New Opportunities for Principal Leadership: Shaping School Climates for Enhanced Teacher Development
by Eleanor Drago-Severson - 2012
Background/Context: Improved professional development for teachers and principals is central to our national educational agenda. Principals struggle with the challenge of how to build school climates that improve practice in an era of heightened accountability and increasingly complex adaptive challenges.
Purpose/Objective/Research Questions/Focus of Study: While researchers have investigated for more than 100 years the importance of building healthy school climates that support adult learning, it is essential to examine how principals shape school climates, given the challenging educational demands educators face in contemporary society. More specifically, how do principals shape growth-enhancing climates that support adult learning as they work to manage adaptive challenges (i.e., situations in which both the problem and the solution are unclear)? What effective strategies do principals, who serve in different types of schools (i.e., public, independent, and Catholic), employ to shape climates that are common across different contexts and which, if any, are distinct? The purpose of this investigation was to address these questions to offer insight into a way to accomplish the national goal of supporting teacher development by identifying leadership strategies for building school climates that foster teacher learning. Findings reported here stem from a larger research study that addressed the following meaningful, practical, and theoretical research questions: (a) How do principals shape school climates to promote adult learning? (b) What practices do principals use to support teachers’ transformational learning (growth)? (c) How do principals support their own development? (d) What developmental principles underlie practices that support transformational learning? In this article, I focus on the first two research questions to address one major area of inquiry stemming from the larger study—namely, how do principals shape growth-enhancing climates in diverse contexts? In so doing, I describe (a) how principals serving in different types of schools describe their priorities and practices for shaping climates supportive of teacher learning, (b) principals’ conceptions of their roles as shapers of climates supportive of teacher learning, and (c) principals’ challenges and creative strategies for shaping these school climates. Although this research was conducted before the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, identifying learning-oriented leadership practices that cultivate growth-enhancing school climates proves all the more necessary given the complexity of leadership today.
Research Design: Through qualitative interviews and document analysis, this study—conducted as part of a larger investigation of developmentally based principal leadership practices—explored how 25 principals from different types of schools with varying financial resources responded to the challenges (e.g., financial, human, time, increased accountability) they encountered in shaping school climates that were supportive of teacher learning.
Discussion: This research identifies strategies that principals in high-, middle- and low-financial resource Catholic, independent, and public schools use to foster school climates that promote teacher learning and development. Nearly all of the principals in this study employed the following leadership imperatives: (a) attending to context-specific priorities for creating and enhancing school climate, (b) cultivating shared values and flexibility, and (c) building a culture of collaboration. Because principals use a variety of approaches to cultivate learning-oriented climates (i.e., those that support adult learning and development) for teachers, this study suggests the need for support in balancing these approaches. In other words, while all of the principals in this study noted the importance of their climate-shaping role and shared some common strategies for doing so, the practices the principals prioritized and used most frequently varied by school type as opposed to financial resource level. More specifically, the public school principals tended to employ mostly managerial leadership strategies to address the financial and structural realities of their settings. All emphasized the importance of building structures for adult collaboration and the essential need to allocate time for collaboration as well. Independent school leaders mostly relied on the flexibility afforded them through their different missions to create structures and cultivate opportunities for collaboration. The Catholic school principals focused more often on visionary leadership to cultivate school climate supportive of adult development in relation to the school’s Catholic mission.
Improving student achievement, implementing democratic initiativesrather than top-down strategiesto improve school conditions, and providing school-based professional learning opportunities for educators are at the forefront of the national educational agenda. At the same time, principals struggle with how to build school climates that support teachers growth and improved practice in a context of standards-based reform, increased accountability, and the complex adaptive challenges (Heifetz, 1994) (i.e., situations in which both the problem and the solution are unclear) educators face today (Donaldson, 2008; Elmore, 2004; Fullan, 2005, 2009; Sparks, 2004; Wagner et al., 2006). Addressing adaptive challenges, according to Heifetz (1994), requires new approaches, and these can be resolved only as we work on them (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2009; Heifetz, 1994; Wagner et al., 2006).
Although researchers have investigated for more than 100 years the importance of building healthy school climates that support adult learning (Cohen, McCabe, Michelli, & Picheral, 2009), examining how principals shape school climates, given the challenging educational demands educators face in contemporary society, is essential (Kegan & Lahey, 2009; Wagner, 2007). More specifically, in todays educational context, how do principals meet the adaptive challenge of shaping growth-enhancing climates that support adult learning and developmentor what I call learning-oriented climatesas they work simultaneously to manage the competing demands of the modern principalship? What effective strategies do principals, who serve in different types of schools (i.e., public, independent, and Catholic), employ to shape climates that are common across different contexts and which, if any, are distinct? The purpose of this investigation was to address these guiding questions to offer insight into a way to accomplish the national goal of supporting teacher development by identifying leadership strategies for building school climates that foster teacher learning.
Educational leaders nationwide search for ways to grow schools as learning centers that can effectively nurture and sustain the development of adults and children. Leadership that supports teacher learning is critically important in this process. As Flores (2004) contended, A sustained view of learning and professional development is . . . crucial to transform schools into professional learning communities in which school leaders have a key role for both teachers and students, and consequently, to improve the quality of education (pp. 315316). More recently, other scholars and practitioners have echoed this call (DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2008; Hord & Sommers, 2008). How can we build true learning communities that support the development of adults as well as children, given the complex demands of education in the 21st century?
We know that when a principal employs practices that support teacher learning, teachers thrive (Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2007; Blase & Blase, 2001; Donaldson, 2006, 2008; Kegan & Lahey, 2009)and we know, too, that such supports benefit students and student achievement (Guskey, 1999; Roy, 2005). Still, we need greater knowledge about shaping school climates that support teacher learning and the effective strategies principals employ today to do so (Cohen et al., 2009; Darling-Hammond, 2003; Drago-Severson, 2012; Renyi, 1996; Sparks, 2004; Wagner et al., 2006). School climate, according to Cohen and colleagues (2009), is defined as the quality and character of school life and is based on patterns of peoples experiences of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures (p. 180). While teacher shortages, turnover, accountability, and an increasingly diverse population are among the issues that certainly influence school climate, school climate encompasses many domains of the fabric of schools. Cohen and colleagues (2009) maintained that school climate includes the following aspects of schools: safety, interpersonal relationships, the quality of teaching and learning, the physical environment of the school and the larger organizational patterns of a school (e.g., shared vision) (p. 180). Furthermore, the complexities of principals work present an imminent need for better supports for principals (Ackerman & Maslin-Ostrowski, 2002; Byrne-Jiménez & Orr, 2007; Donaldson, 2008; Kelley & Peterson, 2002; Moller & Pankake, 2006; Sykes, King, & Patrick, 2002). One way to provide better support is to assist principals in effectively shaping school climates to be collaborative learning communities supportive of teacher learning (Donaldson, 2006, 2008; Elmore, 2004; Fullan, 2005; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Perkins, 2003), which will also help them meet the challenges of standards-based reform and increased accountability (City et al., 2009; Education Writers Association, 2002; Kegan & Lahey, 2009; Sparks, 2004; Supovitz & Poglinco, 2001; Tucker & Codding, 2002; Wagner et al., 2006).
To improve teaching and learning, principals are being asked to adapt from a management role to that of primary teacher developer and architect of collaborative learning organizations. Principals must take on various roles to support teachers who have differing needs, developmental orientations, and preferences. Yet many principals have not been trained to do this and have not been given the support to meet these adaptive challenges (Drago-Severson, Maslin-Ostrowski, & Hoffman, 2010; Byrne-Jiménez & Orr, 2007; Donaldson, 2008; Elmore, 2004; Kelley & Peterson, 2002; Langer & Boris-Schacter, 2003). As a result, many teachers and principals leave their professions for more supportive working environments. As scholars and practitioners have noted, learning communities must be established to support student and adult learning (City et al., 2009; Roy, 2005). Developing school climates that support adult learning can make the difference and can assist in increasing student achievement (Cohen et al., 2009; DuFour et al., 2008; Guskey, 1999; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Sindelar et al., 2001, 2002; Roy, 2005; Wagner et al., 2006). In other words, learning communities that nurture adults and childrens development show higher student achievement (Cohen et al., 2009; Kelley, Thornton, & Daugherty, 2005; Rothman, 2006; Sykes, 1999; Waters, Marzano, & McNulty, 2004). In addition, healthy school climates can help to retain qualified principals and teachers by preventing burnout.
So what constitutes a healthy climate for adult learning and growth, and how might we establish it? As Barth (2002, 2006) explained, a healthy climate is one where collegiality exists, experimentation is welcome, high expectations are evident, trust and confidence are established, real support can be found, reaching out to the knowledge bases is the norm, appreciation and recognition are part of the fabric of the culture, caring celebration and humor are palpable, involvement in decision making is part of day-to-day life, protection of whats important is real, traditions are established and honored, and open communication is valued. Moreover, a learning-oriented climate is one that takes into account the qualitatively different ways participants will make sense of and experience initiatives and eventsand which can support and challenge all community members to grow and learn. This is my working definition of what constitutes a growth-enhancing climate, and my frame of reference for learning-oriented leadership.
