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Developing a Profiling Tool Using a Values Approach to School Renewal

by Raymond Brown, Deborah Heck, Donna Pendergast, Harry Kanasa & Ann Morgan - 2018

Purpose: The purpose of this article is to outline the evidence-based development of a learning approach to school renewal that employs information from key members of a school community (teachers, parents, students) to promote school-based discussions about school renewal.

Setting: The study took place in an independent system of Catholic schools. Schools in this tradition have an enduring history in the development of Catholic education and have partner schools in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, India, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

Research Design: The study employed a qualitative sociocultural design focused on generating narratives that could be used to describe the school as a community of practice and the development of a valid and reliable School Renewal Profiling Tool (SRPT) that provides an empirical picture of a school’s culture and practice.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data collection included school visitations, classroom observations, in-depth interviews, and publicly available school documentation and data gathered from a case study site, a coeducational secondary college located in the center of a metropolitan city. Data collected were subjected to thematic analysis and principal components analysis (PCA). Data gathered from the SRPT items were then presented to the school community in the form of a collated report for feedback and school renewal purposes.

Findings: Findings suggest that the SRPT has the potential to capture local ways of knowing and doing as resources to promote organizational school renewal through reflecting individual perceptions of participation in collective practice.

Conclusions: The research surrounding the development of the SRPT contributes to the field of school renewal in two distinct ways. First, the development of the SRPT offers an approach to school renewal that focuses on the values upon which a school community is based. Second, the SRPT avoids the difficulty of what Fielding (2004) refers to as “speaking about and for others,” where the original thoughts of respondents are couched in the language and values of the researcher.


School renewal with the agenda to achieve higher student outcomes is a feature of contemporary times. In their report, How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better, Mourshed, Chijioke, and Barber (2010) outline how 20 education systems around the world improved their performance. They point to the complexity of school renewal, noting that starting points are different, contexts are unique, choices are vast and there is no formula for making decisions along the way. More recently, in 2015 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a report investigating the effectiveness of reform in education. This investigation of more than 450 reforms over 8 years in OECD countries revealed that in order to be effective, reforms need to be “designed around students and learning, build teachers’ capacity, and engage all stakeholders” (OECD, 2015, p. 2). In this study we identify that school renewal is embedded in changes that take place in school and classroom cultures at the level of beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviors (Cavanagh & Waugh, 2004). This is in contrast to the notion of school reform developed around the replication of whole school approaches to management and instruction that focus on accountability measures informed by policy, practice, and research, seeking to identify measures of school effectiveness and improvement (Comber & Nixon, 2009). This accountability metric approach to school reform is located in a paradigm that views learning as an individual activity that is measurable through standardized performance measures (see Bowen, Rose, & Ware, 2006). Important as this approach may be, it is insufficient to bring about school renewal (Peck, Gallucci, Sloan, & Lippincott, 2009) which we argue requires individual learning to be viewed as both process and product of participation in cultural practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991). A sociocultural approach to school renewal focuses on individual and collective participation in the practices within social and cultural contexts while the school reform agenda is focused on individual and collective accountability (Villegas & Lucas, 2002). The shift from a school reform toward a school renewal approach provides fertile theoretical ground for developing a values based approach to school renewal.

The purpose of this article is to outline the development of an approach to school renewal that is based on a sociocultural notion of mediated practice. A participatory approach was used where practices such as those associated with the collective enterprise of learning are viewed as being mediated by tools that bridge the private and public as well as the individual and the collective divide (Harré, 1984). In order to do this we position the knowledge and practices of the community as being resources for learning that inform renewal (Brown & Duguid, 1991). The work was conducted in the context of a faith-based school system and hence was informed by a commitment to a charter of values referred to as the Charter, a proclamation of values that guide the vision and mission of each school within the system.


The study took place in an independent system of Catholic schools. Schools in this tradition have an enduring history in the development of Catholic education in Australia. Over the years many schools originally founded in this tradition have amalgamated with other schools, been handed over to the Church or have closed. Schools in this tradition seek to build a relationship with other Catholic schools that see their mission in association with their Charter. Schools with no historical link to the Charter but which desire a connection to this tradition of schooling are included through Association. Associate schools are invited to participate in formation and other programs offered by schools in this tradition and have access to publications and resources. Schools in this tradition have partner schools in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, India, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. They also offer a flexible education for young people disengaged and disenfranchised from the mainstream education system who are diverse in terms of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and geographical location.

This system of education, in 2014, consisted of 48 mainstream schools enrolling over 35,000 students through all states and territories of Australia. In addition to these mainstream schools, there were 14 alternative education schools providing young people with an opportunity to re-engage in education in a flexible and supported learning environment. One school site within this system of schooling engaged in the piloting and development of the SRPT (School Renewal Profiling Tool). A further seven sites engaged with the SRPT as a means to access data from students, parents, and teachers for the purpose of school renewal.


An understanding of the culture of an organization within a system of education, that is, the physical (e.g., location), psychological (e.g., morale), and institutional (e.g., beliefs) attributes of a school (see Lezotte, Hathaway, Miller, Passalacqua, & Brookover, 1980), may be supported through gaining a public representation of the organization from teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders (Clifford, Menon, Gangi, Condon, & Hornung, 2012). The place of such a public representation in a model of participatory learning may be achieved through making explicit elements of the Vygotskian space model as they might be envisioned in Wenger’s (1998) model of social learning.

Harré (1984) provided a framework, the Vygotskian space, that has been used to characterize how individual development is achieved through collective practice (Harré, 1984), and to trace individual and collective participation in social processes related to professional development (Gallucci, 2008). The Vygotskian space incorporates dimensions that encompass individual and collective practice within the realm of the private and public. This model provides a way of looking at phases of learning as a process where cultural practices are appropriated by individuals, internalized through the lens of individual needs, and then made public in ways that can be appropriated by others (Galluci, 2008).

This approach allows us to view learning in an holistic sense, as being cyclical and evolutionary, as being both cumulative and transactional, and fulfills the purpose of being a model of individual learning (Galluci, 2008; Harré, 1984). Through exploring the learning process as represented by Harré and Galluci we realized that this model would be sufficient for an acquisition approach to learning, however for a participatory approach to learning, we needed to open the Vygotskian space (see Vygotsky, 1987) to include the relationship between the collective and the private; the private and the individual; and the individual and the public.

One way of interpreting the mediation of the personal and the public is provided through Wertsch and Rupert’s (1993) account of mediated agency. The notion of mediated agency extends Vygotsky’s “general genetic law of cultural development” and revolves around the “irreducible tension” manifested between a person on the one hand and the mediational means that he/she employs to have access to a more public other (Wertsch & Rupert, 1993, p. 230). Through interpreting the relationship between the personal and the public in terms of mediated agency, Wertsch and Rupert position the personal within systems of collective activity that are culturally and historically situated. From this point of view, issues which affect the sociocultural organization of a collective such as schooling (e.g., issues related to power and authority, membership and identity, consensus and diversity, and commitments which privilege certain ways of thinking and acting) are seen as essential aspects of personal functioning within the public sphere. A key theoretical claim of mediated agency is, therefore, that personal action within the public domain is fundamentally shaped by mediational means.

In terms of the Vygotskian space as proposed by Harré (1984), a practice such as schooling may elicit a few personal items of information such as the name of a school, teacher, personal experience, or favorite subject, from a person not publicly involved with a school community. However, mention the term schooling to a practicing teacher and one may experience a very long account of that person’s recall of factual and affectual information relating to his or her experience of schooling. For Vygotsky, this phenomenon of recall is explained by the sociohistorical evolution of the meaning and sense of the practice of schooling, that is, as a practice such as schooling passes through a teacher’s enculturation it absorbs all the diversity contained within the contents of its experience and the public situations in which the person experienced those contents. Thus, after time, the practice of schooling may come to be equated by the teacher with an entire education collective and with the feelings this collective evokes. Hence, for a person who is a practicing teacher, the practice of schooling becomes a powerful cultural tool that influences his or her membership within a school community. It is in this way that a cultural practice may be appropriated, internalized and made public. In order to explore further a participation approach to learning we turned to Wenger (1998) and his description of a social theory of learning to provide a lexicon for the reformulation of a Vygotskian framework in light of the gaps identified, an approach that would provide a mechanism for exploring participatory learning within the collective practices of an organization.

