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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