradually attended to those issues that restricted the image negatively. The more recent trend indicated a gradual recovery through an escalation in the quantity and quality of parental involvement and increased energies devoted by teachers to collaborative efforts and community partnership.
|Time||Driving Forces||School Image||Restraining Forces|
|Prior to School Opening||Approval of design and construction.
Appointment of principal
Selection of staff by admin.
Ordering of supplies, resources by staff.
High level of staff/parent enthusiasm.
|------->||Decisions made centrally.
Change to principal designate.
|Year 1||Adequate budget.
Collaboration, community, cooperation encouraged by principal.
High level of staff/parent enthusiasm.
Safe, welcoming school climate.
Active Parent Association.
|------->||Changes to grade assignments.
Library not operational until November
|Year 2||Formal community partnership began.||<-------||Increase in student numbers.
Increase in staff members.
Decrease in collaboration.
Addition of vice-principal.
Tension between parents/school re: evaluation of student progress; safe climate.
No increase in budget.
|Year 3||Community partnership realized for care facility and school.
Increase in level Parent Assoc. activity in school issues
|<-------||Increase in student numbers.
Increase in staff members.
Change in vice-principal.
Decrease in collaboration.
Increase in teacher isolation.
Concern over climate (safety).
Less time and money for technology focus.
(Time of the study)
|Increase in level of Parent Assoc. activity in school issues.
Increase in attention to safe climate.
Community partnership continues to be positive.
More supportive efforts among teachers.
|------->||Increase in student numbers
Increase in staff members
Figure 1. Factors perceived to shape the school's image as it evolved over time.
THE EMERGENCE OF SCHOOL IMAGE
Leadership issues were extremely prominent in the respondents' reflections on the evolution of the school's image. Time and time again participants looked to their leader for direction, support, and example. In their eyes, the effectiveness of the school and its resulting image, rested heavily on the shoulders of the principal.
Risk-taking was seen as a valuable trait, particularly in the areas of empowering teachers and empowering parents. Although both types of empowerment brought varying degrees of confusion and frustration to the participants, the value of taking a chance in those directions was recognized. Vanderstoep, Anderman, and Midgley (1994) and Levine (1992) supported the notion of 'venturesomeness' in successful leaders. Risk-takers do what it takes to attain school goals through fiery commitment to learning and teaching. It was this determination and unwavering commitment that teachers and parents looked for in the attitudes and behaviours of their leader because it heightened their own commitment to the school.
Establishing and sustaining effective communication at all levels of the school was also perceived as a measure of an effective leader. The communication theme ran through many concerns: staff collegiality, the extent and role of parental involvement in the school, and the education of parents about academic focus and student evaluation. The leader was seen as the model and facilitator of success in these areas. Parents and teachers, although willing to do their part, nevertheless looked to the principal to blaze and light the trail.
Promoting a sense of community within the school was also seen as part of the effective leader's role. Parents valued the welcoming, safe climate of the school, as did teachers. In addition, teachers valued a leader who was visible and interested in classroom learning; who enabled their efforts and decisions; and who expressed appreciation and recognition for their work.
Establishing an effective school culture was also prominent in the minds of the participants as they considered the emergence of the image of the school. Tension arose between perceptions of effectiveness and expectations. Schein (1985) described this phase in culture development as the mid-life stage. It follows the honeymoon period in the life of the school, which has been fueled by anticipation and enthusiasm. As the culture evolves, it becomes more diverse as expectations change. The effectiveness of the existing cultural norms and practices is questioned and re-examined in an effort to change them, to better meet new expectations and challenges. With changes to the culture comes renewed effectiveness, and the culture has entered its mature stage.
The life cycle of the image of the school mirrors these stages. At the time of this study, participants had passed through stage one, the honeymoon, and were dealing with the challenges of stage two. Collaboration, evaluation of student progress, and the changing role of the Parent Association were all examples of conflict between effectiveness and expectation. In each case, effectiveness was perceived to be waning as expectations changed. The conflicts and challenges raised by stage two were seen to negatively impact the effectiveness of the school culture and, in turn, to tarnish the emerging image of the school.