Given todays adaptive, educational challenges, understanding how to build climates that support teacher learning is especially important. In addition, identifying the common challenges principals face and the creative strategies they implement in their efforts to shape such climates is essential. Through an extensive qualitative research study conducted in 20002001, I examined how 25 school leaders understand the practices they use to support teacher learning. This larger research study addressed the following meaningful, practical, and theoretical questions: (a) How do principals shape school climates to promote adult learning? (b) What practices do principals use to support teachers transformational learning? (c) How do principals support their own development? (d)What developmental principles underlie practices that support transformational learning? In this paper, I focus on the first two research questions to address one major area of inquiry stemming from the larger studynamely, how do principals shape growth-enhancing climates in diverse contexts? In so doing, I describe (a) how principals serving in different types of schools describe their priorities and practices for shaping climates supportive of teacher learning, (b) principals conceptions of their roles as shapers of climates supportive of teacher learning, and (c) their challenges and creative strategies for shaping these school climates. Although this research was conducted before the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, identifying learning-oriented leadership practices that cultivate growth-enhancing school climates proves all the more necessary given the complexity of leadership today.
Four literatures inform this investigation: literature on school climate, literature on leadership supportive of teachers development, professional development literature, and adult developmental theory.
Before discussing the literature on school climate, an important distinction between the ways in which climate and culture are discussed in the literature must be made. Although there is no single and absolute definition of culture, according to organizational theorist Edgar Schein (1997), culture relates to the norms, values, behavior patterns, rituals, and traditions of a group or an organization. More specifically, Schein (1997) defined culture as:
A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way you perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.
In other words, culture traditionally refers to norms, values, and beliefs that exist and can be very difficult to change or measure, while climate refers to perceived environmental factors that impact behaviorand thus may be more amenable to influence and change. Accordingly, leadership behavior that prioritizes and cultivates growth-enhancing climates provides the possibility of altering the culture of a school over time.
While researchers and practitioners have investigated for more than 100 years the importance of building healthy school climates that support adult learning, understanding how principals shape school climates, given the challenging demands principals must manage in contemporary society, is especially important. So how do theorists, researchers, and practitioners define school climate?
Currently, a variety of definitions of climate have been put forward, and scholars and practitioners have identified many factors that contribute to shaping climate (Anderson, 1982; Cohen et al., 2009; Dunn & Harris, 1998). For example, Hoy and Miskel (2005) maintained that school climate relates to the set of internal characteristics that distinguish one school from another and influence the behaviors of each schools members (p. 185). Recently, Cohen and colleagues found that most definitions of school climate include multiple aspects of school life, for example, safety issues, interpersonal relationships, the nature of teaching and learning, and environmental structures, as well as organizational patterns and characteristics (Cohen et al., 2009). As noted earlier, school climate, according to Cohen and colleagues (2009), is defined as the quality and character of school life and is based on patterns of peoples experiences of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures (p. 180). More specifically, Cohen and colleagues (2009) put forth the following dimensions of climate:
Safety (physical and social emotional)
Teaching and Learning (quality of instruction; social, emotional, and ethical learning; professional development; leadership)
Relationships (respect for diversity; school community & collaboration; morale and connectedness)
Building and sustaining a positive school climate have been found to positively influence work performance, increase morale, and enhance student achievement (Donaldson, 2008; Freiberg, 1998; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Kelley et al., 2005). In fact, research has shown that principals actions and behaviors are linked to the quality of climate in school buildings (City et al., 2009; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Kelley et al., 2005).
Put simply, Cohen and colleagues (2009) research indicates that a principals leadership can influence the quality of growth-promoting school climates in many dimensions (e.g., an effective leader can impact and influence the physical, social-emotional, instructional, professional, and environmental factors of a school building). Likewise, other research (Deal & Peterson, 1990; Kelley et al., 2005) has echoed the established relationships among leadership, school climate, and effective schools (Kelly et al., 2005, p. 17).
Importantly, as Dunn and Harris (1998) contended:
Whatever variation in viewpoints may exist regarding just what climate is . . .
there does appear to be a general agreement in the literature that climate involves a group phenomenon centering on a consensus in perception (Saldern, 1986), and it concerns those aspects of the psychological, social, and physical environment of the school that impact behavior. (p. 100)
Since school principals actions and behaviors have been found to influence school climate so powerfully, given todays challenging educational context, understanding how principals go about shaping positive, growth-enhancing climates that support teacher learning and growth seems especially important.
Most of the principals in my research explained that school climate can change as a school goes through seasons and must adjust to testing cycles, first and last days of school, holidays, and the needs of new and experienced teachers. My research has taught me that external and internal forces influence how principals decide which needs must be attended to and when in terms of building supportive learning environments or school climates. These principals explained that they consider the dynamics and context of the whole school as they work to create a robust learning climate. Flores (2004) noted, since no culture is static in nature, understanding school culture must be seen as a dynamic and changing phenomenon, [and that it] implies the analysis of the meaning, values and attitudes of those working in a given context, as well as the ways in which these are conveyed and understood within a community of teachers (p. 299). It seems that Flores use of the word context in this passage could be interchanged with climate because climate refers to the environment and culture refers to the norms, values, and beliefs. Therefore, for this paper, I will use the word climate, even though the principals in my research used the two words climate and culture interchangeably.
SCHOOL LEADERSHIP AND THE PRINCIPALS ROLE IN SUPPORTING TEACHER DEVELOPMENT
Researchers and practitioners have long recognized that the principal is one key to school development (Barth, 1980; Howe, 1993), and leadership supportive of adult development makes schools better places of learning for adults and children (Darling-Hammond & Sclan, 1996; Elmore, 2004; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Guskey, 1999; Kegan & Lahey, 2009; Wagner et al., 2006). While this research focuses on the role of the principal in shaping school climate so that it is supportive of adult learning, teachers and other adults within the schoolhouse also have central roles. In fact, teachers seem to prefer learning opportunities that are school-based, and collaborative work seems to hold the most promise for professional development. Likewise, as Roy (2005) noted, A learning community values and stimulates collaboration among colleagues and structures time for daily team learning (p. 2).
However, practices that support teacher growth are not limited to developing teachers' instructional skills. Current theories on school leadership and the principals role in adult learning suggest principals can support teacher learning by (a) creating a developmentally oriented culture (Donaldson, 2006, 2008; Evans, 1996; Peterson & Deal, 1998; Sarason, 1995); (b) building interpersonal relationships among teachers (Barth, 1990, 2006; Bolman & Deal, 1995; Moller & Pankake, 2006); and (c) emphasizing teacher learning (Elmore, 2004; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Johnson, 1990, 1996, 2004; Johnson et al., 2001). Leithwood (1992) integrated these ideas by presenting four guidelines that principals would be wise to care for in creating learning-oriented environments:
Treat the teacher as a whole person
Establish a school culture based on norms of technical collaboration and professional inquiry
Carefully diagnose the starting points for teacher development
Recast routine administrative activities into powerful teacher development strategies. (pp. 301302)
However, the question of how specific leadership practices can build school climates that support teacher growth in todays complex educational environment is only beginning to be explored (Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2007; Donaldson, 2008; Lieberman & Miller, 2001; Moller & Pankake, 2006; Sparks, 2004). Addressing this question is at the heart of this inquiry. Levine (1989) wrote about this gap, The constraints and opportunities of schools as contexts for adult growth have yet to be fully tested (p. 199). Her argument emphasizes the climate within which principals and teachers operate. This is even more important today.
Just as we need to better support principals, scholars and practitioners stress the importance of finding better ways to support teachers (Barth, 2006; Donaldson, 2008; DuFour et al., 2008; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Howe, 1993; Levine, 1989; Lieberman & Miller, 2001; Renyi; 1996; Wagner et al., 2006). Schools must become places where the adults as well as the children can grow to best support enhanced learning and achievement for all in todays complex world (Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2007; Donaldson, 2008; DuFour et al., 2008; Kegan, 1994; Kegan & Lahey, 2000 2009). To achieve this, schools must shape their climates to support teacher learning by securing the needed resources (e.g., collegial relationships, time, and appropriate skills) to cultivate a fertile soil for teacher learning (Barth, 2006; Blase & Kirby, 2000; Deal & Peterson, 1999; Donaldson, 2008; Roy, 2005). Thus, research that explores connections between adult development and leadership practices that build school climates to encourage it holds great promise.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT MODELS
The most common practice that supports teachers in their growth is the use of professional developmentor professional learningprograms. However, the need for increased time to be devoted to such programs is a reoccurring theme in the literature (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001; Donaldson, 2008; DuFour et al., 2008; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Little 2001; Meier, 2002; Moller & Pankake, 2006; Renyi, 1996; Roy, 2005).