Wenger’s notion of community of practice offers a framework for understanding participatory interactions and engagement in educational communities of practice. Gaining insights into how culture and practice in school communities can be renewed, requires that diverse perspectives from a range of stakeholders including teachers, parents, and students are included. As diverse perspectives are given consideration regardless of whether they belong to stakeholders whose participation is central or peripheral (Wenger, 1998), shared meaning can be cultivated. The exploration of divergent responses between participant groups creates space for dialogic reflective processes that offer opportunities to create new learning and shared meaning. By considering diverse and at times conflicted perspectives of those within the community, the responses of all stakeholders are validated. This approach complements other Vygotskian space perspectives that acknowledge the influence between parties as being multidirectional rather than unidirectional (Del Rio & Alvarez, 2007; Goos, Galbraith, & Renshaw, 2002; Harland, 2003), thus reinforcing the value of different kinds of participatory engagement. While such processes may not resolve differential power dynamics, they offer processes that make room for a range of participatory responses to make power dynamics more visible.

The SRPT offers the possibility for members to address unequal power dynamics typically inherent in their school communities, by giving voice to those who are often overlooked. By highlighting statistically significant differences between responses from different stakeholder groups, the tool offers an opportunity to explore and understand what such differences mean within the community. Trying to understand the reasons for different perspectives rather than highlighting who or what is right or wrong provides the opportunity for informed and meaningful dialogic interactions. Such interactions have the potential to shape the renewal of culture within the school community in constructive and participatory ways. These processes can make more visible inherent power dynamics within school communities of practice.

The concept of community of practice has been described as “a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time” and as being “an intrinsic condition for the existence of knowledge” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 98). As such, this notion is concerned with the learning that people negotiate themselves, that mediates their work, and that connects to membership in other communities of practice (Wenger, 1998). In other words, communities of practice are about people engaging in practices mediated by social processes that produce agreed upon public representations of knowing and doing. Learning, therefore, results from engagement in social contexts and is mediated by ways of knowing, doing and valuing that are culturally situated. In this process personal meaning is shared and made public in a context of relationships to others, to activity, and to the world and may be transformed over time to show both congruence with and critique of the collective ways of knowing, doing and valuing (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

The four constructs of identity, practice, meaning, and community are the essential components of Wenger’s social theory of learning. These four essential components of Wenger’s model are defined in relation to learning in the following ways: identity (learning as becoming); practice (learning as doing); meaning (learning as experience); and community (learning as belonging) (1998, p. 5). In the development of the SRPT, the intersection of the four components of the community of practice model, provided a lens to understand and explore shared meaning-making processes. This occurred as diverse and multiple stakeholder perspectives were invited and considered as valid contributions to inform the renewal of the learning community. Thus, profiling is identified here as a mechanism for developing individual or group profiles that allow, in this instance, school communities to identify patterns in increasingly large data sets that support the discernment of information and the construction of knowledge into formats that can be understood by the community (Hildebrandt, 2008). This notion of profiling provides a way of refocusing the dimensions of personal, collective, private, and public learning within a theory that identifies meaning-making, community, identity, and practice. For our study, this sociocultural theoretical lens underpins our learning approach to school renewal and facilitated the design of a research approach that explored participatory learning within the collective practices of an organization that led to the development of the SRPT.

In its design and development, the SRPT not only reflects the community of practice dimensions of meaning-making, community, identity, and practice, but also the limitations of these dimensions as may be played out in a school community. For example, the SRPT is comprised of three surveys aligned with the language of teachers, parents, and students to recognize the network of communities that make up a school community. The SRPT has been designed to be responded to anonymously, online, thus recognizing the power differential of the diverse groups that make up the school. Finally, the SRPT has been designed with the expectation that it may be provided to school communities on a regular basis (every 2 to 3 years), thereby recognizing the ever changing nature of a school community and the evolving forms of participation within it.

The SRPT speaks to instructional models such as the productive pedagogies (Lingard et al., 2001) and a pedagogy of ethical care (Noddings, 2003), and forms the basis on which to design and reflect upon values and other cultural tools within a framework of school renewal. The productive pedagogies framework was developed and used as part of a whole system reform process which set out to improve the teaching and learning effectiveness of classrooms in Queensland, Australia through the implementation of the model to guide teacher practice. The framework consists of the following four dimensions that collectively are intended to draw attention to important elements of effective and intellectually challenging learning: intellectual quality; connectedness; supportive classroom environment; and valuing and working with difference. The need to develop tools which provide schools with a means of self-reflection is given currency by the OECD in Education Policy Outlook 2015: Making Reforms Happen, which states: “Effective school self-evaluation contributes to school improvement and is not simply an exercise in compliancy” (2015, p. 131).

The SRPT is an online survey that is not designed to solve problems associated with school renewal; instead, the tool provides the groundwork for school communities to self-identify and develop their own solutions to challenges that limit the capacity of school communities to engage in meaningful school renewal. This can be achieved by the SRPT providing empirical data from individuals to create a collective view of what the school values. This collective view then provides an opportunity for a conversation between stakeholders to change or consolidate existing initiatives or to identify the need for new initiatives, and provides a mechanism for ongoing data collection and reflection. Data are provided through stakeholder (student, parent, teacher) responses to 54 Likert type items that employ a four point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree.

In the following sections of this article we firstly outline the process employed for the collection of school observations that led to the development of school narratives that formed the basis of the design of the SRPT items, secondly, we outline the process that led to the collation of school narratives and their translation into items that suit the needs of audience stakeholders, and thirdly we outline the process used to examine the relative fit of the items with the conceptual model that informed its development. Finally, we examine the construct validity of the SRPT with respect to stakeholders’ perceptions about the school community. We conclude by discussing the implications of our results for the practice of school renewal.


This research was designed to fulfill two methodological aims. First, to generate narratives that tell the story of a school’s practices that could be used to describe the school as a community of practice. Second, to develop a valid and reliable SRPT that provides an empirical picture of the school culture and practice. In order to achieve the first aim, the research undertook school visitations, classroom observations, and in-depth interviews, and studied publicly available school documentation to gain a rich description of individual and public representations of eight school sites (three mainstream and five alternative education schools) representative of the geographical, economic, and student diversity of the independent system of schools that partnered in the research. These forms of data collection have been used successfully by Lave and Wenger (1991) to describe a variety of communities of practice, by Gallucci (2008) to observe the links between professional learning and organizational support, and by Gutiérrez and Stone (2002) to tell the stories of different communities of practice.


In sociocultural terms, meaning is co-constructed; therefore, research cannot simply look at one aspect of a school, for example, the school vision statement. Instead it must look at the culture of the school as expressed in classrooms, school grounds, staffrooms, and other collective spaces. In order to facilitate this co-construction of meaning, an observational schedule that related to school culture was developed. This schedule was developed using the categories of the Charter that guided practice in the independent system of Catholic schools being observed. The Charter is a proclamation of values that must be demonstrated in the accreditation process of this independent school system. It identifies 11 value categories that together form a values framework. Each category is accompanied by descriptors that identify the value in a school setting. This framework speaks to the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs [MCEETYA], 2008) and encapsulates the values for Australian schooling, as expressed in the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools (Australian Government, 2005). Thus, a study of the Charter was considered by the system of independent schools to be highly significant for their purposes of school renewal at this time. It is also argued by researchers such as Halstead and Taylor (2000) that a communal approach that reflects on values as lived in communal contexts can be an effective means of bringing about school renewal. The categories of the Charter related to Teaching, Spirituality, Community, and Justice. These categories were further subdivided into subcategories with descriptors and rating scales to facilitate the observation process (see Table 1 and Figure 1).

Table 1. Categories, Subcategories, and Sample Descriptors Developed for Observational Schedule

Observation Categories

Observation Subcategories

Sample Descriptor for Each Subcategory


Holistic education

Integrated development occurs through quality teaching and learning.

Provides a curriculum attentive to the needs of each person. (attentive to individual needs)



Each person’s story is unique and sacred.

Nurtures and encourages the spirituality of each person. (individual spirituality)

Faith in action

Each person is called to respond out of a personal relationship with God.

Fostering a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. (emphasis on the personal relationship with God)

Pastoral care

The dignity of each person as a child of God is at the heart of pastoral care.