There were other issues related to image that ran as themes through the data. First is the issue of commencement, of beginning the life cycle of the school's image in the best possible way. Positive steps in this direction would include (a) developing a shared vision of the school with staff and parents prior to, or immediately after, the school's opening; and (b) collaborative decision-making about school design, furnishings, and equipment. First impressions do matter, said the participants, both physically and organizationally, for they set the tone for the future of the school.
Second is the notion of comparison. As the school image continued to emerge, it was compared by teachers to other schools in which they had worked and to other principals for whom they had worked. Image was also influenced, in the parents' view, by their comparison of this school to others their children had attended. Perhaps not the ideal method for determining school effectiveness, comparison is an inevitable fact of life. Comparison to other schools and settings was helpful to participants in clarifying their perceptions of the school's evolving image.
Parental engagement emerged as a third theme. This theme goes beyond communication to the point where parents are engaged and educated in the process of their children's education. Then they are more likely to become supportive partners with educators. The process of establishing an effective learning environment is demystified; they come to understand the language of education and the philosophies underlying curriculum focus, student learning, and student achievement. Engagement of parents in the education of their children moves the school to a more synergistic and effective level (Renihan & Renihan, 1991). As the school becomes more effective, the emerging school image becomes more positive.
Closely aligned to this theme is one of misconceptions. For a school to be truly effective, its evolving image must be viewed in a positive light by its publics. Perceptions, even if inaccurate in their understanding, are truth to those who hold them. It becomes important then, that the school culture be accurately interpreted by those involved with it. In this inquiry, the principal mentioned that although the school culture valued collaboration, some teachers and parents perceived the school to have weak leadership because the principal would rarely make an autocratic decision. In their eyes, collaboration was ineffective and leadership ineffectual. Misconceptions of this kind need to be addressed if the school is to be perceived as effective. Since school effectiveness influences school image, it could be damaged if misconceptions are allowed to take root and flourish.
The final theme ran as a thread throughout the interviews: challenges to the school's image. Challenges came at various stages in the life cycle of the school's image, and in various forms. But by far the most substantive challenge was that of continual growth of the school's population. Each year that the school was open, it increased in student and staff numbers. Growth was perceived to affect leadership, collegiality, academic focus, school climate, and, more broadly, culture. When faced with challenges precipitated by rapid growth of the school's population, participants had a choice: will the challenge be an excuse or an opportunity?
The Life Cycle of School Image
If challenges are viewed as excuses that block the way to effectiveness, there is not much hope for the value of the emerging school image. The school culture will become mired in conflict and indecision, unable to direct its way toward more appropriate behaviours and approaches. On the contrary, if challenges are seen to be opportunities, conflict and restrictions become means to redirection and collective focus for a more mature and stable culture. Schein (1985) described this mid-life stage of the organization's culture as a turning point. Mid-life decisions point the way to a healthy or unhealthy culture and, consequently, influence school image.
Figure 2 offers a depiction of the life cycle of the image (reputation) of the school. Fashioned after Schein's (1985) view of the life cycle of an organization's culture, this figure presents a research-based proposition regarding four possible stages of a school's emerging image. As challenges to the school's effectiveness develop over time, image moves to a stage of transition. At this point in the cycle, the evolving image is in a state of flux. Challenges can become either opportunities for improvement or barriers to effectiveness. The former outlook leads the school's reputation to a more optimal level, while the latter view leads to a stagnant image that continues to deteriorate over time. However, the evolution of the school's image does not stop there. New or continued challenges present themselves and each one provides a choice of direction for the school's emerging image.
Participants in this study expressed common needs through their perception of the school's image. In their estimation, it was not enough that a school thinks it is effective. It must also appear to be so. This appearance was judged, in this case, on the criteria of accountability, trustworthiness, sensitivity, and adaptability of the school as its image developed over the years.
Implications for Administrative Action
Four main issues related to school-level and board-level administrative roles and activities emerged from this study.
