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Author(s):Hedvig N. Abrahamsen (presenting), Marit Aas

Conference:ECER 2014, The Past, the Present and the Future of Educational Research

Network:26. Educational Leadership


Session Information

26 SES 08 B, Leadership and School Improvement

Paper Session


Room:B028 Anfiteatro

Chair:Lawrence Drysdale


Reorganizing School Leadership For Quality Improvement

The present paper builds on and contributes to work in the field of distributed leadership. Although studies in distributed leadership have established that school leadership is important for quality improvement in schools (Day et al., 2009; Leithwood, Harris, & Hopkins, 2008; Robinson, 2008), there has not been a lot of research on (re)distribution of leadership in reorganized leadership teams as a quality improvement strategy facing the challenge that leadership has become too complex and demanding for the principal alone. This study provides additional insight into how organizational restructuring of the leadership team is experienced by deputy heads, in their new role as leaders with expanded leadership responsibility towards teacher staff and instructional leadership. This is a qualitative study that analyses how 15 deputy heads from four lower secondary schools experience their new leadership role, and which patterns characterizes their experiences. Although numerous studies (Aas, 2013; Dale, Gilje, & Lillejord, 2011; Jorunn Møller & Fuglestad, 2006) and education policy ( Ministry of Education and Research (2003-2004, 2007-2008) have identified the importance of leadership, little analytic attention has been paid to how school leaders understand and interpret change of own role when reorganising the school leadership team. We address this issue by demonstrating how deputy heads experience their changing leader roles in Norwegian municipalities. Norway is an interesting case in this respect, as education policy to a great extent is influenced by international advice from the OECD (Møller, Prøitz, Rye, & Aasen, 2013).

The OECD-report “Improving School Leadership – Policy and Practice» (2008) underlines school leadership as important for the development of student outcomes, and is a representation of powerful economic and political  interest in school leadership. One major purpose is to perform instructional leadership because the attention must be directed towards development of teaching and student  learning (Robinson, 2011). These policy documents together with international focus on instructional leadership, as presented in the “Improving School Leadership-report from 2008 (B. Pont, D. &  Nusche, & H. Moorman) and the conclusion in the OECD-report TALIS (Vibe et al., 2009) focusing on a lack of tradition for  instructional leadership, has led to several quality improvement strategies in municipalities in Norway. One such improvement strategy has been to reorganize leadership in schools with the purpose to increase performing instructional leadership practice. Consequences of this reorganization is that the previous deputy head role, often characterized by delegated administrative tasks, changes into an instructional leadership role which there has been little tradition for in Norwegian schools (Vibe, Aamodt, & Carlsten, 2009).


Objective: The present study aims to identify how institutional reorganization of leadership role and practices is experienced and understood by significant actors.

Research question: How do deputy heads in lower secondary school experience their new role as leaders – a role characterized by expectations on performing instructional leadership?

Within the framework of distributed leadership, in which the present study is grounded, the focus changes from viewing leadership as a trait within a person towards viewing leadership as a practice produced in the interactions between people concerned with performing tasks. This view is operationalized through the concepts of “leader-plus” aspect and “leader-practice aspect” (Spillane, 2006). The leader-plus aspect focuses on distribution in relation to responsibilities of tasks, division of labour, and puts an analytical lens towards structure, functions and design. The leadership practice aspect is directed towards the product of interactions between leader, follower and aspects of the situation. We take into consideration that institutions are different, each  with their unique history and culture; this, in turn, impacts change and stability, and new demands and initiatives are translated actions through established cultures (Mahoney & Thelen, 2010).


This qualitative study is based on empirical data collected in 2012-13 and encompasses four focus group interviews with all together 15 deputy heads from four lower secondary schools in relatively big municipalities in a Norwegian context. In addition to the focus group interviews, eight contextual observations from meetings in the leadership team were conducted (Krueger & Casey, 2009; Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009; Morgan, 1997). Three important criteria determined the choice of informants: First we chose schools which had undergone a reorganisation process involving at least four leaders at the school, consisting of the principal and at least three deputy heads. The second demand was that they were attached to municipalities where considerable effort had been put into developing quality systems in the education sector, which included reorganisation of the leadership team. The third criteria was that the schools as organisations were not the units which decided the reorganisation, it had been initiated from the school-owner level and decided in the city councils by local politicians. This means that the school leader roles were changed by external sources, and not by the school leaders themselves. The thematic questions in the interview guide were attached to how the new role was experienced, own identity as leaders, and how they experienced their own new position. Data analysis is a systematic search for meaning (Hatch, 2002), and the data were collected in NVivo10 to enhance the transparency of the analysis, built up as a combination of deductive pre-established concept-driven codes and free nodes from the inductive and interpretive readings. The concept-driven codes were built up by the theoretical frames of a distributed leadership perspective, conceptualising change of the practice-aspect and the restructuring of leadership focusing on the leader-plus aspect. The inductive categories were focused towards the dimension of leader experiences. The interpretive analysis, representing an ongoing process, aimed at developing more knowledge about how to understand change of school leadership in the context of international focus on the impact of school leadership in improving schools.