Acknowledges the dignity of all its members, each formed in the image of God. (Dignity)

Reflective practice

Reflective practice leads to personal and communal growth.

Actively encourages all its members – teachers, staff and students – to reflect on the contemporary world in the light of the Gospel. (reflection on contemporary world issues)



Each person is called to respond to community.

Quality of personal relationships. (relational community)


Compassion is central to the life and teaching of Jesus.

Fosters in its members the mind and heart of our founder, who acted with compassion. (fosters compassion)

At the margins

Seeks out the marginalised.

Stands in solidarity with those who are powerless and marginalised. (recognition and support for the marginalised)


Being just

Justice is integral to the vision of the Kingdom.

Acts justly. This is reflected consistently in structures and processes. (acting justly)

Service of others

Service of others is integral to being a follower of Jesus.

Promotes service of others, by way of significant learning experiences, as basic to fulfilling a Christian life. (promotes service to others)


God’s gifts are to be shared justly and used wisely.

Acknowledges the traditional relationship of indigenous peoples with the land. (acknowledges historical foundations)

As can be seen in Table 1, the categories, subcategories, and descriptors were tailored to the context of the Catholic system of schools being observed. Figure 1 provides the observational sheet used for the subcategory holistic education. This observational sheet is typical of the format used for recording the observation of each of the subcategories.

Figure 1. Observational Sheet Used for the Subcategory Holistic Education


Focus totally on individual student results


No evidence of holistic education within the classroom; no positive recognition of difference and group identities; and no support for the development of difference and group identities. Students are all treated as individuals among a homogeneous group of learners (within the expectations of the school).

Focus is on fixing students and making them fit with the expectations of the school


Limited evidence of holistic education exists within the classroom; no positive recognition of difference and group identities; and no support for the development of difference and group identities. Students are all treated as a homogenous group with student difference identified for students to self correct.

Focus is on student difference and making those differences fit the expectations of the school


Some evidence of holistic education exists within the classroom; some recognition of difference and group identities; and limited support for the development of difference and group identities to meet school expectations. Student differences are recognised as needing to be changed to meet school expectations with limited staff support.

Focus is on student difference and taking those differences into account when implementing the expectations of the school


There is a strong sense of holistic education within the classroom; positive recognition of difference and group identities; and limited support for the development of difference and group identities. Student differences are recognised and occasionally taken into account using a limited range of pedagogical approaches.

Focus is on student difference and taking those differences into account when designing the expectations of the school


There is a strong sense of holistic education within the classroom; positive recognition of difference and group identities; and a supportive environment for the production of difference and group identities. Student differences are recognised and always taken into account in multiple ways using a wide range of pedagogical approaches.

As can be seen in Figure 1, each observational sheet presented a score from 1 to 5 with 1 representing no evidence of the subcategory being observed and 5 representing strong evidence of the subcategory being observed. Observers were required to independently score their observations in each category and come together to provide evidence for their score and to agree on the best score that represented the observations in that category for a particular observation session. Observations were conducted by at least two independent researchers at any one time in places where participants felt comfortable having their interactions observed. This enabled interrater reliability for these data sets (Syed & Nelson, 2015). Each observation lasted for approximately the length of a school event (e.g., observations of lessons usually lasted for 40 minutes, observations of school assemblies usually lasted for 15 minutes). Observations occurred over the duration of two school days at each site and numbered approximately six at each site. Every effort was made at each site to observe a mathematics/numeracy lesson, an English/literacy lesson, a social studies/religion lesson, a school assembly, a staff meeting/gathering, and playground interactions. A total of 54 observations were made across eight school sites. The observational schedule used by researchers and the method adopted to record observations ensured that students’ experiences at the classroom level (e.g., a math lesson) and at the school level (e.g., playground interactions) informed the development of the school narratives which, in turn, informed the development of the SRPT.

Observations at the eight school sites also included in-depth interviews to gain a rich description of the life of the school. Interview questions were designed to relate to the observational schedule. This schedule situated the interview questions (see Figure 2 for a sample of questions used) within broad categories relating to Teaching, Spirituality, Community, and Justice. The schedule allowed questions to be asked according to the context of the school that was being observed, thus allowing the story of the interviewees to be told while ensuring that information was provided to assist in explicating the similarities and differences across school contexts. Interviews were conducted by researchers in places where interviewees felt comfortable telling their story. Each interview lasted for approximately 30 minutes, was audio recorded and was transcribed for analysis. Every attempt was made to interview the teachers of the lessons observed, a member of the leadership team, and a member of the support team at each school site. This resulted in a total of 37 interviews across the eight school sites.

Figure 2. Sample of Interview Questions for Staff at School Sites


Sample questions


How does teaching and learning relate to what you do at this school?

Can you explain how you work with students in terms of teaching and learning?


How does caring relate to what you do with young people at this school?

Can you tell me something that explains how this works at this school?


How are people’s lives valued at this school?

Can you tell me how this valuing works at this school?


How are issues of difference and diversity addressed at this school?

Can you tell me something that explains how issues that cause tensions are dealt with at this school?

Data gathered from observations and interviews, along with interrogations of school web sites, contributed to the development of school narratives that were shared with the respective school site. In authoring each school narrative, a coherent process was followed. After the school site visit, a debriefing meeting was held where the research team explored the data set including the observational schedule and data gathered from observations, interviews, and the school website. The research team then came together to author a draft of the school narrative. This narrative was based upon and contained summary analyses of data sets relating to the broad categories of the school’s charter: Teaching, Spirituality, Community, and Justice. In accordance with Lietz, Langer, and Furman (2006), the trustworthiness of the data was ensured through a process of triangulation by observer, peer debriefing, and member checking. The first draft of the narrative was labeled the researcher story. The team then worked together to develop a PowerPoint display that could be shared with the school leadership. This draft of the narrative contained summaries of de-identified data and provided an opportunity to member check prior to the development of the second narrative, the shared story. A hard copy of the PowerPoint display was provided to the school leadership team for reflection and deliberation. Feedback from the school leadership team was then used to check the trustworthiness of what was stated in the researcher story to develop the shared story. The shared story draft was considered trustworthy because it attended to research rigor through researcher reflexivity, triangulation of data sources and observers, and member checking with the school site leadership team.

The revised shared story was presented to the staff of the school in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. Hard copies of this draft of the narrative were also made available. Feedback was provided by staff in the form of responses to an anonymous questionnaire. This questionnaire asked staff to provide concrete examples of what the school does well, what the school can improve now, and what the school can improve in the future. These responses were collated and informed a final draft of the school narrative that was presented to the school and to its governing body for professional development purposes. This final phase added further opportunities for developing the rigor of this research, evidenced by the audit trail established through the different versions of the story, researcher reflexivity, triangulation of data sources, and member checking with the whole school staff. It must be noted that the school narratives were not checked with students or parents due to an expressed desire by schools to release the narratives to students and parents for comment as part of a system wide school renewal process. Such requests were deemed by the researchers to be acceptable in the light of the purpose of the research, namely, to inform the further development of the SRPT, and in terms of the maintenance of a productive trust relationship between researchers and users of the research.

In summary, the authoring of the school narrative involved three stages. The first focused on school administrators who assisted researchers in filling in the gaps in the story in relation to the culture of their school. Second, this revised story was shared with staff at professional development days for the purpose of member checking the perceptions revealed in the narrative. This member checking involved each staff member being presented with the school narrative and then responding to this presentation by anonymously completing a feedback questionnaire. Thirdly, the responses from the staff feedback questionnaire were collated and informed a final draft of the school narrative that was presented to schools for professional development purposes. Each narrative presented aspects of the life and culture of the school under the headings of the subcategories presented in Table 1. These stories were then interpreted through the lens provided by Sultmann and Brown (2011) as outlined below.