Currently, clarity and consensus are lacking about what constitutes teacher development and how it can be supported. Furthermore, models of teacher growth operate on divergent assumptions, expectations, and beliefs about how teacher growth can be supported in schools (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001; Donaldson, 2008; Drago-Severson, 1994, 1996, 2004a, 2007, 2009; Wagner et al., 2006). In addition, scholars lament the fact that many models of professional learning (e.g., professional learning communities) are translated differently from what is intended in practice (DuFour et al., 2008; Hord & Sommers, 2008). Conspicuously missing from some of the professional development models is a focus on supporting and challenging teachers ways of knowing to facilitate transformational learning or growth (Kegan & Lahey, 2001, 2009; Lieberman & Miller, 2001; Moller & Pankake, 2006; Peterson & Deal, 1998; Renyi, 1996).
Much of what is expected of, or needed from, teachers to succeed in certain professional development initiatives (e.g., shared decision making, effective teaming) demands more than increases in their fund of knowledge or skills (i.e., informational learning), which is certainly important in todays educational world. What is needed may demand changes in the ways teachers know and make sense of their experiences (i.e., transformational learning). I define transformational learning as learning that helps adults develop increased cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal capacities to better manage the complexities of work, teaching, leadership, and life (Drago-Severson, 2004a, 2004b, 2009; Kegan, 2000).
Because many models do not adequately consider how adults make sense of their experience, these models lack a framework for thinking about how to create a climate that facilitates transformational learning. Understanding the teacher as a person capable of developingrather than a vessel simply to be filled with more knowledge and skillsis key, as is viewing context as an enhancer or inhibitor of growth (Johnson, 2004; Johnson et al., 2001; Kegan & Lahey, 2001, 2009; Moller & Pankake, 2006; Sergiovanni, 1995).
In addition to principal leadership, Sparks (2000, 2004), and other scholars (e.g., Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2007; City et al., 2009; DuFour et al., 2008; Hord & Sommers, 2008), argued that effective faculty and staff cooperation is an essential resource. Sparks found that learning occurs through collaboration across school contexts, regardless of the different statuses of the adults. Similarly, others have emphasized collaborative leadership as fundamental to breaking cultures of isolation, since such leadership provides access to information and alternative perspectives, fosters dialogue and reflection, and develops a culture supportive of learning and change (Blase & Blase, 2001; City et al., 2009; DuFour et al., 2008; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Kruse, 1999; Finnan & Levin, 2000; Rallis & Goldring, 2000; Sergiovanni, 1995; Sipple, 2004). Yet researchers assert that the form that collaboration takes will vary qualitatively by school context (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001; Donaldson, 2008; DuFour, 2007; DuFour et al., 2008; Elmore, 2002, 2004; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Hannum, 2001; Rogers & Babinski, 1999). This paper addresses the following questions. Given the adaptive challenges that school principals face today in their work, how do principals understand their role as climate shapers? What are their context-specific (within a particular school type) and more general (across different types of schools) strategies for shaping climates that support teacher learning and development? In these schools, teachers, administrators, and staff work collaboratively to support each others learning through teaming, mentoring, and sharing leadership.
ADULT LEARNING AND CONSTRUCTIVE-DEVELOPMENTAL THEORIES
Adult learning and adult developmental theories can be powerful tools for understanding how adultswith different needs, preferences, and developmental orientationsgrow and learn from engaging in professional development programs (Cranton, 1996; Drago-Severson 2004a, 2004b, 2007, 2009; Drago-Severson et al., 2001; Hammerman, 1999; Kegan, 1994; Kegan & Lahey, 2009; Levine, 1989; Mezirow & Associates, 2000). Though this perspective emphasizes that adults are supported to grow by engaging in practices and learning opportunities that challenge the adults contradictions and assumptions, its applications have been underused in professional development programs for teachers (Kegan, 2000; Kegan & Lahey, 2009). Adult developmentalists criticize some current approaches to teacher development (Kegan & Lahey, 2001, 2009; Levine, 1989, 1993; Mezirow, 2000; Oja, 1991), arguing that adults at various stages of ego and intellectual development respond differently, in terms of their attitudes toward, understanding of, and experiences in these programs and initiatives. Moreover, Kegan (2000) maintained that much of what is expectedor neededfrom teachers for them to succeed within most models of professional development might be beyond the teachers developmental capacities. In other words, teachers need more than skills; teachers need increased cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal capacities (Kegan & Lahey, 2009).
Drawing on theories of adult learning and development, I define teacher growth as increases in cognitive, emotional (affective), intrapersonal, and interpersonal capacities that enable adults to better manage the demands of learning, working, leading and living. I use the terms growth and transformational learning interchangeably (Drago-Severson, 2004a, 2004b, 2009). I engage adult learning and constructive-developmental theories (Brookfield, 1995; Cranton, 1996; Daloz, 1986, 1999; Kegan, 1982, 1994, 2000; Kegan & Lahey, 1984, 2001, 2009; Marsick, 1998; Mezirow, 1991, 2000) to examine some of the developmental underpinnings of the principals practices in my research. Since Keans theory, in particular, illuminates how people construct their experience and considers how the workplace climate can provide supports and challenges for growth, this theory offers a way to think about providing support to teachers and principals to help them grow. The body of literature on connections between adult learning, adult development, and leadership practices on behalf of adults growth informed this research.
What I call a new learning-oriented leadership model for supporting adult development has emerged based on research I conducted with principals (2004, 2009, 2012) and assistant principals, teachers, and other school leaders (2007, 2009) over the past two decades. This model is composed of four pillar practicesteaming, inviting adults to assume leadership roles, engaging in collegial inquiry, and mentoringthat can support transformational learning in adults with a diversity of different ways of knowing (i.e., developmental orientations). Shaping growth-enhancing climates, the focus of this article, is one essential way to create the conditions for supporting adult development in general and for implementing the pillar practices.
Twenty-five principals with at least 5 years of experience were purposefully selected as leaders who were responsible for supporting teacher learning within their schools for this research. This sample was diverse with respect to the following criteria: number of years as principal, educational background, gender, race, and ethnicity. As Table 1 shows, I selected principals from public, independent, and Catholic schools that differ by financial resource levels, school type (i.e., elementary, middle, high school, K12), populations served, and location (i.e., urban, suburban, and rural).
Thirteen of the principals were recommended by professional colleagues as being explicitly known for employing practices that create opportunities for different modes of teacher reflection as a support to teacher learning within the school day. In other words, I sought to include a number of principals who had a reputation for creating opportunities within their school for teachers to reflect on their practices, since this is one type of important support for learning and growth. While this type of support is certainly related to shaping school climates that create the conditions for supporting growth, it includes more than that since my focus was broader and more specific. My goal was to achieve a sample that was diverse with respect to the school characteristic criteria listed above (e.g., school types, resource level, and location). Specifically, these were school leaders who were identified by professional colleagues or me as leaders who met all of the following criteria: (a) provided forums for teachers to discuss literature (e.g., book clubs) and reflect on practice through writing and dialogue; (b) sought resources to provide professional development opportunities (e.g., ensuring substitutes for teachers working on collaborative projects, writing grants to support innovations, encouraging teachers to attend and present at regional or national professional conferences); (c) provided opportunities for shared leadership (e.g., through mechanisms such as cross-disciplinary or cross-functional teams and creating opportunities for teachers to assume greater leadership within the school); and (d) held teachers accountable for having high expectations for children while principals provided feedback and encouraged dialogue.
As discussed in the literature review section, building school climate includes attending to multiple dimensions; the criteria above touch on only some of them. Please note that these original sampling criteria were developed in light of the overarching research questions for the larger study (which concerned the development of reflective opportunities).
For comparison and diversity, I included 12 additional principals in the study who were not specifically identified by their colleagues for employing practices that create opportunities for different modes of teacher reflection in their schools. This group of 12 principals did not meet all of the criteria listed above; however, each leader met one criterion, and may certainly have been exemplary in other ways. Indeed, while these 12 principals were not recognized by my professional colleagues or me as leaders who met all criteria, I discovered during interviews and school visits that some did, in fact, meet two and in a few cases three of the criteria stated above. Importantly, financial resource levels influenced the kinds of material resources (e.g., funding for conferences and books) the principals were able to provide as they worked to shape positive school climates. Selection of this second group was guided by these criteria: personal or colleague referral aligned with criteria stated above, schools financial resource level, school type and level, population served, and location. Additionally, although this two-group distinction was important for the larger study, this distinction did not turn out to show meaningful differences in this secondary analysis as will be shown later in this article. However, the sampling still offered an important view of the perceived successes and potential challenges of shaping growth-enhancing climates, as the twoi.e., creating growth-enhancing climates and supporting teacher learning and developmentare linked in the literature and by adult developmental theory.