1. The importance of effective leadership in positively influencing the quality of the school's emerging image was expressed emphatically by all respondents. The principal has the daunting task of being all things to all people. Nevertheless, the principal's impact on the image of the school cannot be over-emphasized. Teachers looked to the leader of their school community for
* commitment to community norms and values;
* assertiveness, recognition of their efforts; and
* the nurturing of effective collegiality.
Parents' expectations were primarily oriented to guardianship of the safety and education of their children. Combined, these expectations closely resemble the servanthood of leadership (Sergiovanni, 1992a), and practiced, these expectations build confidence in teachers and parents as to the stability and effectiveness of the school's image. By meeting the expectations of the teachers and parents, the principal moves the image of the school closer to the optimal stage of its life cycle.
2. Administrators and teachers would do well to attend to those attributes essential to effective schools. The findings identified factors and issues associated with each attribute that influenced the emerging image of the school. Effective schools do not happen by change; they are the product of focused effort and collaboration on many levels. Ignoring troublesome issues and using challenges as excuses for ineffectiveness are two certain avenues to a stagnant image. Monitoring and re-evaluating the 'health' of the school through the lens of effective schools are necessary activities in the life cycle of the school's image.
3. Building partnerships with parents is an expedient task of an effective school. Communicating information with parents and providing a welcoming climate are the first steps, but the school must go beyond these. Parents must be engaged as valuable and necessary partners with the school in the pursuit of educational excellence for their children. In these years of fiscal restraint and a sagging economy, public education must actively pursue the contributions and trust of its clients. Empowering parents in decisions that directly affect their children's education is a vital component in the issue of accountability. Parental engagement and empowerment also hold the potential for increased responsibility at home in preparing and supporting their children throughout their educational experience. In giving away some of the 'power' to parents, schools will potentially receive more support and recognition in return. The school's image may be positively influenced by effective partnerships between school and home.
4. When boards of education explore possibilities for planning development, decision-making would be enhanced by the inclusion of teachers and parents. Collaboration in the planning stages of a new school sets an example and a foundation for further shared decision-making at the school level. Collaboration is highly valued as evidence of an effective school culture (Barth, 1990; Holly & Southworth, 1989; Leithwood, 1992; Rosenholtz, 1989; Sergiovanni, 1992a). Participants in this study suggested that had teachers been involved in decisions related to school design, furnishings, and equipment, the initial days of school opening may have gone more smoothly. Collaboration on those issues would have also conveyed to the teachers respect for, and appreciation of, their professional judgments. The commencement stage of the school's image starts before the school doors open. School boards who recognize the positive effects shared decision-making may have at the initiation of a new school are one step closer to promoting positive images within their schools.
The inspiration for this study had its beginnings in my recent experience as principal of a new elementary school. During the five years as principal at that school, I became intrigued with image development on the 'blank page' of a new school. How does a new school build a reputation in the community? Is that reputation reflective of what the school thinks it is portraying? What influences are important in the development of image over time? These were the kind of questions that sparked this study.
Having suspected some influences on image to be more critical than others, I was interested in pursuing these thoughts in an attempt to shed more light on them. While the inquiry has confirmed some suspicions, it has also raised questions for future investigation. The most impressive consideration I take from my research has been the sense of dedication and protectiveness that teachers and parents alike express when talking about their students and children. Whatever disagreements there may be, whether over discipline procedures or report cards, the key question remains the same: what is best for the education of these young people?
Of equal importance to me was the deeply held conviction of parents that schools are accountable to them and their children. After listening to parents describe their perceptions of the school's image, I was left feeling that engaging parents in their children's education is neither an option to educators, nor merely a progressive educational trend. If we want our schools to be successful and to appear to be successful, we must educate parents to be informed, responsible partners with their schools. This study has sharpened my belief that to have an effective school in the fullest sense of the word means having parents say it is so to them. Attending to those issues that influence and direct the evolution of a positive school image is a task that deserves the full energy of school professionals.
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