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Leadership for learning in the preschool: preschool managers' perspectives on strategies and actions in the systematic quality work
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. (SITE)ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1157-7932
2017 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Systematic quality work is an important commitment for Swedish preschools. The latest changes to the regulations and curriculum for the Swedish preschool have increased the expectations for follow-up and documentation of each child’ s experiences and proficiencies in the curriculum’ s target areas, as well as how this is linked to quality development work in the preschool in general (cf. Sverige, 2010; The Ministry of Education 2010). Within the preschool manager function lies a special responsibility for the planning, monitoring and development of these activities and for ensuring that the systematic quality work is carried out in conjunction with the staff, guardians and children. Research on principals’ leadership in schools has generated a solid base of knowledge over time, but, in the Swedish context it seems that the research has paid less attention to the preschool manager’ s leadership. This paper focuses on preschool managers’ leadership as it relates to quality development and learning for the staff. It builds upon the results of a previous study where 18 preschool managers, in a questionnarie with open-ended questions, expressed their understanding of their own leadership in the systematic quality work (cf. Håkansson, 2016). The results from the study showed, among other things, a tension between linear and interactive forms of governance in the systematic quality work, but also that knowledge gaps among the staff could lead to uncertainties that the preschool manager has to address. In the study, there were traces of what can be characterised as leadership for learning (ibid.). The research reported in this paper is a qualitative follow-up interview study with ten of the preschool managers mentioned above. The main purpose of the paper is to contribute to a deeper understanding of preschool managers’ leadership of systematic quality work in Swedish preschools. Three research questions are adressed: 

What strategies and substantial leader actions do the preschool managers use in the systematic quality work?

How do the preschool managers handle knowledge gaps and uncertainties around the systematic quality work among the staff?

In what ways do the general governance of the systematic quality work from the municipality influence the preschool managers leadership for learning in practice?

The theoretical framework of this study is based on curriculum theory (i.e. the frame factor theory, Lundgren, 1989), which among other things, pay attention to three components in the understanding of, for example, the outcome of teaching, or in this case preschool managers leadership in the systematic quality work – frames/preconditions, processes, results. In this study it is chiefly the internal and organisational preconditions and how they influence processes and outcomes that are in focus. Other research-based points of departure for the study is the school improvement research carried out in recent decades which have helped to highlight what it is that characterises successful development work and leadership (cf. Hallinger 2011; Hargreaves and Fullan 2012), but also the knowledge base around professional and collegiate learning, which in this context is related to the preschool managers’ leadership (Stoll, 2009). Also important as a framework and related to the mentioned empirical research is the research on school principals in general but also and particularly research related to preschool managers (c.f. Hallinger, 2011; Nihlfors, Jervik Steen, and Johansson, 2015; Ang, 2011; Ho 2011). Of special interest here is for example the concept of ’leadership for learning’ developed in a British preschool context (cf. Siraj-Blatchford and Manni (2008). This study investigates in particular some aspects which relates to the preschool managers’ leadership, such as effective communication and openness around expectations, monitoring and assessment of practices and developing collegiate learning as well as a collaborative culture. 

The overall research approach in the study is qualitative and the main source of material consists of interview data, complemented with documents describing the tools of the preschools’ systematic quality work. Ten preschool managers have been interviewed, four of them in pairs. The preschool managers’ management teams have also been interviewed but that data is not reported in this paper. The interviews were carried out on site at the different preschools around Sweden.

The preschools are situated in municipalities of different sizes, ranging from bigger towns to smaller commuting villages. The interviewed preschool managers are experienced and educated for the task at hand, although not all of them had participated in the national educational programme for school leaders, which is not mandatory for Swedish preschool managers. The interview guide was built upon the earlier mentioned components: frames/preconditions, processes, results, which emanate from the so called frame factor theory (Lundgren, 1972; 1989). Examples of questions/themes from the interview guide are:

Preconditions: General: (external conditions; proportion of educated staff; grouping of children et cetera). Internal: Describe how the systematic quality work is organised in the preschool (quality groups; responsibility, ”key persons” et cetera).

Processes: What long-term strategies do you as a preschool manager use in the systematic quality work? What are the motives? What are your expectations on the staff’s systematic quality work and its impact on daily work? What concrete leader actions are used in the systematic quality work?

Results: Do you have examples on how the leadership leads to collegiate learning among the staff? Can you give examples on how the general governance of the systematic quality work from the municipality influence your leadership?

Each interview lasted approximately 60-70 minutes and was recorded with a dictation machine. All the preschool managers had allotted time for the interviews and the themes/questions seemed to contribute to an open dialogue and room for alternative perspectives. This is important as the study is qualitative in nature and designed to create material that is as rich and personally coloured as possible (cf. Cohen, Lawrence, and Morrison 2000 ). The transcripts of the interviews cover more than 50 pages of text and have been analyzed in several steps both deductively and inductevily. Generic categories, preliminary patterns and new questions that arose were tested interactively (cf. McDonald et al. 2014; Bryman, 2002). 

The results of the empirical analysis will be presented in terms of thematic categories related to the three research questions. Within ongoing analyses it is, for example, obvious that preschool managers use at least three different forms of long-term strategies in the systematic quality work: Long-sightedness through a) organizational solutions (staff allocated to follow-up, evalutation and improvement), b) substantial persistence (for example, recurring important content in the daily work with the children, such as reading aloud), c) systematic use of certain methods/tools in the systematic quality work (cf. replication in science). The results also show that, so far, preschool managers’ expectations on the staff proceed from several perspectives related to for example a) the content of the preschool teachers’ work and their cognitive approach view of children, values, engagement et cetera, b) different actions from the preschool manager (relational actions, formal actions, feed back et cetera). These results will in turn be related to the question of the knowledge gap around the improvement work among the staff in terms of different leader actions for different knowledge levels. When it comes to the overall governance of the systematic quality work in the preschool and how it influence preschool managers leadership that will be discussed in light of the well known concepts top-down, and bottom up (cf. Fullan, 1994; Hopkins et.al., 2014). The preliminary results show that preschool managers handle the governance in an independent way, but at the same time they need a balance between top down and bottom up strategies from the superior level to create a meaningful discussion around quality on their own preschool.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
National Category
Educational Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-67924OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-67924DiVA: diva2:1140591
Conference
ECER-konferensen 2017 Köpenhamn
Available from: 2017-09-12 Created: 2017-09-12 Last updated: 2017-09-12

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