Direction Re(forming): Teachers' Accounts of Leadership Processes in Secondary School Subject Departments

Saxena, Shalini
Youngs, Howard
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Master of Educational Leadership
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Auckland University of Technology

This small-scale, qualitative study focuses on the processes of direction forming in subject departments with the aim to extend understandings of these processes. The research questions guiding the study are: What are teachers’ understandings of how direction forms and reforms within their subject department? How do teachers associate direction forming and reforming with key departmental leadership functions? What strategies do teachers use to address challenges with departmental direction forming? An interpretivist ontological viewpoint underpins the methodology for this study.

The main findings of this study are: (1) Group processes of direction forming in subject departments do not replace hierarchies. (2) Subject departments are seen as compliant units within organisations. (3) Most leadership processes are aimed at achieving compliance and are usually responsive, rather than proactive. (4) There is some recognition of collective agency, but almost none of individual agency.

The interplay of structural components and interpersonal relationships seems to guide direction forming in subject departments. Organisational structures, including leadership structures, do not always align with departmental needs. Teachers’ accounts suggest that their team’s performance depends on the quality of working relationships amongst themselves, and organisational structures may make it harder to sustain these relationships. These findings could be applied to a critical review of current leadership structures in New Zealand secondary schools to explore emergent leadership as a form of leadership. The findings may also contribute to existing literature on leadership processes by adding teachers’ perspectives to it. It is recommended that teacher and middle leader voice be gathered and used to inform organisational planning for increased alignment between policy and requirements.

Leadership processes , Direction forming , Subject departments , Secondary schools
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