In this article, I do not distinguish or make comparisons between how principals in the two groups conceived their roles as climate shapers or the strategies they employed for doing so for three main reasons. First, my analyses uncovered that common conceptions emerged across school type in terms of how these principals shape school climate to be supportive of teacher learning. Second, I noticed important distinctions across school types and little variation based on membership in one of the two groups discussed above. Last, though differences did exist, my focus here is primarily aimed at uncovering the principals successful practices and strategies for shaping school climate to provide readers with effective ideas for their own work. Readers should bear in mind that the unreferred to participants in this article were not necessarily unsuccessful in their capacities for building positive school climates.
Table 1. Sample Characteristics
Note. Parenthetical numbers represent the number of faculty, administrator, and support staff (assistants and specialists). Resource levels also indicate student SES. Resource levels indicate school budget or endowment and are listed in hundred thousands. A version of this table appears in different form in Drago-Severson, 2002, 2004a, 2007, and Drago-Severson & Pinto, 2004.* = Pseudonym, U = Urban, S = Suburban, Ru = Rural.
I determined 20002001 school financial resource levels by evaluating school financial reports (e.g., Boston Plan for Excellence, 1999, district financial reports, annual reports), websites, and internal and external publications. Determination of each schools financial resource level did not include the principals strategies for obtaining external grants funding or funding from other sources (e.g., federal, state, fundraising or gifts), though these were also assessed. For the independent schools and Catholic schools, I also assessed 20002001 endowments. I examined the public schools approximate budgets for the year (e.g., General Fund [which] refers to money that is allocated to the schools by the city budget [Boston Public School Fiscal Year Report, 2001, p. 203]). For Catholic schools, I reported their 20002001 operating budgets.
In one case, information on school budget was unavailable initially. Therefore, the principals understanding of his schools financial resource level, relative to other schools of the same type in similar locations (e.g., urban independent schools in the same state), was documented and later confirmed by published annual reports and websites. In a follow-up interview, this principal provided internal documents that validated earlier assessments. In the two places where no amount appears, participants wanted to protect the institutions privacy (1 participant preferred anonymity). I assessed human resource levels (i.e., numbers of full- and part-time faculty, administrators, and staff) from published and internal school documents, which were then confirmed in interviews. This triangulation strengthened reliability.
In-depth, semistructured qualitative interviews, field notes from school visits, and documents were the three primary forms of data.
I conducted and analyzed 90 hours of semistructured, qualitative interviews (75 hours of initial interviews and 14 hours of follow-up interviews). All interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. In all but one case, I also toured the school with the principal and recorded field notes. To collect comparable data, I asked participants similar questions about specific topics, including leaders goals for shaping climate and supporting teacher learning, how their practices operated within the school, and how different resources influenced their actions. I also developed and asked questions that were specific to each participants school context. All participants were invited to review their interview transcripts, and all but 3 did so, with six making minor syntax changes to their transcripts. The principals review of their transcripts and follow-up interviews provided validity checks and triangulation of data. Principals memos to me about the study elaborated interview transcripts and were analyzed as validity checks.
I analyzed approximately 60 documents, including mission statements, self-study reports, principals memos to different constituencies (e.g., teachers, parents, board members), principals memos written to me about the research or interview questions after engaging in interviews, school websites, school budgets, and demographics. Situating the findings within different bodies of literature (e.g., professional development, school leadership, adult learning theories, and constructive-developmental theory) provided comparisons for evaluating reliability and triangulation of data.
After each interview, I wrote field notes about main interview themes, observations of the school, emerging patterns, initial connections and differences among participants, and how the literature and theory cited herein seemed to inform the principals experiences. Next, after interviews were transcribed, I and one other researcher composed analytic summary memos (Maxwell, 2005), in response to five broad analytic questions for each participant. These questions included a focus on each principals understanding of the rewards and challenges of supporting teacher learning; conceptions of their role as a climate shaper and the practices they employed to support teacher learning (e.g., teaming and collegial inquiry); and how they felt their initiatives for teacher learning worked within their schools.
To address my research questions, I analyzed initial and follow-up interviews, documents, and field notes for important concepts and themes by using a code list of more than 50 codes (I employed emic and theoretical codes). Analytic strategies focused on comparing the reported conceptions and practices of the principals as a whole, between the two groups of principals initially identified in different ways, and within each school type. Analysis was guided by a grounded theory approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), which accounts for the multiple levels of data and perspectives on their interpretation by attending to data at the individual, group, and school type levels, and the sample as a whole. I and at least one other researcher crosschecked codes of all raw data and interpretations (Miles & Huberman, 1994) during initial and later phases of the analysis to strengthen the analysis and to incorporate alternative interpretations.
Next, I grouped coded interviews by school type and financial resource level to examine patterns across categories. In addition, narrative summaries (Maxwell & Miller, 1998), profiles (Seidman, 1998), and displays allowed one other researcher and me to examine patterns across categories (e.g., principals strategies for shaping school climate). I then crafted detailed analytic memos informed by developmental theory and specifically examined the factors (e.g., financial resources) that co-occurred with similarities and variations between participants practices for supporting teacher learning. I then developed case studies of the principals, with interview text serving as examples.
I attended to validity in several ways. Multiple data sources (e.g., interviews, documents, principals memos) allowed for varied perspectives on data and interpretations. I and at least one additional researcher employed each technique during all phases of analysis (e.g., coding interview transcripts, checking meaning of codes, crosschecking codes and interpretations) to strengthen analysis. Throughout analysis, I examined data for confirming and disconfirming instances of themes (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to test my developing understanding (Merriam, 1998).
I focus on three emergent themes: (a) the commonalities of how these principals, across school type, conceived their roles as shapers of climates supportive of teacher learning; (b) the general practices the principals employed across school types for enhancing school climate; and (c) how these principals described and understood their dominant context-specific priorities and practices within each school type for shaping climates supportive of teacher learning. Interestingly, despite the two sample groups in the study, findings revealed important commonalities across the sample and within school type. As noted earlier, the two groups of principals were not selected with regard to their efforts to shape school climate, but rather with respect to their explicit intentions and practices related to providing opportunities for reflection (which, of course, is an important element of growth-enhancing climates). The interesting finding that emerged from this secondary analysis is the commonalities across school type, regardless of original sampling purposes, with respect to how these principals go about creating growth-enhancing climates.
It might also be helpful to know that principals in this research did not refer to the influence of teacher unions when discussing how they go about shaping climate. In addition, the principals did not focus on the relationship between positive school climate and its influence on higher student achievement.
PRINCIPALS CONCEPTIONS OF SHAPING CLIMATES TO SUSTAIN TEACHER LEARNING: COMMONALITIES ACROSS SCHOOL TYPE
Although nearly all of these principals voiced the importance of appreciating teachers, the principals had different priorities and ways of working. Nonetheless, investing time into relationships was essential to all 25 in terms of shaping a climate of adult learning, though the principals enacted this in different ways and to differing degrees. More than two-thirds of these principals referred to their school as a family, by which they meant that it was a place where people cared about one another. In fact, all of the Catholic school principals expressed this sentiment. For instance, Principal Gary LeFave described his school as a 7-11 store to illustrate that members of his community are there most of the day and know they can get what they need when they need it in his school.
The majority of these principals (22 out of 25), regardless of school type and financial resource level, underscored the importance of being visible and having casual conversations in the hallways or before or after meetings. To different degrees, the principals discussed four major principles that grounded their leadership approaches to building a climate supportive of teacher learning: (a) including others in leadership (e.g., engaging in dialogue/inquiry, seeking feedback, distributing and/or sharing leadership); (b) building relationships (e.g., informal gatherings, mission and value sharing, mentoring); (c) helping people manage change (e.g., goal setting, ideas for curricular and policy improvement, and teaming); and (d) fostering diversity.
Nearly all of these principals prioritized respecting and involving teachers in shared decision-making. More than half emphasized how teachers (and their own) learning is facilitated by offering and accepting feedback from others. Most principals observed that it is difficult for teachers to give each other critical feedback. Because of this, many principals explained that they feel it is important for them to model how to offer critical feedback to help teachers learn how to do so. The few principals (n = 6) who did not emphasize this were from all three types of schools and from both groups of selected principals. Nearly two-thirds, from across school types, also commented on how they build a positive school culture and support teacher learning by inviting teachers to reflect on how they translate their schools mission in their practice and by creating spaces for teachers and other adults to contribute to the development of the schools vision.
Finally, almost all of these principals (21 out of 25) emphasized that learning while leadingand modeling this for other adultswas essential to them, in their specific role as climate shaper and in their more general leadership role. The principals explained that this was critical to shaping climate because they wanted to improve conditions in their schools and they felt it was important for them to model a lifelong desire to learn for teachers and children. Watertown Public High School Principal Jim Cavanaughs words powerfully capture what many of these principals shared:
Self-knowledge is just so important . . . thats crucial to teach a child or a student how to ask, How do I know what I know? What are my strengths and my weaknesses? How do I build up one and capitalize on the other? Whats my preferred learning style? How do I take in information fast? How do I seek out information? Unless were explicit about that, and were modeling it ourselves, kids arent going to learn to be . . . lifelong learners. Theyre not going to learn to be self-taught.
