Exploring Teachers’ Phenomenological Experiences of a Principal’s Change Initiative


Black, Anne-Marie Louise. (2018) Exploring Teachers’ Phenomenological Experiences of a Principal’s Change Initiative [Thesis]. https://doi.org/10.26199/5c8ef6d760985
AuthorsBlack, Anne-Marie Louise
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Educational change has traditionally been viewed as an objective and rational process. From this perspective, school leaders have been dependent on solving the infuriatingly elusive effective change process puzzle by trying to “finetune the plan to ensure it incorporated every essential piece of the jigsaw” (Branson, 2010, p. 18). Despite educators seeking to explain events and control processes for change for many decades, effective educational change remains an elusive outcome. By striving to objectify the process, people can overlook the subjective influence that a change initiative may have on the behaviour and attitudes of those involved in enacting change. For this research, the term ‘phenomenology’ is used to refer to a person’s subjective emotional dimension and this is distinct from its use in a research methodology sense.

In recent times, there is an emerging realisation that leaders of change within schools need to be more relational and to consider how a change initiative influences the subjectivity of those involved. To do this, school leaders need to move beyond conceptualising change as a series of processes and/or practices that are often imposed onto teachers, who are then expected to enact these in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ manner (Wheatley, 2006). A relational school leader acknowledges that enacting change involves teachers experiencing some sense of loss for the practices and processes that they consider define their identity as a professional. A teacher’s sense of professionalism and professional identity are couched in the way they individually ‘craft’ their practice (Crow, Day & Moller, 2016; Kelchtermans, 2005). Thus, a relational school leader should be reflective and monitor the effect that a change initiative has on teachers’ sense of subjectivity as they need to realise that this can influence the extent to which teachers engage in processes for teaching and learning. This is particularly pertinent in light of the teacher quality agenda that underscores the current political context.

Within the current Australian educational context, teacher quality is being viewed as a key factor in shaping the economic fabric of this nation now and into the future. As a consequence of this perspective, the Australian government has introduced a suite of reforms into education that seek to address the perceived paucity in teacher quality (Australian Council for Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2012; Council of Australian Governments, 2008a; Education Services Australia, 2011a, 2012a, 2012b, 2013). The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership [AITSL], a government-endorsed body, has played an instrumental role in the development and promulgation of educational reforms in this nation. These reforms have been premised on the view that teaching is an objective and rational process, and they have sought to embed a culture of control, consistency, and accountability with regard to the way that teaching and learning occur in Australian schools. It is unlikely that viewing education from this perspective and embedding a culture of compliance, and its associated control and accountability measures, will result in an elevation in teacher quality (Hursh, 2011, 2013; Hursh & Henderson, 2011).

The research problem emanates from the perspective that subjectivity, arguably, has a critical role to play in shaping the way that teachers embrace opportunities for learning and the way that teachers implement pedagogical practice at the classroom level. However, this continues to be overlooked in the current educational context. In light of this problem, this research will explore the phenomenological responses that teachers in a single-school context have regarding the implementation of a principal’s change initiative.

Consistent with a broader body of scholarship concerned with educational change, this research is guided by an interpretivist paradigm through which educators’ constructions of the principal’s change initiative are elucidated. Within a school, teachers constantly interpret their experiences and construct multiple views of reality. The way that each teacher enacts their professional role is shaped by their individual perception of reality and the meaningful social interactions that they have with the people they interact with. Case-study methodology enables a detailed exploration of an experience, and for this research it is the implementation of the principal’s change initiative. Perceptions of this particular change initiative are gathered from the principal, the change facilitator, and the teachers from a Catholic primary school in the State of Queensland, Australia. All teachers at the research school completed an electronic survey to share their perceptions of the change initiative implemented at this school. Individual semi-structured interviews were also conducted with the principal, the change facilitator, and 16 of the teachers at the research school.

It is argued in this thesis that imposing a change initiative on teachers can result in them expressing negative phenomenological responses towards the focus area of change which reinforces their reluctance, if not resistance, towards continuing to enact the change. Furthermore, it supports the understanding that a planned educational change strategy is significantly deficient if it does not incorporate a means for ascertaining, and positively responding to, the ongoing phenomenological responses to the change processes from those involved in bringing about the change. This implies that those who are overseeing the change need to not only be effective managers of the change process, but they also need to have the dispositional characteristics to be effective leaders of people.

Keywordseducation; change; leadership; principals; schools; phenomonology
PublisherACU Research Bank
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26199/5c8ef6d760985
Research GroupSchool of Education
Final version
Publication dates01 Aug 2018
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