Through conducting research on the identity dimensions of the Catholic school, key organizational dimensions of the dynamic life of a Catholic school were identified (see also Sultmann and Brown, 2011). These were nominated as interdependent pillars and incorporated aspects of Faith, Learning, Leadership, Formation and Community. These pillars provide a lens through which to integrate data related to specific elements of identity, their connectivity as subsystems, and their interdependence. The pillars also provided a framework in which to situate the Charter of the faith-based school system in which the research was conducted. The summary of perspectives gained from within and across strategic pillars invites the elaboration of a definitional perspective of identity that can be used to promote discussions about a school’s vision and mission. To ensure that the research reported in this article was of use to schools beyond the Catholic system, Sultmann and Brown’s (2011) pillars were extended through a consideration of a wide range of Australian and international documentation such as the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEECTYA, 2008) and the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 1994). This process resulted in the development of the profiling tool organizational categories. Each of these categories was defined based on the literature, observation data, development of the stories for each of the sites, and national and international policy documents and literature. This process resulted in the initial Sultmann and Brown (2011) ideas being reconceptualized within this study. The main point of difference was the reconceptualization of the notion of faith from the Sultmann and Brown work into the broader term culture.

The term culture is defined in this research as symbolic and materially constituted social inheritance, embodied in language and social practices, of a social group (Cole, 2010). The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1998) highlights the significance of the relationship between faith and culture in the life of the Catholic school. According to this papal document, it is the Catholic school’s mission, and by implication the task of school renewal, to support a mission that is prophetic, is responsive to the signs of the times through dialogue, recognizes the relationship between formation and experience, values the ministry of teachers, and is faithful to the tradition of integrating faith with life as culture is experienced. Thus, it may be stated that faith within the context of the Catholic school is expressed through the culture of the school community, that is, the symbolic and materially constituted social inheritance of the community as embodied in language and social practice (Sultmann & Brown, 2016). For this reason, the research team was comfortable with using the term culture instead of faith in the design of the SRPT. In considering the development of a tool that has the ability for application across different sectors of schooling, culture as a term allowed for each site to identify the approach to culture that is most appropriate for renewal to be considered. Table 2 provides a comparison of the pillars of Catholic school identity as defined by Sultmann and Brown (2011) and the categories of the SRPT as interpreted by the researchers.

Table 2. Comparison of Sultmann and Brown (2011) Categories With Those Developed for the SRPT

Sultmann and Brown (2011)

SRPT Categories

Faith - Faith tradition which shapes and nurtures the interdependent pillars of the Catholic school.

Culture - The thoughts and behaviours of its members; its attitudes, values, beliefs and world views; how members communicate this to one another and the outside world; how the community operates on a daily, term and yearly basis to fulfill its purpose and celebrate its successes.

Learning - Learning which is holistic through the integration of faith, life and culture.

Teaching and Learning - The teaching and learning that occurs in this community is holistic through the integration of life and culture. There is an emphasis on teacher-learner relationships and on the tools of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment that develop authentic, dynamic and creative learning communities. Explores formal and informal curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

Community - Community facilitation and sharing of the movement of the Spirit through people, relationships, rituals and structures.

Community - The community is expressed through the culture and learning that develops personal competencies within social frameworks that foreground the needs of the collective.

Leadership - Leadership as Christian praxis centred in service and communion and encompassing relevant competencies.

Leadership - Leadership is evidenced within the relationships, rituals and structures of the community for the purpose of the ongoing development of an inclusive learning culture centred on justice, stewardship and service to others.

Formation - Formation through engagement with “story” encompassing “head,” “heart” and “hand” processes in support of progressive transformation in Christ.

Formation - a process where the community collectively engages with their story of culture and learning for the purposes of restoration and transformation.

Integration - Integration processes which align, empower and engage a Spirit of meaning, service and presence.

Integration (Final Questions) - the process that aligns or engages leadership or formation with culture, learning and community for the purpose of enacting the culture and learning of the community.

As can be seen in Table 2, the revised categories provide a framework that can be used to provide insights into the cultural, social, organizational, and pedagogical dimensions of a school. These insights can be used by interested members of a school community to initiate and inform discussions about school renewal. To ensure that insights could be gathered in an informed, systematic, and rigorous manner, the development of the SRPT went through a three-phase process.


In order to ensure that the development of the SRPT was consistent with national and international values frameworks, a whole-day meeting was held with an international human rights advocate, education system administrators, school principals, teachers, and the research team. The agenda for the meeting revolved around the following questions: What should the profiling tool do? What should it look like? and What must the profiling tool be? These questions were chosen because they reflect the theoretical framework upon which the research is based. Namely, the question What should the profiling tool do? has the potential to focus participants’ attention on not only the needs of the collective system of education but also on the needs of the individual school. What should it look like? has the potential to focus attention on eliciting the participation of all members of the school community: administrators, teachers, students, parents, and youth workers. What must the profiling tool do? has the potential to focus attention on a learning-based approach to school renewal. A synopsis of outcomes from the meeting is presented in Table 3.

Table 3. Synopsis of Outcomes From Whole-Day Meeting



What should the profiling tool do?

Engage all members of the school community

Present a sociocultural view of learning

Produce a productive view of each school site

Capture perceptions of difference between policy and practice

Provide feedback on the cultural characteristics of a school

Feed into formation of all members of the school community

What should it look like?

Items to be grouped around categories

Use Likert type scales

Provide space for open ended responses

Able to be completed in a timely fashion

A school community rather than system document

What must it be?


For multiple audiences from different schooling systems

For a diverse range of people displaying diverse levels of literacy


Easy to access

As can be seen from Table 3, the outcomes from the whole-day meeting provided direction to the development of the SRPT, and these directions are in the spirit of the Education Policy Outlook 2015: Making Reforms Happen, an international document that supports the view that “self-evaluation should actively involve and relate to the work of all school staff members” (OECD, 2015, p. 131).

In order to ensure that the SRPT had potential to capture perceptions of difference between policy and practice and be relevant to the formation of all school community members, the school narratives were revisited. This revisiting required each narrative to be analyzed in terms of the cultural characteristics displayed in each narrative text and in terms of the language used to express those characteristics. This analysis was conducted by three members of the research team and resulted in the findings summarized in Table 4.

Table 4. Summary of Findings of Analysis of School Narratives

Type of School

Summary Finding


Alternative Education

That the term “student” be replaced with “young person”

That the term “teacher” be replaced with “worker”

That the term “parent” be replaced with “carer”

That the Sultmann and Brown (2011) category “integration” be deleted

That gender neutral language be used

Coeducational Mainstream

That the terms “teacher,” “student,” and “parent” be retained

That the term “profiling tool” be replaced with “survey”

That the term “integration” be replaced with “final questions”

That gender neutral language be used

Same Sex Mainstream

That the terms “teacher,” “student,” and “parent” be retained

That the term “improve” be replaced with “continue to develop”

That the term “improve teaching and learning” be replaced with “inform teaching and learning”

The summary of findings presented in Table 4 is representative of a school system made up of schools and educational entities that identify with a distinctive faith-based value framework. In the light of this framework, as signified by the system’s charter of values, the research team decided to incorporate the findings into the drafting process of the SRPT and to develop a separate version of the profiling tool for use in the alternative education schools. In order to ensure that the SRPT had the potential to engage multiple audiences with multiple levels of literacy, it was also decided that four versions of the SRPT would be developed for each school site—an administrator version, a teacher version, a student version, and a parent version.

Once these decisions had been made, members of the research team revisited the school narratives, observational data, interview data, and staff feedback data, meeting regularly over a 3-month period to design survey items to populate the SRPT. Items were first written in the language of the researchers and then each item was tailored to meet the perceived needs of key stakeholder groups (administration, teachers, students, and parents). Table 5 provides a breakdown of the number of items per profiling tool category that were developed.

Table 5. Breakdown of the Number of the SRPT Survey Items


Number of Items

Open Written Response

Demographic Information





1 opportunity provided

Teaching and Learning


1 opportunity provided



1 opportunity provided



1 opportunity provided



1 opportunity provided

Final Questions


1 opportunity provided




As can be seen in Table 5, three items gathered demographic information from the survey participants (Gender, Age, Year level [for students], Curriculum Area Taught, [e.g., English, Mathematics], Number of Years Teaching/Working at the School [for staff]). The six items that explored the category Culture focused on philosophy, the differentiation of the curriculum, and communication, with one opportunity being provided for respondents to make their own comment in this category. This opportunity for comment was also provided in each of the other categories. The items exploring teaching and learning focused on pedagogy, lesson content, pastoral care, and the individual needs of students. Items exploring community focused on inclusivity, service learning, resources and engagement, those exploring leadership focused on values, participation, citizenship and behavior management, with those exploring formation focusing on mission, assessment, professional development and reflection. The five items relating to the category Final Questions explored issues related to celebration, social justice, the relevance of what was being taught to students’ lives, and relationships. Table 6 provides a sample of survey items from each category as tailored to the perceived language needs of each stakeholder group.

