Living within reform : a phenomenological study of the lived experiences of teacher leaders in high schools
Norris, Colleen Marie
This is a phenomenological study of the experiences of three teacher leaders in the context of high school reform. It examines the essence of teacher leadership and how these teacher leaders made sense of their experiences. At the outset is a portrayal of my position and connection to the phenomenon of teacher leadership. This study reviews literature within three distinct areas. First, the nature of school reform is examined, including the rationale for reform, the challenges associated with reform, how to achieve sustainable reform, and a review of six drivers for effective reforms. Then, an investigation of distributed leadership follows which includes a discussion of the processes and forms of distributed leadership and a description of the facilitators and tensions for distributed leadership. The third area of the review is focused on teacher leadership including the roles and characteristics of teacher leaders, their connection to staff development, issues of effectiveness, and tensions for teacher leaders. Following this review, the research design and methodology is presented. Transcendental phenomenology including the concepts of phenomenological reduction and imaginative variation are explored in detail. Protocol writing was utilized to select participants for this study. From collected writings by formal teacher leaders, participants suited for phenomenological research were selected. Three teacher leaders participated in in-depth, semi-structured interviews. The interviews were transcribed by the researcher. Participants shared their experiences as teacher leaders. Additional questions were asked to elicit more details about their experiences and to find out how participants made sense of their experiences. In the experiences of the participants, five themes emerged: Grappling with teacher leadership identity, facing the uncertainties of sustaining the reform initiative, negotiating the tensions between management and leadership, experiencing challenges of leading, and feeling the empowerment of success. Participants made sense of their experiences in these four ways: learning, communicating, doing, and reflecting. Several forces that impact the experience of teacher leadership and facilitate the formation of teacher leadership identity emerged. Through the process of making sense of their experiences, teacher leaders came to understand theory, which they termed “getting it”, and then enacted their learning. The ways in which teacher leaders made sense of their experiences were influenced in part by their leadership persona and in part by the culture and context within which they lived. Among the implications for theory from this study is that more needs to be learned about the leadership identity of teacher leaders leading reforms. Implications for practice include the provision of time for teacher leaders to reflect on and discuss their experiences, as well as the provision of professional development focused on change praxis and leadership praxis for teacher leaders and instructional leadership for in-school administrators. Among the implications for research are the need to investigate teacher leaders’ association with administration, both in their aspirations and in how they are perceived towards administration, the cognitive changes that occur for teacher leaders, whether a context of instructional leadership eases tensions in teacher leadership, and whether formal teacher leader roles are an effective way for school divisions to plan for leadership succession. In addition, the phenomenological research method is reflected upon.
DegreeMaster of Education (M.Ed.)
CommitteeCottrell, Michael; Coffin, Cindy; Kinzel, Audrey; Renihan, Patrick; Prytula, Michelle