Principals in this study discussed their role in three different, yet often overlapping, categories: instructional leaders (focusing on good teaching and learning), managerial leaders (planning, implementing, and organizing with best practices in mind), or visionary or spiritual leaders (propagating a global direction for the future). Yet the manner in which the principals did so varied, and nearly all combined multiple approaches, depending on situational factors.
While nearly all of these principals referred to all three categories (19 out of 25), all the Catholic school principals emphasized their role as spiritual leader, whereby they cultivated teacher learning as a part of their schools mission. Independent school leaders primarily stressed instructional leadership, relying on the flexibility afforded them to create structures to support instruction and cultivate teacher collaboration. Public school leaders tended to speak mostly of managerial leadership, of using creative strategies to address contextual, financial, and structural realities so that the principals could focus on instructional leadership. Although many of these principals discussed their roles in relation to these three categories (i.e., instructional, managerial, and visionary or spiritual), below, like in all sections of this article, I have selected robust examples that represent the key themes that the principals discussed. In the next section, I present a robust case to illustrate common conceptions that emerged in relation to how these principals discussed their roles in relation to these three categories.
Dr. Jim Cavanaugh discussed his role of attending to the multiple dimensions of shaping school climate as a balancing act. For Jim, and nearly all principals in this study, balancing different types of roles in one job was an important theme: he juggled the work of being an instructional and visionary leader with the responsibilities of being a manager of facilities and logistics.
Jim also described the tension between trying to stay connected to and informed about all of the different things that were going on, while resisting the urge to be too involved in every decision. When asked to say more about how he balances competing roles, Jim elaborated:
The balancing act comes about . . . between being a manager and being a leader because . . . they are very different things. But theyre both very important. The school has to be run, in other words managed, in such a way that teachers have the resources that they need, they have the time available to them, that they have the support they need in the discipline area, that the building functions well, that things are scheduled well and schedules run on time . . . And then on the leadership side . . . it has to be articulation of a vision. What we can do? Where we can go?
Like the majority of principals (21 out of 25) in this study across all school types and resources levels, Jim stressed being able to pause and examine peoples points of view. He explained:
Having that perspective means that Im always willing to credit opposition to . . . a good will, and maybe sincerely held beliefs. And when you do that, it means that you have to pause and examine peoples points of view and not necessarily just try to run over them. So I think that is one thing that shapes my operational style, which is essentially to be open to listen to people, to weigh things, to evaluate if feedback is not good, to be willing to change. And weve changed some things in the middle of doing them.
Pausing and attending to other peoples perspectives requires prioritizing the time needed to work together in this way. Two-thirds of the principals (18 out of 25) across school type and financial resource levels in this study emphasized the importance of altering daily schedules so that teachers could have more time to work together in teams (discussed below)an example of the managerial face of leadership. Almost all of these principals (20 out of 25) explicitly stated that even when they are acting in their managerial role, their beliefs and actions are in service of teacher learning. In these teacher and cross-functional teams, the principals emphasis was to push teachers to move beyond dialogue about the day-to-day business and toward substantive reflection, consideration, and dialogue centering on issues of practice. In this way, principals acted as instructional leaders.
In the next section, I describe the practices these principals employed in their efforts to shape climates supportive of teacher learning.
GENERAL PRACTICES FOR ENHANCING SCHOOL CLIMATE: COMMONALITIES ACROSS SCHOOL TYPE
All of these principals emphasized that sensitivity to the pace of change and a process orientation are needed when considering how to best shape climates that support adult learning. Several explained that while teachers appreciate the reasons for implementing changes, they usually associate these changes with taking on more work. The majority of these principals reported the challenge of needing to find a balance, so that they can promote teacher learning without overwhelming faculty who may have negative associations with change. Most principals (19 out of 25) explicitly voiced that they view disagreement as an opportunity for perspective broadening, an essential part of development.
Across school type and resource level, these principals employed a variety of creative strategies for building school climate. Their strategies included the following: (a) treating teachers as individuals and attending to their different needs and preferences; (b) building informal structures to bring adults together to reflect and socialize; (c) having conversations around meals to make time for collaboration; (d) promoting school mission by creating opportunities for teachers and other adults to reflect on how the mission connects to daily life and classroom practice; (e) encouraging teamwork with time for teachers to work in teams on a regular basis; (f) rewarding teachers in new ways by building on their intrinsic motivation for learning (e.g., purchasing materials and resources that teacher teams can use collaboratively); (g) honoring teachers strengths (e.g., voicing appreciation publicly and privately); (h) valuing and modeling respect for all in the schoolhouse; and (i) growing the school as a community center.
The principals in this study strived to create healthy school climates by conveying their care for teacher learning. Building healthy school climates supportive of adult learning and development, for almost all of these principals, was linked to letting teachers know that the principals appreciate them and meeting them where they are to offer supports and challenges to facilitate their growth. Some of the central themes that emerged in the principals work to shape school climates that are growth-enhancing for the adults centered on the following, which are linked to the developmental principles discussed earlier: (a) valuing relationships, (b) meeting adults where they are in their growing space, (c) shaping school environments that offer supports and challenges (stretching) for growth, (d) involving adults in decisions that affect their lives, (e) modeling and understanding that principals are learning while they lead, and (f) understanding that genuine and real change takes time.
Many principals (23 out of 25), across school type and resource level, emphasized their roles as orchestrators, supporters, bridges, or encouragers of teacher learning. Nearly all (24 out of 25) voiced the essential importance of modeling lifelong learning. In their view, this learning helps teachers become more aware of the lifelong need to continue learning and growing and become more effective in their complex work, increases their satisfaction, builds community, and decreases teacher isolation. The majority of these principals explained that they do this by creating structures within the school and by supporting teachers as they embark upon experiences outside the school (e.g., presenting their work and innovations at local or national conferences) that the teachers believe will support their development in important ways. Nearly all of these principals (24 out of 25) explained that they wanted their schools to be places where students, faculty, and staff want to be and enjoy a sense of belonging, are learning and growing, and can have fun.
In the next section, I describe how principals, within each school type, described their priorities and actions toward shaping climates supportive of teacher growth and learning.
CONTEXT-SPECIFIC PRIORITIES AND PRACTICES FOR CREATING AND ENHANCING SCHOOL CLIMATE
While all of the 25 principals spontaneously voiced the importance of their role in shaping a positive school climate that supports teacher learning, they had different priorities and ways of working to create it. The principals priorities guided their practices and seemed to reflect their conceptions of their roles as climate shapers. For example, the Catholic school principals focused primarily on visionary leadership through cultivating adult development in relation to the schools Catholic mission. Independent school leaders relied largely on the flexibility afforded them through their different school missions to create structures and cultivate opportunities for collaboration. Public school principals tended mostly, though not exclusively, to employ managerial leadership to address the financial and structural realities of their settings. In this section, I present patterns that emerged from my analyses within each school type to illustrate the different contextual demands and opportunities. As discussed below and earlier, school type emerged as more important than financial resource level or principal grouping in terms of how these principals described the way they shape climate. I also highlight observed differences between high- and low-resource schools within each type.
Catholic School Principals: Shaping Climate through Vision and Collaboration
As noted, all of the principals in Catholic schools, regardless of their schools financial resources or level (elementary, middle, high school, or K12), emphasized and prioritized their roles as spiritual leaders in their work as climate shapers. In other words, all of these leaders emphasized that their focus on their schools mission and vision guided their priorities and the practices they employed for shaping school climate. For instance, Sr. Barbara Rogers, head of Newton Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (a higher-resource Catholic school in Newton, Massachusetts) focused on her role as spiritual leader and explained it was inextricably linked to her schools mission. One of the core principles of that mission was to develop a social awareness that impels [us] to action. Speaking about the connection between her role as climate shaper and the influence of the school mission on her thinking and actions, she explained:
It [the mission] not just informs my thinking, it is the whole basis of what it is and why I do it . . . I have a deep sense of myself as a steward of that mission. So my chief work has had . . . and this is where the piece about developing teachers . . . my real work is about bringing more and more faculty, more and more deeply into an understanding of the total mission of the school.
By prioritizing the schools mission and how it comes to life, Sr. Rogers goal as a spiritual leader is to make sure that [everyone] who works here buys into the mission, understands their responsibility for the mission and mostly loves it. An important part of her work as school leader is [transferring] ownership of the mission to every adult in the school. Thus, Sr. Rogers builds a healthy school climate supportive of adult learning by frequently asking teachers (and other adults in the school) to reflect on how teaching and daily work embody or relate to the mission. We really ask each teacher to write a reflection on how he or she feels theyve contributed to each of the goals of the school, she explained. As a spiritual leader, Sr. Rogers emphasized the value of engaging in mission-based inquiry. In her view, this inquiry not only built a positive school climate but also helped teachers create their own goals for the upcoming academic year. Thus, Sister Rogers felt that she was able to move closer to her goal: that every single person believes that everything we write in our school catalog happens every day.