Table 6. Sample of Survey Items, From Each Category, as Tailored to the Perceived Language Needs of Stakeholder Groups


Administrator Version

Teacher Version

Student Version

Parent Version


School culture requires students to comply with school rules during all school activities.

The school requires students to comply with school rules.

My school makes all students follow rules.

My school makes all students follow rules.

Teaching and Learning

At this education site, staff design all teaching and learning activities to meet the personal, social and aspirational needs of each student.

We design our activities to meet the personal needs and aspirations of our students.

My school work will help me achieve my goals.

My child's school work will help them achieve their goals.


Non-dominant groups are identified in a school community and represented within curriculum and school activities.

The school carefully plans activities that are representative of a range of cultures.

My school celebrates cultural activities related to my background.

The school calendar celebrates activities relevant to my culture.


The school promotes the established view of the school community and justifies that stance in terms of the gospel/philosophical values.

The school has a strong philosophy and vision that has not changed over time.

My school does many things in ways that have not changed for years.

My child's school has a tradition that has not changed over time.


School staff are provided with ongoing prioritised professional development necessary to weave the language of schooling into the everyday language of the student and their families in order to promote equity in learning and the development of student potential.

We have regular planned professional development to ensure we communicate to students and families in everyday language in support of equity and student development.

My teachers talk to me in ways that help me learn.

The teachers at my child's school communicate with me and my family in ways that we can understand and find supportive.

Final Questions

Social justice issues are identified across the curriculum. Action taken to address social justice issues is integrated across the curriculum with service learning programs.

At this school social justice issues are integrated throughout the school curriculum and explicitly focused upon in service learning programs.

At school I learn about problems in the community and I have the opportunity to help.

My child learns about social issues at school and can participate in community service programs.

The sample of survey items presented in Table 6 represents the researchers’ attempts to gain some sense of equivalence in meaning across the four groups of stakeholders. It is appreciated that respondents read questions in terms of their understanding of the world in which they live and the purpose of the interview situation (Braun & Harkness, 2005). However, as determined from the whole-day meeting, the purpose of the profiling tool was never to be an evaluation of a school or education system. Its purpose was to be a device for providing information that could be used to promote discussions about school renewal by key members of a school community (administrators, teachers, students, and parents). Thus, a broad approach to meaning equivalence was afforded in the hope that each stakeholder group would use the open response opportunities to reveal a particular interpretation of an item or a category of items. What was important to the research team was that members of each stakeholder group would see the survey items as being relevant to their experience of the world and engage with the SRPT.


Pilot Study Site Selection/Negotiating Access

An appropriate case study site, a coeducational secondary college located in the center of a metropolitan city, was selected on the basis of the school’s involvement in earlier phases of profiling tool development and the willingness of the school community to engage in the process of data collection to assist in their school renewal efforts. Access to the site was negotiated with the principal, entailing discussions of an appropriate time and location to administer the surveys and the planning of a communication strategy to inform relevant stakeholders. The surveys were made available in equivalent print and online versions. The surveys for the key stakeholder groups were again tailored, in collaboration with the school, in terms of the terminology used to ensure that the profiling items used language that was most familiar within this school’s particular context.

Tool Administration

The tool was made available to the key stakeholder groups (parents, teachers, administrators, and students in Years 8, 10, and 11) in the 10th month of the school year for a period of 2 weeks. In total, 14 parents, 17 teachers and administrators, and 25 students completed online surveys. The mean age of students was 15.8 years (SD=1.2) and ages ranged from 13 to 17 years.

Data Analysis

Data collected were subject to principal components analysis (PCA) for the purpose of refining the survey. Factor analysis as outlined by Pallant (2007) was used to refine the SRPT which comprised six scales (categories) with items ranging in number from 5 to 12. The scales were analyzed using SPSS version 20. Due to the small number of participants, and as the aim was to refine rather than statistically validate, PCA was used to determine the least number of factors that could account for the greatest amount of variance in the data. Kaiser’s criterion (ensuring eigenvalues >1), parallel analysis and scree tests were used to decide on the most appropriate number of factors for further analysis.

While there is controversy about the use of PCA to statistically confirm observations in the social sciences, its use as a method of exploring a data set is fairly widely accepted (Osborne & Costello, 2004, 2009). It is for this purpose that we employed PCA as an analytic tool. Researchers have used sample sizes of 50+ to sufficient effect (see Barrett & Kline, 1981). Small sample sizes in the social sciences are common when researchers are confined by the parameters of their research, for example, the use of convenience sampling (Marshall, 1996). As in the case of the development of the SRPT, sample size was basically determined by the pilot school community in terms of the willingness of individual school community members to participate and in terms of the school’s effectiveness in promoting the research to the school community. It was for these reasons that the research team decided that a sample size of 56 was sufficient to progress the analysis of data using PCA to refine and explore the data set related to the SRPT. The aim was to refine through exploratory PCA rather than validate through confirmatory PCA. The researchers were interested in exploring the dominant patterns in the data set in order to refine the SRPT and to formulate issues to be addressed in further iterations of the SRPT (see Wold, Esbensen, & Geladi, 1987). Once these issues have been dealt with, it is the intention of future research to move to the use of confirmatory factor analysis to see if the SRPT has the same structure across multiple school systems.

In addition to these methods, inspection of the component matrix for values greater than .4 and the pattern matrix for values greater than .3 were used to provide further evidence for the number of factors (Pallant, 2007). For scales with two or more identified factors, the whole process was repeated, but this time forcing the number of factors identified. Factor rotation using the Varimax method was then used to decide which items correlated most strongly with each factor, and inspection of the communality values was used to decide upon items that could be eliminated. Table 7 shows the suitability of all scales to be subjected to PCA.

Table 7. Suitability of Scales Subjected to PCA

Scale (Category)

KMO measure of sampling adequacy

Bartlett’s test of sphericity

Correlations above 0.3




Teaching and Learning












Final Questions



Each scale was further subjected to two rounds of analysis. The first analysis was to determine the number of factors (used interchangeably with components) apparent in each scale. Individual items were assessed for their suitability of inclusion and a recommendation was made as to which items could be removed without adversely affecting the ability of the items to measure that scale. Table 8 presents a summary of the analysis.

Table 8. Summary of Factor Analysis

Scale (Category)

Number of items

Item(s) excluded

Number of factors

Total variance explained









Teaching and Learning



TL4, TL6





















Final Questions






As suggested in Table 8, factor analysis of the six scales (categories) of the profiling tool revealed Culture, Teaching and Learning, Leadership and Formation as having two factors, and Community and Integration (Final Questions) as consisting of single factors. Examination of the commonalities identified the possible removal of two items (TL4, TL6) from Teaching and Learning and a single item (LE1) from Leadership. Examination of the results of an oblimin rotation (Pallant, 2007) of the scales that consisted of two factors revealed which items correlated most strongly with the two factors identified. This analysis allowed the reduction in the number of items of the profiling tool while still maintaining its potential to measure the identified scale and also to reveal the underlying factors (subscales) within each scale. The next step in the process was to reformulate the SRPT in accordance with this analysis.

The reformulated SRPT incorporated a Likert type scale for each item with 4 points (strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree) and a 5th point (not applicable) that could be used by respondents when they felt that the item did not apply to the context of their role within the school. Figure 3 provides a sample of the SRPT for the category Culture, as presented to students. At the end of each SRPT category as represented in Figure 3, respondents were provided with the opportunity to record an open response to their experience of the category, for example, Culture, as perceived in their interactions with the school.

Figure 3. Profiling Tool Items for the Category Culture, as Presented to Students


At the completion of the 2-week period that the profiling surveys were made available, participants’ Likert type scale responses to each survey item were statistically analyzed using SPSS version 20. This analysis revealed little difference in the responses provided by teachers and administrators. In light of this, the data from these two surveys were collapsed and a report generated. The report using the items from the teacher survey as a template was a compilation of the three surveys designed to gather key stakeholder (staff, parents, and students) perceptions. The report stressed that the analysis generated was not intended to be an evaluative means by which schools would be rated in the formal sense but was provided to engage stakeholder groups in evidence-based conversations and discussions about school renewal.

