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Holistic School Leadership: Development of Systems Thinking in School Leaders


by Haim Shaked & Chen Schechter — 2018

Background: Systems thinking is a holistic approach that puts the study of wholes before that of parts. It does not try to break systems down into parts in order to understand them; instead, it focuses attention on how the parts act together in networks of interactions.

Purpose: This study explored the development of holistic school leadership—an approach where principals lead schools through the systems thinking concept and procedures—over principals' different career stages, a topic that has received little research attention.

Research Design: Qualitative data were collected via 82 semistructured interviews, six focus groups, and 27 observations of three groups of principals: (a) prospective principals—24 students attending three principal preparation programs; (b) novice principals—follow-up on 11 prospective principals during their first year after appointment; and (c) experienced principals—eight principals holding that position for 5+ years. Data analysis was conducted by generating themes through an inductive process of condensing, coding, categorizing, and theorizing.

Findings: Data analysis indicated that the development of systems thinking in school leaders consists of five stages: (1) preservice stage, typified by an expansion of view; (2) survival stage, typified by a slowdown in the development of systems thinking; (3) consolidation stage, typified by a gradual development of systems thinking; (4) role maturity stage, typified by a systemic view; and (5) possible decline stage, typified by some degree of difficulty to think systemically.

Conclusions: Systems thinking is not equally applicable to aspiring, novice, midcareer, and veteran school principals. This study's findings may help identify ways to enhance and accelerate the development of systems thinking in prospective and currently performing principals in a way that is compatible with the unique features and context of their specific stage.

Keywords: systems thinking, school principals, educational leadership, career development, career stages



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 2, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21964, Date Accessed: 9/26/2017 10:27:15 AM

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About the Author
  • Haim Shaked
    Bar Ilan University
    E-mail Author
    HAIM SHAKED is a lecturer at the graduate program of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, School of Education, Bar-Ilan University, as well as at several colleges of education in Israel. He was a school principal for 17 years. His research areas include systems thinking in school leadership, education reform, instructional leadership, and educational policy. His book Holistic School Leadership: Systems Thinking for Educational Leaders (coauthor: Prof. Chen Schechter) will be published this year by Springer.
  • Chen Schechter
    Bar Ilan University
    E-mail Author
    CHEN SCHECHTER, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, School of Education, Bar-Ilan University, Israel. His research areas include education reform, organizational learning, educational leadership, system thinking, and qualitative research methods. His book Holistic School Leadership: Systems Thinking for Educational Leaders (coauthor: Dr. Haim Shaked) will be published this year by Springer.
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