That Sr. Rogers saw part of her work as [sharing] ownership of the mission to every adult in the school suggests that she would like the adults within her school to take some responsibility for the schools leadership. This was also important to her because she valued treating people as professionals. She elaborated by noting, [S]ometimes schools dont [treat teachers as professionals]. And I think particularly in religious schools, Catholic schools, there is a kind of hierarchical nature that does not treat people as adults.
Sr. Rogers efforts are developmentally significant for many reasonsamong them are her dedication to valuing the unique contributions, unique ways of making sense of experience, and potentialities of adults. In addition, in her way she is voicing her understanding of being willing to support and challenge adults as they grow into and from leadership roles. And she voices her understanding of the need to differentiate supports and challenges to support growthi.e., differentiating her leadership and individual climate shaping.
Sr. Rogers and all of the principals serving in Catholic schools in this sample focused on their role as spiritual leaders by emphasizing a mission-centered way of building a positive school climate to foster a respectful community. In terms of creating community, Sister Judith Brady, principal of St. Barnabas High School (a low-resource Catholic high school located in the Bronx, New York) explicitly named respect for all as the guiding force in enacting her role, a maxim that was posted on her computer screen so that faculty, parents, students, and school visitors could see it. This sign also served to remind her of what she saw as an essential component of her work and mission. She hoped that all who saw this sign would understand it as of the basis for what were doing.
Sr. Judith strived to encourage teachers to build on their strengths and to develop curricula and programs that were based on their areas of expertise. She enacted her role in shaping school climate by encouraging the teachers to do the best with what they have. She was also trying her best to meet adults where they are, in a developmental sense. One of her goals was to encourage teachers to try to open up possibilities . . . individual by individual. She wanted teachers to sit in on each others classes and talk about how they teach to learn from each other. She saw this as a way to build a healthy climate supportive of teacher learning and development. Again, meeting adults where they are is an essential component of leadership supportive of adult development, and deliberately approaching the task of climate building from this perspectiveas did Sr. Judithis an important and promising practice. Moreover, by consciously prioritizing these kinds of effortsand infusing them with developmental intentionalityschool leaders could prove even more effective in shaping growth-enhancing climates.
Fewer human and financial resources that would allow for deeper administrative layers challenged the other Catholic school principals who, similar to Sr. Judith, served in low-resource schools. These principals, too, seemed to devote themselves to shaping school climate by encouraging teachers to do the best they can with what they have and focusing on sharing a common bond of faith. Principal Gary LeFave of Matignon High School had served his low-resource Catholic school in Cambridge, Massachusetts for nearly 30 years. During his tenure, he held various positions ranging from science teacher to department head to curriculum director to assistant principal to school nurse. For the 15 years before our interview, he served as principal. Gary characterized part of his role as leaving things open for people who have ideas that might want to do something to help them develop their ideas as opposed to saying no.
Principal LeFaves school was deeply dedicated to preparing its 535 students for college. Similar to 22 out of the 25 principals in this study, Gary explained that his school had increasingly taken on roles beyond academics to respond to changes in society, such as students not always having someone at home until later in the evening. When I asked Gary how he envisioned his role in building a healthy school climate, he discussed the importance of having the school be a place where people want to be:
For the most part, the students that are here wouldnt want to be any other place . . . the faculty work with [the students] to develop. Some [faculty] came here as . . . students . . . I think those are reasons that students find [that they like] being here a big piece . . . Its for the things that are in the building that bring them to our school and I think its teachers who mentor, not only themselves, but they mentor the students that are here, and help them with problems.
In discussing how he shaped a school climate supportive of teacher and student learning, Gary named the importance of respect, showing appreciation, and listening carefully to others. Similar to Sr. Judith, Gary underscored his belief that it is not what you have but what you do with what you have that is important. And, similar to three-fifths of the other principals in this study, Gary emphasized the many ways that the school developed activities to promote a sense of community (e.g., collaborating on important school projects and initiatives). Here, just as in Kegans constructive-developmental theory (1982, 1994, 2000), Gary recognized that adults at all levels of meaning making can offer significant contributionsand such recognition and respect can provide a key developmental support for learning and growth. In addition, the quality of our listening, as Gary mentioned, has been proved to be an important developmental support.
In schools with lower resources, principals seemed to talk much more about the importance of climate at their schools. One plausible explanation for this finding is that climate might have to compensate for other kinds of recognition that a school could show through financial rewards or a more manageable workload. Another possibility might be that, to work at these schools (especially the Catholic low-resource schools), faculty might be dedicated to the Catholic faith and more willing to make sacrifices. These conditions might make school climate a more noticeable force in the school.
Independent School Principals: Cultivating Shared Values and Flexibility
Much like the Catholic school principals, independent school leaders in this sample relied heavily on visionary leadership in cultivating a climate of teacher development. They emphasized that developing shared values is a priority in shaping school climates that support adult learning. Instead of religious missions, the independent school leaders in this sample actively cultivated shared values and then employed values-based practices to build climates supportive of teacher learning.
For example, Dr. Dan White, head of Seabury Hall (a grade 712, low- to medium- financial-resource independent school in Maui) had a long and strong affiliation with the church. The schools Episcopal history (as well as Dans background as a child of a minister) seemed intimately connected to the ways in which he enacted his role as builder of school climate.
Dan saw part of his work as school head as being responsible for speaking about the mission and developing the whole person. He emphasized the [spiritual] aspect of the school, which is actually contained in the mission statement, which talks about causing growth in students in body, mind and soul. Helping others to develop the ability to talk about soul and to focus the attention of the school on the soul influenced the way in which he shaped school climate, such as his appreciation for listening to his faculty and pitching in as a community to help faculty members in need. Dan believed that broadening teachers responsibilities to include reflecting on their practice and administrative duties nurtures the sharing of ideas, the development of shared values, teacher investment in the building, and a positive school climate.
School climate is enhanced, Dan explained, when adults have opportunities to talk more casually and engage in conversations about what one values. Such conversations are vehicles for transformational learning, in his view. Teachers are able to share the new knowledge they gain with each other, especially with regard to professional development in issues of technology. In general, Dan sought to emphasize a spiritual and collaborative approach to adult learning within his school because he felt there is often this inattentiveness to whats at home . . . You tend to have to go off-campus to get knowledge . . . Theres a lot of it around you. Dans philosophy of leadership was that a leader is best when others know he hardly exists. In creating a climate that supports teacher learning, he emphasized the value of working with the internal school resources and helping others do what they love. As mentioned in the theoretical framework, adults with different ways of making sense of their experiences have different capacities for reflection and, because of this, it is vital to differentiate opportunities (see Drago-Severson, 2004, 2009) to best support this process. Dan recognized this and worked to invite adults to engage in conversations about what was important to them (i.e., what one values) as he created opportunities for them to reflect on their practice and share ideas. In so doing, he felt he and his teachers were developing a positive school climate and working to support the whole person.
Dan also spoke of how he gets excited about building things. Financial resources have enabled him and the school to improve the schools facilities by restructuring the pillars at the front entrance of the schoolwhich Dan feels state who we are; theres a suggestion of solidity and permanence, but its not overstated, its not overdone. He explained that the pillars represent an image of the school mission and the type of school climate he is working to cultivate. Dans leadership appeared to be focused on the infrastructure of helping people to develop shared values, and with the installation of pillars at the entrance to the school, he also demonstrated his intention to improve the facilities to mirror his goals and shared values of the school: stability and steadfastness.
The attention to mission also occurred in other institutions. For instance, Mr. Jack Thompson, who headed Palm Beach Day School (an independent, medium to high financial resource K9 day school in Palm Beach, Florida) explained his view that an independent school environment enabled him to put forth and enact a vision about how education should be. As climate shaper, Jack fulfilled his role by providing opportunities for teachers to practice their profession and to do the things [they] want to do. He explained that private schools are uniquely able to develop into institutions with the kinds of teachers who can operate from their most fundamental values about education and the world. In an independent school, Jack shared:
Its possible to practice what weve all been preaching, what makes good education. And an independent school makes it possible for you to do that. I tell teachers that all the time, were going to provide a situation for you where you have a good chance to succeed and to practice your profession and to do things you want to do.
Similar to other principals, Jacks way of working as climate shaper was to underscore a common bond of community and the common values they shared; at the same time, he emphasized that teachers should not form cliques that might undermine the larger community. To stop this from occurring, he encouraged teachers to talk with colleagues with whom they did not usually teach, to stimulate different kinds of conversations and interactions. Jack believed that such conversations were opportunities for teachers to learn from each other, broaden their own perspectives on practice and teaching, and increase their own awareness of the assumptions that guide their practice. He explained that he expects that teachers will make a sizable commitment to the school, that they will not just work the minimum hours required, but that they will do everything necessary to get their work done. In return for their commitment to the school community, he made an investment in the continuing education of his teachers, and he hoped that the schools interest in the teachers and in their own development would be meaningful to them and would help them create a sense of its importance. As a climate shaper, Jack prioritized human resources, whether in terms of establishing thick administrative layers or emphasizing teachers professional commitments to the school community and each other.