The report consisted of four sections. Section 1 provided demographic information about the participants, numbers of teachers, students, and parents who participated, year level for the students (Grade 8, etc.), disciplinary area of the teachers (mathematics, English, etc.), and gender and year level of the student/s that the parents were referring to. Section 2 presented the compiled data as bar graphs for each of the items in each of the categories (see Figure 4 that shows the bar graph for the category Community).

Figure 4. Bar Graph for the Category Community Using the Teacher Survey as a Template


Note: S=Student Mean, T=Teacher Mean, P=Parent Mean.

As can be seen in Figure 4, the bar graph represents the average rating for all respondents for individual items. These were listed in descending order in each graph. This gives an overall sense of the school community’s perception on each item. The ratings of moderate, high, and very high give a sense of how the school community perceives the school to be performing on each item. It must be noted that the ratings of high, moderate, and low are descriptive of participant agreement levels rather than evaluative terms. For example, the item “This school has a well developed and planned program of service learning” simply provides an opportunity for participants to agree or disagree with the statement. Whether such a practice is valued by participants is something for teachers, students, and parents to comment upon in an open response or to discuss in their conversations about school renewal. The letters represent the average rating for students (S), parents (P), and teachers (T). This gives an overall sense of the perceptions of each stakeholder group. Items with a letter in brackets indicate where perceptions amongst the stakeholder groups (i.e., students, parents, and teachers) differ significantly. For items without a letter, it could be said that stakeholder groups agree with each other on that item. At the bottom of each graph is an explanation of which groups differ significantly in a statistical sense.

Section 2 of the report provided the open-ended responses of participants to the survey in a manner that clustered the responses under the headings: Culture; Teaching and Learning; Community; Leadership; Formation; Final Questions. It was hoped that clustering the open responses in this manner would assist schools in framing their discussions about school renewal in the words of their teachers, students, and parents.


What follows is a descriptive analysis of participant (teacher, student, parent) responses to the survey items. The analysis is informed by participants’ open responses. It should be noted, once again, that ratings of high, moderate, or low refer to agreement levels not to evaluations of practices. The purpose of the analysis of the open responses was twofold. Firstly, to highlight issues that a school might include in conversations with community members about school renewal. For example, in terms of school culture the analysis highlighted that there may be a lack of awareness by students of the school’s ability to plan and consistently communicate the school’s philosophy to families, other schools, and communities. Lack of awareness was also suggested as being an issue for students in the domain of teaching and learning in relation to pastoral care and acknowledgment of cultural backgrounds. Thus, it was hoped that the analysis would encourage school communities to incorporate issues, for example student awareness raising, in future conversations about school renewal. In so doing, it may be said that the analysis provides the school community with the impetus to give students permission to engage in conversations that go beyond the discussion of lunch breaks, discos, and school trips to talk about issues that go to the very heart of school renewal and in so doing to treat students as agents of transformation (Fielding, 2001a). Secondly, the analysis of the open responses from the pilot study sought to inform the further development of the SRPT before being delivered to a larger more representative sample of schools.

While the purpose of the analysis was descriptive, the analytic method addressed three issues of quality and credibility as referred to by Patton (1999). First, the procedure for gathering the open response data was rigorous in that the responses were collected from participants anonymously via an online survey. Second, the responses were analyzed by two researchers who cross-referenced student, teacher, and parent responses with school and classroom observations, school staff interviews collected during Phase 1 of the study, and documentation (e.g., school newsletters) provided by the leadership of the school. Third, researchers engaged in ongoing conversations about particular open responses where there was disagreement about interpretation until agreement was reached. Fourth, initial analyses of open responses were presented to the school leadership, staff, and system authority to check for reasonableness.

It must be noted that the analysis of open responses was not checked with students or parents due to an expressed desire by the school to release the analysis to students and parents for comment as part of a school renewal process. Such a request is not unusual for a school that is accustomed to having the locus of control for change nestled within its leadership structure (Cavanagh & Waugh, 2004). Acceptance of such a request by researchers is acceptable in the light of the purpose of the research, namely, to inform the further development of the SRPT for the purpose of raising issues that the whole school community could engage with in conversations around school renewal, and demonstrates a form of tact necessary to ensure the development of a productive trust relationship between researchers and users of the research (see Morgan & Hunt, 1994). However, the researchers were a central part of the school leadership’s presentation of the report to the school community that included parent and student representatives, and feedback from this event, along with feedback from a presentation made to the schools’ governance board, was used to inform the further development of the SRPT.


Levels of agreement were rated high for two of the six items that referred to culture and rated moderate for the remaining four. There was general agreement among the key stakeholders for three of the six items. Students perceived the school’s ability to plan and consistently communicate the school’s philosophy to families, other schools, and communities as lower than that of both parents and teachers. Inspection of open responses suggests that this may simply be due to a lack of awareness on the part of students, whereas parents and teachers were aware of communications, for example, via staff meetings and school newsletters. Student agreement levels were also lower for the item “We go out of our way to celebrate staff, student and family achievement, diversity and spirituality.” Parents agreed more than students or teachers with the statement that “The same curriculum and support is provided to all students so as to achieve the goals of the school.” Inspection of open responses suggests that parents are generally pleased with the level of support their children receive.


Levels of agreement were rated high for 5 of the 12 items that referred to teaching and learning and rated moderate for the remaining 7. Teachers rated the statements “I model the quality of student work required to achieve the standards”; “I develop lesson and unit plans on the basis of students’ prior understanding of a topic”; and “I often use small group and whole group discussions to build students’ knowledge of a topic” higher than both parents and students. Students agreed less with the statements “Pastoral care is integrated/embedded into all school activities” and “Different cultural backgrounds are acknowledged in school activities and the curriculum” than both parents and teachers who tended not to differ in their views on these two items. Inspection of open responses suggests that this may be an issue of awareness raising with the student body.


Agreement levels were rated moderate to high on one of the nine items that measured community. Students rated “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is evident in curriculum, policy and practice at our school” and “The school makes best use of school and community resources for educational outcomes” lower than both parents and teachers. Students rated “This school has a well developed and planned program of service learning” and “Service learning is part of the curriculum and students are taught how to engage in reflective practice” lower than parents. Open responses suggest that students have a low awareness of issues related to cultural awareness, resources, and service learning. Students rated “The school plans programs that support the development of the school and community” lower than teachers, while teachers rated “The school carefully plans activities that are representative of a range of cultures” higher than both parents and students, who did not differ in their views on this statement. The consistent theme of student perceptions being generally lower than parent and/or teacher perceptions was apparent in the open responses.


Levels of agreement were rated high on five of the nine items that measured leadership and rated moderate for the remaining four. Student agreement levels on “There are a range of support systems to ensure that any child who came to school without the necessities of school life would be catered for”; “Behavior management is based on student development and restoring relationships”; “A range of professional development activities focused on student learning are available to staff”; and “Behavior management is based on students understanding a clear set of consequences for noncompliance” were lower than parental levels.


Agreement levels were rated moderate for all 10 items that referred to formation. Students rated “The Pastoral care program of the school is designed to develop the students so they may reach their full potential as members of the community” lower than parents, and rated “As a school we have set policy and structures that allow us to regularly reflect on our vision and mission” lower than teachers. Students also rated “Through regular planned activities we reflect on school relationships and the life and mission of the school” lower than both parents and teachers. Inspection of open responses suggests that students had minimal understanding of the school’s mission and vision.


Agreement levels rated high on one item out of the five items that referred to this section of the survey with the remaining items being rated moderate. Teachers rated “At this school social justice issues are integrated throughout the school curriculum and explicitly focused upon in service learning programs” significantly higher than both parents and students. Open responses suggest that teachers were aware of the planning that has ensured that social justice is explicitly focused upon in service learning programs. Key stakeholder levels of agreement did not differ on the remaining items.

Following the survey report being sent to the school and with the school’s permission, a presentation of the pilot study was made to the school community and to the board of governance of the system of education that housed the school. Feedback from the school community and from the members of the board was then incorporated into the final phase of the study. The analysis provided the school community with the impetus to voice issues that go to the very heart of school renewal and in so doing to treat students and parents as agents of transformation (Fielding, 2001b).


