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Crossing Boundaries: A Qualitative Exploration of Relational Leadership in Three Full-Service Community Schools


by Mavis G. Sanders — 2018

Background/Context: Full-service community schools provide comprehensive and coordinated resources and supports to meet the complex needs of children and families in low-income communities. Given their intentional focus on expanded networks of school, family, and community stakeholders, full-service community schools are particularly useful contexts for studying leadership strategies that facilitate cross-boundary collaboration.

Focus of Study: Drawing from the literature on three interrelated concepts—cross-boundary leadership, relational leadership, and relational trust—this study examines principal leadership practices in three full-service community schools.

Setting: The study took place in an urban school district in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States and included three full-service community schools—one elementary school and two secondary schools. The three full-service community schools were purposefully selected to provide both a range and depth of insights.

Research Design: Consistent with a constructivist perspective, this qualitative, multiple case study was designed to understand conditions influencing the effectiveness of full-service community schools from the perspectives of those involved in their development, implementation, and use.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data collection included semistructured interviews, school observations, and document review. Triangulation of data sources and methods helped to generate a more nuanced account of the principals’ leadership practices. Data analysis was an iterative process, including both inductive and deductive strategies.

Findings: The focal principals, to varying degrees, used three relational leadership strategies—active engagement with diverse stakeholders, facilitation of stakeholder interaction, and purposive selection of faculty and staff—to build and maintain collaborative school cultures; attract partnerships that provided services and supports to students, families, teachers, and community members; and garner political support and funding for continued implementation of the full-service community school model in the district. At each school, the principals were also called on to address conflicts that threatened the collaborative environments they sought to create. Their success in doing so influenced both stability and trust within the case schools.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study underscores the need for a continued focus on relational practices in school leadership programs and research, specifically on strategies to build the interpersonal relationships and organizational conditions that are critical for cross-boundary collaboration and to effectively manage interactor conflicts.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 4, 2018, p. 1-
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22044, Date Accessed: 9/24/2017 10:34:02 PM

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About the Author
  • Mavis Sanders
    University of Maryland, Baltimore County
    E-mail Author
    MAVIS G. SANDERS, professor of education and affiliate professor in the doctoral program in language, literacy, and culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), has authored numerous publications on how schools and districts develop and scale up school, family, and community partnership programs; the effects of home, school, and community collaboration on African American adolescents’ school success; and community engagement in schools. Her current research, funded by the Spencer Foundation, examines the role of principal and teacher leadership in restructuring learning opportunities for low-income students through full-service community schools. Recent articles include “Transforming Educational Experiences in Low-Income Communities: A Qualitative Case Study of Social Capital in a Full-Service Community School” (in American Educational Research Journal with Claudia Galindo and Yolanda Abel) and “Leadership, Partnerships, and Organizational Development: Exploring Components of Effectiveness in Three Full-service Community Schools” (in School Effectiveness and School Improvement).
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