While independent school leaders primarily emphasized vision and values in their approach to school climate, some (n = 7) also relied heavily on managerial leadership (such as delegation, which allowed them to focus more on vision and developing shared values) to construct a climate that supports adult development. For example, Dr. Jim Scott, principal of the very high-resource Punahou School in Honolulu, needed to rely heavily on deep administrative layers to lead and shape his large school (3,700 students and 334 full- and part-time teachers and support staff). In fact, he envisioned part of his role as a climate shaper to be that of a delegator. In his position, he explained his need to be focus externally: Surrounding myself with good people in whom I trust and entrust a lot of day to day running of the school is a necessity. While he remained focused on the big picture and values of the school, Jim was nonetheless mindful of the challenge presented by being unable to relate to students and faculty one-on-one. Therefore, as a climate shaper, he developed structures to support teacher learning and the flexibility to put them in place (e.g., delegating and inviting adults to assume leadership roles), in contrast to focusing on individual personalities, which was a priority for principals serving in smaller schools.
Barbara Chase, who heads Philips Andover Academy (a high-resource, independent high school in Andover, Massachusetts) explained that she promoted a positive school climate by giving teachers flexibility in their schedules, which emphasizes individual attention to teachers unique needs and exemplifies her managerial leadership. Caring about and flexibly accommodating needs, interests and talents (e.g., flexible scheduling, art, music, and writing) was one way that Barbara shaped a climate supportive of teacher learning. She observed:
We also have a lot of people here who have their own work. We have artists who are working artists. We have two people in the English department who are playwrights, whose plays have been produced on and off Broadway. We have musicians who really work on their own music . . . We have math teachers who write textbooks . . . I think for an institution, somehow to figure out a way to support people in their own work . . . is [important] to think about.
Barbara achieved a climate of individual attention by creating a flexible structure that accommodated individual needs and values. Her school had a lot of flexibility in terms of employing teachers. Some work half time, for example, and during their other time, they work as artists. Admitting this is not always easy and that it depends on available resources, Barbaras personal philosophy about shaping school climate focused on developing the entire person. In other words, she sought to create opportunities for adults to develop themselves by exploring their passions and interests beyond the classroom.
Public School Principals: Building a Climate of Collaboration
All of the public school principals in this sample (8 of 8) strived to create positive climates for teacher learning by encouraging teachers to collaborate. Still, more than simply encourage teachers to collaborate, these principals worked to institute structures within which teachers could work together, allocated resources for collaboration, and secured time to support these efforts. For example, Dr. Larry Myatt, head and founder of Fenway High School (a low financial resource, public urban high school in Boston) focused on creating contexts for adults to have conversations and encouraging teachers to engage in collaborative inquiry. He believed that these forms of collegial inquiry (e.g., engaging in dialog, reflection and writing) enable adults to learn from diverse perspectives, build relationships, develop a deeper understanding of assumptions guiding practice, and often question mental models. In his view, it was important that school climate also supported teachers in pursuing learning and professional development internally and externally. Larry stressed the importance of having faculty get out of the box, out of the classroom, out of the school, in order to broaden their perspectives and build a school climate supportive of adult learning. At Fenway, teachers started to look forward to these kinds of opportunities, making ongoing professional growth part of the climate of the school.
All of the public school principals in this sample, regardless of financial resource level, stressed the importance of maintaining a climate that nurtured collegial inquiry among neighbors, as Larry said. These principals also mentioned the importance of building time into the schedule so that teachers could collaborate and reflect on curricular and improvement issues. A dominant theme among all of the public school principals is that they strived to create a climate of collegiality by setting up structures for teacher collaboration, or by providing managerial leadership. As Roy (2005) emphasized, A schools culture can dictate whether attempts at collaboration and continuous improvement will flourish or wither on the vine (p. 1). Scholars and practitioners further contend that a true learning community values and prioritizes collaboration among colleagues and allocates time in the schedule for team or collaborative learning each day (City et al., 2009; DuFour et al., 2008; Hord & Sommers, 2008).
Dr. Jim Cavanaugh of Watertown High School shared one reason for collaboration:
We want to have a process which allows [teachers] to achieve to the maximum of their ability and doesnt turn them off. And to do that it needs [to be] more than one person walking into a room, shutting the door and doing what he or she wants . . . thats one of the reasons I think were getting to the collaboration piece . . . Because its the one thats going to be the most productive in terms of creating an environment [in] which kids can achieve, feel valuable and feel supported, feel like they can give their opinions.
Jim enacted his role as a climate shaper by working to build a respectful climate in which people are valuedand that means a collaborative community. Toward this end, he and the school community shifted the use of some meetings from nuts and bolts to deeper questions. When I asked him how the community was responding to this important shift, Jim explained:
People are becoming more comfortable with the use of the time for professional development. I think theyre starting to see the good effects of that, and hopefully theyll grow in it. I think as we become a more collaborative community, that will happen more readily and people will just accept it. And in a while, that will be the norm.
Jim and all other public school principals in schools with substantially fewer financial resources nurtured a positive school climate through collaboration amongst teachers. This theme came across regardless of school size and resource levels. For example, Larry Myatt explained that its hard and different being a smaller school principal. Its a lot more weight bearing. Larry discussed some of the ways in which he lacked support when he worked as a teacher himself:
My first 9 or 10 years in education were largely bereft of real support, real guidance. The best things that happened to me as a teacher were kind of conversations that were generated by myself and other teachers about what things we thought would be good for kids, whether it was curriculum or pedagogy or programming. I remember a real scarcity, paucity of attention paid to structures that facilitated conversation among peers.
As a teacher, Larry cherished opportunities to have such professional conversations with colleagues. This inspired his mission as a principalto create these contexts for conversation. In his role as climate shaper, he explained:
It was really clear that teachers needed to learn how to talk to each other; they had to have structures for that. It had to be made a priority. There had to be a culture established wherein it was okay to talk about practice and okay to talk about your personal perspectives around important curriculum or just to give permission for each other to open doors.
While more common now, such conversation was ground-breaking 20 years ago when Larry became a principal. Making room for these kinds of conversations has become part of what he refers to as a cultural legacy as educators in [Boston], maybe even in this country about how educators talk about how we should grow and what we need to continue growth.
Larry, like other principals, points to the developmental value of inviting adults to engage in collegial inquiry. Engaging in this practice is an opportunity to listen carefully to our own and others thinking and perspectives, to grow from understanding and considering diverse points of view, and to work towards understanding different or conflicting points of view as well as the intersections between perspectives. Moreover, when approached with developmental intentionality, collegial inquiry can support growth and learning in adults with diverse ways of knowing and understanding their experiences provided that supports and challenges are in place (see Drago-Severson, 2009).
In addition to supporting internal collaboration, Larry and others discussed the power of collaborations and partnerships with nearby schools and other organizations as a way to build positive school climate. Because of the value of a climate of collegiality, Larry rearranged the school schedule to make 3½ to 4 hours per week for teachers to collaborate, giving teachers the time to talk, and helping them learn how to talk with each other. For example, Larry explained that initially this was very hard because:
You could have three or four teachers show up and have no idea how to use [the common planning time], and one reads the paper and one works on her lesson plan. And two of them talk about a lesson that they might want to do together. Translating that into four people coming with [an understanding about] who leads this, and whos the convener and what roles do people play and why should I buy in. I mean, thats a long slow conversation in the best of schools where everything is set up.
Mr. Joe Shea and Dr. Muriel Leonard, who led low-resourced public elementary and middle schools, respectively, also focused on building school climate through fostering teacher collaboration. At the Trotter Elementary School, Joe instituted 90-minute morning meetings for teachers to collaborate because the first part of their day was their most effective time. Indeed, research shows that teachers seek professional development opportunities, but that it is necessary for these opportunities to be built into the workday in order for them to be used by faculty (Blase & Blase, 2001; City et al., 2009; DuFour et al., 2008; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Killion, 2000; Mann, 2000; Sparks, 2004).
Two-thirds of these principals stressed that altering daily schedules allowed teachers more time to collaborate. For instance, at the McCormick School (a low-resource middle school in Dorchester, Massachusetts), Muriel Leonard also implemented school structures for teacher collaboration. Much like other principals, she believed the kind of collaboration she desired for her teachers would not happen unless the school and schedule are altered so that they deliberately prioritized these forums for teachers to collaborate. Even when structures are put in place, Muriel, like Larry, acknowledged that teachers might show some resistance. In Muriels view, reshaping a school culture takes time.
Due to the scarcity of resources, Muriel worked to reward teachers in new ways. She also built teachers intrinsic motivation for professional development. While previous school policy rewarded teachers with stipends for extra work that the teachers did, Muriel wanted to alter this expectation. Instead of stipends, she invested in professional development materials (e.g., books and curricula) that the teachers used together, because she believed that these practices would build a more collaborative climate. In addition, such materials were first given to teachers working directly on a new initiative. Muriel also created a common planning time for teachers to discuss texts they were reading and what they were learning from them. Yet she was also sensitive to the fact that it can be hard for teachers to put in more than the already excessive amounts of energy they give to their work. In response, she developed a creative use of substitutes to give teachers time to collaborate. She described how this works:
Ive set up a structure where Ill bring in a group of substitutes, and I try to do this about every six weeks or so, to have extended subject area meetings. I might say, Im going to bring in five subs. And those subs are going to replace five math teachers. And well have a 3-hour professional development meeting, in school, on school time.
