Learning to Change, Learning to Innovate (Part 4)

Alberta’s high schools are changing. From structure to improved student engagement, the goal is a system rooted in pedagogically sound organizational structure, quality teaching and optimum learning for students, teachers, and administrators.

How this change is coordinated, while staying true to fundamental principles and roots, is best explained by talking about complex adaptive systems.

What did researchers find?

(the 11 findings from this study were discussed over the previous series of blogs. Read about findings 1 & 2 here, findings 3 – 6 here, findings 7 – 9 here. This blog contains findings 10 & 11)

The following findings pertain to research question 3: In what ways do district leaders support the principals’ professional learning?

Finding 10: Highly Adaptive Learning Systems

Results from this study provide a conceptualization of highly adaptive learning systems with permeable or blurry boundaries and different levels of connection strength between school and system level influences.

Overall, principals were influenced by other administrators in the school, district leaders, principals from other high schools involved in redesign initiatives and external consultants outside of the district, such as personnel from the ministry, faculty from post-secondary institutions, published authors and other members of professional learning networks.

Finding 11: District Support

Levels of connection and supports for principals’ learning provided by district level leaders varied.

In the research team’s social network analysis, patterns of distribution were noted based on identification and description of influence in both the survey and interview transcripts. The most common pattern associated both internal and external influences to specific actions or focal points of high school redesign. In a second pattern, the internal influence of district leadership was not associated to focal points of high school redesign described by principals or teachers. The findings suggest district influence can vary in schools. Further study is needed to determine the implications for district leadership influence on high schools undergoing redesign.

In the cases where district leaders were provided limited district-level support, it was evident the principals relied on the support of the larger learning network of schools.  Being able to connect to something that was a province-wide initiative allowed these schools to step out of the confines and the isolation within a single school jurisdiction and connect with different school leaders engaged in a high school redesign. The findings in this section suggest a conceptualization of highly adaptive learning systems can be used to describe permeable or blurry boundaries and different levels of connection strength between school and system level influences. All levels within learning systems need highly adaptive networks of school and system level influences guided by a theory of action for change.

For a full discussion of the findings reported in this blog, please consult the full report of the study.

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