Expected Outcomes

The analysis show three patterns that characterize the new role as deputy head. First, the new role represents an organisational and structural change from a traditional deputy role. With the new responsibility for groups of teachers, including the appraisal interviews, the deputy heads put weight on developing good dialogue and relations with the teachers. Second, the aspect of control signals a new relation between the deputy head and the teachers. Our findings suggest that deputy heads choose a dialogical and questioning approach towards the teachers in their leadership practice and reduce the aspect of control or assessment of the teachers`teaching. This is their interpretation and choice of strategy of practice towards the teachers in their new leadership role. Third, the deputy heads report that they are closer to the daily teaching practices and know a lot more about “what is going on” in the classrooms than they did earlier. They experience their main challenge to be finding a good balance between on the one hand, the aspect of control of teacher instructional practices and on the other, to function as a facilitator for the teacher in the classroom. The deputy heads do not only want to function as facilitators but be evaluated as leaders with powers. Although the international focus and weight of the instructional leadership for school quality improvement influences Norwegian lower secondary schools, the change of the leader-plus structure seems to allow extensive interpretation of how the dimension of control is to be understood in performing instructional leadership. With an extensive focus on the dialogic and relational perspective on this area of leadership practice, the interactions between the deputy head and the teachers seems to be of focus, more than the aspect of power, control and to “keep an eye on teachers` work” (Vibe et al., 2009)


Aas, M. (2013). Ledelse av skoleutvikling. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. Dale, E. L., Gilje, N., & Lillejord, S. (2011). Gjennomføring av utdanningsreformer i kunnskapssamfunnet. [Oslo]: Cappelen Damm Akademisk. Day, C., Sammons, P., Hopkins, D., Harris, A., Leighwood, K., Gu, Q., . . . Kington, A. (2009). The Impact of School Leadership on Pupil Outcomes Final Report (pp. 206). University of Nottingham. Hatch, J. A. (2002). Doing qualitative research in education settings: State University of New York Press, Albany. Krueger, R. A., & Casey, M. A. (2009). Focus groups: a practical guide for applied research. Los Angeles, Calif.: Sage. Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2009). Interviews: learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing. Los Angeles, Calif.: Sage. Leithwood, K., Harris, A., & Hopkins, D. (2008). Seven Strong Claims about Successful School Leadership. School Leadership & Management, 28(1), 27-42. Mahoney, J. a., & Thelen, K. A. (2010). A theory of Gradual Institutional Change. In J. Mahoney & K. A. Thelen (Eds.), Explaining Institutional Change Ambiguity, Agency, and Power: Cambridge University Press. Ministry of Education and Research (2003-2004). White Paper 30 Kultur for læring [Culture for Learning]. Oslo: Author. Ministry of Education and Research (2007-2008). White Paper 31 Kvalitet i skolen [Quality in School]. Oslo: Author. Morgan, D. L. (1997). Focus Groups as Qualitative Research (Vol. 16). California: SAGE Publications, Inc. Møller, J., & Fuglestad, O. L. (2006). Ledelse i anerkjente skoler. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. Møller, J., & Ottesen, E. (2012). Kunnskapsinformert ledelse i skolen - en utfordring for skoleeier. In J. S. Jøsendal, G. Langfeldt & K. Roald (Eds.), Skoleeier som kvalitetsutvikler. Oslo: Kommuneforlaget. Møller, J., Prøitz, T. S., Rye, E., & Aasen, P. (2013). Kunnskapsløftet som styringsform. In B. Karseth, J. Møller & P. Aasen (Eds.), Reformtakter om fornyelse og stabilitet i grunnopplæringen. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. Pont, B., Nusche, D., & Moorman, H. (2008). Improving School Leadership, Volume 1. Paris: OECD Publishing. Robinson, V. M. J. (2008). Forging the links between distributed leadership and educational outcomes. Journal of Educational Administration, 46(2). Robinson, V. M. J. (2011). Student-Sentered Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. A Wiley Imprint. Spillane, J. (2006). Distributed Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. A Wiley Imprint. Vibe, N., Aamodt, P. O., & Carlsten, T. C. (2009). Å være ungdomsskolelærer i Norge: Resultater fra OECDs internasjonale studie av undervisning og læring (TALIS) (Vol. 23/2009). Oslo: NIFU STEP.

This proposal is part of a master or doctoral thesis.

Author Information

Hedvig N. Abrahamsen (presenting)

Sogn and Fjordane University College

Department for Teacher Education and Sports


Marit Aas

Department of Teacher Education and School Research, University of Oslo

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