Muriel firmly believed in the power of having people appreciate and work with the resources right there in the school. Accordingly, she worked to have her school climate reflect the professional standards and personal respect she has for her teachers.
In summary, these principals across school type and resource level employed a variety of creative strategies for building school climate. While all of their strategies were employed in service of creating positive and healthy climates, several of the strategies connect intimately with creating climates that generate the conditions for nurturing adult development. For example, principals emphasized the importance of treating teachers as individuals and attending to their different needs and preferences. This connects closely with the developmental principle discussed earlier about the importance of meeting adults where they are and recognizing that we need to differentiate the kinds of supports and challenges we offer to support learning and growth.
In addition, several of the strategiesor practicesthese principals discussed are part of what I referred to earlier as a new learning-oriented model composed of four pillar practices (i.e., teaming, inviting adults to assume leadership roles, engaging in collegial inquiry, and mentoring) (Drago-Severson, 2004, 2009). These pillar practices connect closely to what many of the principals named as important structures that support growth-enhancing climates and adult learning and development. Principals in this research also discussed the value of bringing adults together to engage in conversation or collegial inquiry as well as how delegating and inviting adults to assume greater leadership within the school can build school climate and support adult development. While Catholic school principals mostly invited adults to engage in dialogue and reflection related to the school mission and its connection to classroom practice and values, public and independent school principals mostly invited inquiry with greater attention to classroom practice. Encouraging teamwork was also a common way in which these leaders, across school type and financial resource level, worked to enhance school climate and support adult development. In addition, many of these leaders named the importance of allocating time for these various forms of collaboration and honoring teachers strengths.
While not usually framed by the language of developmental theory, many of these leadersas discussed earlierwere indeed working to shape climates that were healthy for the adults as well as the children of the school. For instance, many emphasized that positive school climates are created by inviting adults to engage in practices and learning opportunities that meet the adults where they areand that challenge them to learn and grow from exposure to different perspectives and the examination of their contradictions and assumptions. This balance of differentiated supports and challenges is also at the heart of helping adults develop greater cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal capacities that can enable them to better manage the complexities of teaching, learning, leading and living. Many of these principals also seemed to be deeply mindful of adults different developmental capacitieswhat I call developmental diversityand the need to shape school climates that would hold adults with different needs, preferences, and developmental orientations well. This aligns closely with the developmental principle that adults at various stages of ego and intellectual development respond differently, in terms of their attitudes toward, understanding of, and experiences in schools and in any structure (e.g., teaming or engaging in inquiry) aimed at supporting learning and growth. Many of these principals expressed an understanding of this developmental principle in their descriptions of how they shape positive school climates.
SUMMARY AND EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATIONS
Building growth-enhancing school climates is especially important, given the complex, adaptive challenges schools and all who serve in them face today. As noted earlier, research has shown that school climate has enormous impact on teachers commitment, effectiveness, and professional endeavors (Hall & Hord, 2001, p. 2).
As discussed, in this sample, school type emerged as more important than financial resource level in terms of how principals described the ways they shape climate. In other words, while all of the principals in this study noted the importance of their role in shaping school climates that emphasize adult development and shared some common strategies for doing so, the practices they prioritized and used more frequently varied by school type as opposed to financial resource level. More specifically, as noted herein, the Catholic school principals focused more often on visionary or spiritual leadership in order to cultivate school climate supportive of adult development in relation to the schools Catholic mission. Independent school leaders mostly relied on the flexibility afforded them through their different missions to create structures and cultivate opportunities for collaboration. Public school principals tended primarily to employ managerial leadership strategies to address the financial and structural realities of their settings, and to support teacher learning.
As shown, the importance of school mission was particularly noticeable for the Catholic school principals in this sample. While principals in the lower-resource Catholic schools were challenged by fewer human resources to facilitate thick administrative layers, these principals emphasized shaping school climate through sharing a common bond of faith. Independent school leaders, in general, also emphasized building school climate by focusing on shared values and building an appreciation for the values of the school community. The public school principals with fewer financial resources worked to create a positive school climate through teacher collaboration. All of the public school principals stressed the importance of building a climate that centers on creating contexts for teachers to engage in reflective conversations with colleagues.
Still, principals need to attend to all these approaches (i.e., instructional, managerial, and visionary or spiritual) to best cultivate learning-oriented climates for teachers, and this necessity reinforces the importance of the balancing act previously discussed. The implications of this balanced focus include the following: (a) Providing professional development that builds on principals strengths (most will have skills in one of these three areas) and provides developmentally-oriented support to shape growth-enhancing school climates. (b) Balancing these three leadership strategies (i.e., attending to context-specific priorities for creating and enhancing school climate; cultivating shared values and flexibility; and building a climate of collaboration) is likely to be more complex than focusing on one or two of them. (c) Providing sustained support to principals to help them build growth-enhancing climates over time (there is no way that principals can learn how to balance competing commitments related to these areas in a weekend workshop). While I hope that this work is useful to principals who serve in these individual contexts, I also hope that principals who serve in different contexts can draw on the effective strategies that principals use in contexts unlike their own (e.g., learning from principals who serve in different school types).
This work also illuminates common practices across school types. Principals from all three varieties, for example, strived to foster healthy school climates that can sustain adult learning by enacting their roles in ways that convey their care for and investment in their teachers learning. In developing such positive school climates, nearly all of these principals discussed the importance of demonstrating respect for their teachers through appreciation, involving them in decision making, and inviting faculty to shape and consider their schools mission and its relationship to their daily practices. Their sentiments mirror what research has concluded about how important school climate is in relationship to its influence on teachers dedication, commitment, effectiveness, sense of well-being (Cohen et al., 2009; Donaldson, 2006, 2008; DuFour et al., 2008; Hall & Hord, 2001; Hord & Sommers, 2008; Moller & Pankake, 2006).
Modeling learning while leading was another way in which most of these principals built school climates that support teachers learning. Their work in shaping school climate and the creative practices that the principals implement oriented toward establishing contexts in which students, teachers, and principals are able to develop. Each approach demonstrates a value for democratic collaboration as a means to enhancing the school community and promoting teacher development.
Leadership supportive of adult development requires attending to teachers current and emerging capacities to handle the complexities of their work. Supportive leadership also underscores the importance of caring for ones own development to support other adults. This learning-oriented framework emphasizes creating opportunities based on the principle that learning is a developmental process. While highlighting the contextual challenges that principals encounter in shaping healthful school climates, this research offers some possible strategies related to how to build growth-enhancing climates that can be adapted to various settings (i.e., prioritizing contexts wherein teachers and principals can engage in reflective practice collaboratively through writing and dialogue).
As noted, shaping school climates that support adult learning has been linked to increases in student achievement (Cohen et al., 2009; Donaldson, 2008; Guskey, 1999; Kelley et al., 2005; Kreider & Bouffard, 2005/2006; Sindelar et al., 2002; Sykes, 1999). Given the demands placed on principals in the 21st century and the likelihood that they may be in close contact with principals who serve in similar types of schools (e.g., public), this research can offer principals a window into the priorities and practices of principals who serve in different types of school contexts (e.g., Catholic). In other words, this research provides a chance for leaders to learn from those serving in other school types (e.g., independent school leaders ways of thinking about their vision and how it translates to building a healthy school climate), and to explore these issues in greater depth within and across schools.
By drawing on current research, an adult developmental framework, and leaders meaning making, this research offers ideas and practices to help practitioner-professionals and researchers create more positive climates supportive of teachers transformational learning. While leaders face technical and adaptive challenges (Heifetz, 1994) in the every-changing and challenging educational context, adaptive challenges are increasingly widespread (Drago-Severson, 2009, 2012; Kegan & Lahey, 2009; Wagner, 2007). My hope is that these principals diverse perspectives on their role as climate shapers in their work to support teacher learning will benefit teachers and other school leaders in a broader range of schools.
Portions of this research were presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Researchers Association, April 2005, Montreal, Canada.
This research was partially supported by a Spencer Research Grant.
This research was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Spencer Foundation. I gratefully acknowledge and express appreciation to the Spencer Foundation for their valuable support. The data presented, the statements made, and the views expressed are solely my responsibility.
My deep gratitude goes to the 25 school leaders who participated in this research by generously sharing their experiences and opening their hearts and minds so that we could learn from their good work, dedication, and heartfelt passions. I am grateful to each one for the privilege to share in and learn from their courageous lives.
I offer gratitude to Jessica Blum and to Kristina C. Pinto for sharing their thoughtful editorial suggestions, which have made this work stronger.
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