At the beginning of 2013, seven school sites accepted the invitation to engage with the SRPT (see Table 9). As presented in Table 9, the schools that elected to engage with the SRPT were reflective of the diversity of the national network of schools involved in the study and incorporated representation across Australian state boundaries, enrollment profile, size, location, and socioeconomic status.

Table 9. Characteristics of School Sites That Have Engaged With the Profiling Tool

School no.

Location a

Annual fee for a single enrollment b

Type of education provided c

Size of overall student population d





P/S All Boys






S All Boys






P/S All Boys






P/S All Boys






P/S All Boys






S Coeducational






MS Coeducational



Key –

a R = Rural; U = Urban; M = Metropolitan City;

b L = < $2,500 tuition; M = $2,500 to $6,000 tuition; H = > $6,000 tuition;

c P = Primary; S = Secondary; P/S Combined Primary & Secondary; MS Middle School Only;

d S = < 300 students; M = 300–600 students; L > 600 students.

Engaging with the SRPT required a member of the research team to make contact with the school by email and by phone to (a) provide information about the development, nature, and purpose of the SRPT, (b) provide information about the nature of the report that would be issued to the school at the conclusion of the survey and related confidentiality issues, (c) author and format the information that would be provided to parents, teachers, and students regarding the nature and requirements of the survey, (d) negotiate a 2-week window in which to make the survey available to parents, teachers, and students, (e) format the language of survey items to the requirements of the school, for example, the use of the term school or college or center or program, the use of the term students or boys or young people or pupils, the use of the term teachers or staff or professionals, et cetera, and to (f) determine whether paper copies of the survey were to be made available to parents, teachers, and students. All schools except School 7 opted to provide parents, teachers, and students with the online version of the survey only, whereas School 7 opted to provide parents, teachers, and students with the paper-only version of the survey.

Toward the end of 2013, principals of the schools that had engaged with the profiling tool were provided with a feedback sheet (see Figure 5) which utilized the plus/minus/interesting (PMI) format (de Bono, 2006). This format was chosen because it has been successfully used in the past to promote critical reflection and ownership by research participants (see, e.g., Bernero, 2000).

Figure 5. School Renewal Reflection Sheet

The School Renewal Survey: Reflection

The School Renewal Survey serves as a mirror to help your school community to reflect on who you are, where you are and where you want to go in terms of teaching young people. After reading the School Renewal Survey Report please list below 3 things that the survey has helped you to see that you do well in your school community, 3 things that the survey has helped you to see that you can immediately improve in your school community and 3 issues that the survey has helped you to see as challenges that your school community may embrace in the future.


(Three things we do well)


(Three things we can improve now)


(Three challenges for the future)










Question: Would you recommend that this survey be used by other School Communities in the school system? ______________ Please provide a reason/s for the above response:

The reflection sheet provided participants with an opportunity to provide a recommendation and an open response relating to the SRPT. Of the seven schools, all but one stated that they would recommend that the profiling tool be used by other schools. The school that did not make such a recommendation stated that the survey documents that the school already had in place were sufficient for its school renewal processes. Feedback responses were sent to the system authority; only a summary of responses was provided to researchers. However, in terms of the SRPT summary, Pluses related to providing insights into how the school’s learning environments, curriculum and service programs, philosophy and values, communal relationships, enrollment access, and culture were perceived by stakeholders. Minuses related to providing insights into issues related to collegiality between primary and secondary staff, curriculum differentiation, communication between staff and the leadership of the school/s, technology and resources, classroom pedagogy, class sizes, and transparency in decision-making. Points of Interest related to providing insights into issues relating to Australian professional standards for teachers and curriculum, embedding the philosophy of the school into the lived culture of the school, multiculturalism, behavior management, academic and sporting excellence, social justice, student diversity, the nature of family, the overcrowded curriculum, and education pathways.

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs [MCEECDYA], 2011) make explicit the elements of high-quality teaching expected of all teachers around the nation. The framework is comprised of seven standards grouped into the domains of professional knowledge, professional practice, and professional engagement. The standards are organized into four career stages and guide the preparation, support, and development of all teachers. Standard 7—engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers, and the community—aligns particularly strongly with this study and hence it is unsurprising that insights reflecting the national teaching standards were evident. Australia also has in place a nationally developed curriculum that guides student learning from Foundation (Preparatory) to Year 10 (Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2016), so again, it is unsurprising that reference might be made to this curriculum. An indication of the usefulness of the SRPT is reflected in the fact that the system authority has recommended to its schools that they use the SRPT to assist in their ongoing processes of reflection and renewal. To this end, a further seven schools have engaged with the SRPT over the 2014/2015 academic years.


While the use of surveys is an established practice within the school renewal literature, the SRPT relies on self-reported perceptions of teachers, parents, and students from a select group of independent Catholic schools. Even though the range of schools catered to broad populations of students in terms of socioeconomic status (high, middle, low), location (urban, rural, regional), and ethnicity (indigenous, Asian, African, European), the self-report data that the SRPT collects may have biases about a particular school, region, or ethnic group. While all the schools ascribe to a common charter of values that guide their vision and mission, the self-report data that the SRPT collects may also have biases that relate to providing the expected response or to personal interpretations and/or prioritizations of Teaching, Spirituality, Community, and Justice.

The power in organizational structures is one of the major limitations that affects this study. Within any mainstream school there is an institutionalized, hierarchical arrangement of power relations (Fielding, 2001a). Thus, there is a real risk that meaning-making for peripheral community members, such as students, parents, and teachers who, for various reasons, are not fully engaged in the life of the school community, may simply involve reflecting meaning as communicated by the dominant source of power, for example, the school principal (Roberts, 2006). Furthermore, the extent to which teachers, parents, and students who respond to the SRPT have the same perceptions that teachers, parents, and students who choose not to respond would have is not known. These particular limitations could be addressed in future research related to the design of the SRPT. However, present techniques employed in the reporting of the SRPT, such as the aggregation of responses into 3 population groups for each school (teacher, parent, student) for each survey item, the anonymity of the respondents, and the provision of one report to each school, go some way to minimizing some of these limitations.


This article explores a learning-based approach to school renewal through the development and trialing of the SRPT to support schools in self-reflecting on school renewal. Informed by a sociocultural approach to learning, the SRPT was developed to provide school communities with an empirical view of learning as situated practice.

Findings from the testing and trialing of the tool revealed the breadth, depth, and uniqueness of school identity. While change in the appreciation of school identity can be recognized at theory and practice levels, the question as to the nature of contemporary school communities remains a continuing challenge. Consequently, we agree with Bowen et al. (2006) that it makes sense to provide schools with tools that assist them in changing or consolidating existing initiatives or in identifying the need for new initiatives. The SRPT does this by providing empirical data that may help school communities to look beyond student achievement on external measures to reflect on the organizational categories within their schools (e.g., Culture, Learning, Leadership, Formation and Community). The SRPT is, therefore, particularly relevant for use within school sites where providing empirical data about the organizational categories that organize schools may help multidisciplinary staff to engage with and renew the mission of the school, to plan future resourcing, and to fulfill the accountability requirements of system, state, and national authorities.

Data from the pilot phase of the SRPT suggest that the SRPT has the potential to counter typical constructions of teacher and student in ways that promote teacher and student voice, namely, the means through which we make our thoughts known, represent our experience, and involve ourselves in life’s decisions (Cook-Sather, 2006). For example, in the SRPT category of Teaching and Learning, the SRPT pilot school survey revealed significant differences between teacher and student perceptions of the quality of classroom work expected, the incorporation of prior learning into lesson topics, the integration of pastoral care into school activities, the inclusion of different cultural backgrounds into the school curriculum, and the use of small group work and discussion in class lessons. These differences in perception relate to the core of the teaching and learning mission of the school, areas of the life of the school that remain largely “forbidden areas of enquiry” for students (Fielding, 2001a, p. 101).

By revealing areas of difference between teachers and students, the SRPT provides opportunities for the thoughts of students to be heard beyond the ears of the classroom teacher and for perceptions of teachers to be recognized by school governing authorities. This expansion of audience for both teacher and student personal perceptions is necessary for the construction of teacher/student relationships that are able to step outside the institutional hierarchy of roles to construct and engage student and teacher roles necessary for genuine school renewal and transformation (Fielding, 2001a).

