THE EDGE OF CONSTRUCTING OURSELVES: An Appreciative Investigation of the experiences of School Leaders in an Online Community of Practice.

Author: Mark Sparvell

Sparvell, Mark, 2019 THE EDGE OF CONSTRUCTING OURSELVES: An Appreciative Investigation of the experiences of School Leaders in an Online Community of Practice. , Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Being a leader of a school is one of the most important roles in our society because of the direct influence such people have on the lives of students. However, the nature of the role is increasingly complex and demanding.

School leaders must understand the global and local context within which they function to determine the most appropriate responses for their schools. Gamage, Adams, and McCormack (2009) note that student success relies upon leaders being able to adjust leadership practices in response to changing context. Whilst contextual understanding is essential, they must also sustain professional networks. Hargreaves and Fink remind school leaders that no one person will be able to provide the answers to the questions that challenge schools and that ‘…the future of leadership must be embedded in the hearts and minds of the many and not rest on the shoulders of a heroic few’ (Hargreaves, 2003, p.699). We know that building capacity for continuous improvement requires collaborative activity to be sustained both within and between schools. Professionally-focused inquiry provides a powerful medium for individual and organisational learning, and capacity building amongst whole ‘communities of leaders’ (Barth, 1988) and across and between schools as learning communities.

The objective of this investigation was to explore the positive experiences of leaders in primary Australian school settings within such an intentional online community. The research was conducted within the paradigm of qualitative analysis with intentional sampling of seven school leaders and their experiences within a profession-specific online community of practice (CoP).

A constructionist, social and situational learning position appropriate to an appreciative approach was adopted for this investigation. Narratives were collected by means of semi-structured interviews and emergent themes were identified through content analysis. The results of this investigation show promising evidence that online CoPs are a valuable source of informal professional progression, identity shaping and new leadership opportunities through personal and professional connections. These online spaces are the digital symbols of the active and legitimate peripheral engagement of the community members. School leaders who have access to situated, flexible, contextually appropriate spaces for identity and knowledge construction experience many professional and personal benefits, which both sustain and inspire their growth and professional practices.

This research will contribute to the design of professional learning spaces for school leadership and possibly address some questions raised in the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders (AITSL, 2012) including;

How can social media support learning?

How can professional community and collaboration enhance professional learning?

Keywords: Communities of practice, online communities of practice, school leader, professional development, social learning, innovation, school improvement, knowledge construction, constructivism, principal, education leader, leadership, headmaster

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2019
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Michael Bell