The results of the testing and trialing of the SRPT generally support the conceptual framework that informed its development. A sociocultural approach to situated learning holds that communities change, grow, and are renewed through interweaving scientific or schooled understandings (e.g., those relating to the planned curriculum) with people’s everyday understandings and experiences (e.g., those relating to the enacted curriculum) (Renshaw & Brown, 2007). This interpretation focuses the issue of identity on the distance between the organizational categories that frame the school context and the everyday knowledge and experience of members of the school community. The institutional context of schools, where the interweaving of the everyday and the scientific typically occurs, provides powerful messages to students, teachers, and parents about their respective roles in the school community. For instance, in many mainstream schools, the ideal student is often constructed as a receptive learner who follows teacher directions and completes assigned tasks to the teacher’s satisfaction. The ideal teacher is constructed most often as a benign classroom expert who can transmit cultural concepts using efficient and effective methods. Ideal parents are sometimes constructed as hard working, busy people who leave their children’s education to the expertise of the school. To move beyond these perceived ideals for the purpose of developing or renewing can be difficult because schools need to develop new ways to conceptualize roles for students, parents, and teachers within the learning community, roles that are engaged through an authenticity of practice based on experience and evidence. The SRPT assists this conceptualizing by providing student, parent, and teacher perspectives on the organizational structures of the schools that frame their learning communities, perspectives that may assist school communities in coauthoring a school narrative where collective structures and individual agency may meet through learning (Wenger, 1998). In this way, the SRPT provides data that may assist school communities in becoming communities of practice by consolidating individual, private perceptions into collective and public visions in a way that is safe for the participants and that encourages all stakeholders to collectively reflect on school renewal.

Through providing a tool that assists educators and practitioners in hearing the realities of power relations that exist in a school community and that assists school communities in self-identifying and developing their own solutions to challenges that limit their capacity to engage in meaningful school renewal, the SRPT points toward an alternative path to school renewal. This alternative path identifies personal participation in the development of a collective view of what the school community values, a collective view authored from empirical data derived not from standardized tests or external accountability measures but from the voices of parents, teachers, and students. After engaging in a testing and trialing process that required researchers to independently observe and rate observations, that required school narratives to be member checked at leadership and staff levels, that sought and acted upon advice from local, national, and international advisers, and that undertook quantitative analysis for the purpose of refining survey items, it may be stated that at this point in time, the reliability and validity of the SRPT appear promising. It may also be stated that, as a result of the collaborative efforts between researchers, school communities, and a school system authority, an SRPT has been developed that attempts to integrate the different components of a school community in a coherent way, a challenge issued by the OECD to improve school renewal (OECD, 2015). Further refinements are planned that include the targeted modifying of the SRPT for the purpose of integrating data sets that are made collective and public by external bodies, such as those provided by the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) (ACARA, 2008) and the Smarter Schools National Partnership on Low Socio-economic Status School Communities (CAG, 2008), introduced by the Australian Government in 2008, respectively.

The practical implications of the development of the SRPT for school renewal are substantial. Although the place of values in school renewal has gained currency over the last decade, there is limited research available about the approaches taken by schools to incorporate values into their school renewal processes. Halstead and Taylor (2000) argue that a communal approach to incorporating values can be an effective means of bringing about school renewal. The development of a values approach to school renewal, as experienced in the SRPT, provides schools with a communal approach to school renewal that reflects on values as lived in school contexts. Armed with an effective tool to assist parents, students, and teachers in reflecting on values as lived in school contexts, educators will be better able to conduct research on how best to involve values, as reflected in school vision and mission statements, in a process of renewal of school organizational structures for the purpose of fostering school contexts that promote community building, that guide improvements in student learning, and that promote increased satisfaction by important stakeholder groups. Moreover, given the efficacy of the SRPT in providing perspectives from parents, students, and teachers, researchers will be able to obtain insights into the specific organizational categories where a school may need to focus its renewal efforts.

The research surrounding the development of the SRPT contributes to the field in two distinct ways. First, the development of the SRPT is based on a participatory approach to school renewal that identifies tools that bridge the personal and the collective (see Harré, 1984). In so doing, it offers an approach to school renewal that focuses community of practice (see Lave & Wenger, 1991) dimensions of the personal and the collective such as doing, experience, identity, and belonging on the values upon which the school community is based. The findings, therefore, have the potential to enable a wider field of educators and practitioners to gain insights into issues that Fielding (2004) holds as being core to school transformation and renewal. For example, through offering parents, teachers, and students an opportunity to record both in terms of a scale and through an open response format their personal perceptions of the life of the school community as they relate to issues such Teaching and Learning, Community, Leadership, and Formation, the SRPT has the potential to reveal to educators and practitioners the realities of power relations that exist in a school community. Such revelations may then be interpreted in the light of the school mission and vision and lead, eventually, to more open and equitable forms of dialogue between parents, teachers, and students, an endeavor worth pursuing in terms of school renewal and transformation (Fielding, 2004).

Second, the fact that data from the SRPT are presented to school communities in a de-identified form the SRPT avoids the difficulty of what Fielding (2004, p. 301) refers to as “speaking about and for others,” where the original thoughts of respondents are couched in the language and values of the researcher. The SRPT, then, becomes a tool for school communities to self-identify and develop their own solutions to challenges that limit their capacity to engage in meaningful school renewal, a goal of school renewal advocated by organizations such as the OECD (see OECD, 2015). In so doing, the SRPT provides educators with insights into the dialogic relations of school communities that fall outside institutional tradition and habit.

The challenges faced in researching the development of the SRPT and its trial use revolved around issues related to the development of a trust relationship between researchers and the users of the research and the development of a working relationship between researchers and the participants in the research. Encountering and facing these challenges required constant negotiation and change; in addition, diverse and innovative methodological structures needed to be harnessed to ensure that the power relationships between researchers, system authorities, and participants were more equitable, reliable, and fruitful.

When developing a trust relationship with the users of the research, the researchers were aware that the locus of control for change within the system of independent schools being researched rested within the leadership structure of each school, a typical characteristic of conventional schooling (Fielding, 2001b). For example, the request by the pilot school to release the analysis of the trial of the SRPT to students and parents for comment as part of a school renewal process entailed that, in order to maintain the integrity of the analysis, the researchers took a central role in the school leadership’s presentation of the analysis to the school community. The desire of some schools that their students not be audio or video recorded required the researchers to develop an observational schedule that placed students at the center of thinking about school practice. This was achieved by basing observation categories and descriptors on student-focused models of philosophy such as the Charter and the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA, 2008).

The development of a working relationship between researchers and research participants required that researchers be constantly aware that they were guests within the school community, a legitimate identity for researchers to negotiate with others when working in a community to which they do not belong (Norton & Early, 2011). For example, time management of the research nested mainly within the conventional school timetable. This required researchers to make observations of students and teachers in their regular timetabled classes, necessitating their being within a school for a number of days. Informing staff about the research required researchers to attend and participate in school staff meetings and professional development days. Nesting the research within a particular faith tradition even though some participants in the research did not ascribe to that tradition required researchers to couch the research within documentation such as the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (UNESCO, 1994) and to take advice from an international human rights advocate.

Despite its advantages, school renewal is a complex process that attempts to cover diverse stakeholder groups in diverse value contexts. At the outset we pointed to the current focus on system and school renewal (Mourshed et al., 2010; OECD, 2015) as a means of improving student outcomes. It was noted that a focus on students and learning, building teachers’ capacity, and engaging all stakeholders were features of successful reform. It is our contention that the SRPT is one model that genuinely incorporates each of these dimensions; hence, it is worthy of further development and consideration. The research to date has mainly favored quantitative approaches. The diversity that underlies the nature of school renewal would suggest that much could be gained by using a qualitative approach that provides empirical data such as that provided by the SRPT. Having said that, the process of a values approach to school renewal would benefit from further research that explored different ways of “becoming an educator” in a school community. Such research would examine the roles of parents, students, and teachers in school communities and focus on what it means for parents, students, and teachers to become educators in a learning community.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 1, 2018, p. 1-44
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21977, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 5:51:02 PM

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