Title: Changing schools as organizations: Structuring agents and acting structures in the implementation of mentoring practices. In G. Kelchtermans (Chair), It takes two to tango: Disentangling agency and structure in schools as organizations
Authors: März, Virginie ×
Kelchtermans, Geert #
Issue Date: Apr-2012
Conference: Symposium conducted at the meeting of Invisible College location:Vancouver, Canada date:12 April 2012
Abstract: In this session we focus on the implementation of mentoring practices in Flemish (Belgian) secondary schools. Over the last two decades, research on educational innovation has strongly emphasized the central role of sense-making in implementation processes (see e.g., Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; Hopkins, 2001). However powerful this perspective, a proper framework for the study of educational innovations also needs to encompass the role of structural elements. The purpose of this session is to offer a theoretical framework focusing on the need to move beyond the agency-structure dichotomy in the study of educational innovation. This framework draws on both new institutionalism in organization theory (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Scott, 2001) and frame analysis (Coburn, 2006; Goffman, 1974). Both perspectives acknowledge the complex interplay of agency on the one hand, and cultural scripts, frames, routines, and roles on the other. In doing so, this research tries to highlight the rational as well as the non-rational factors shaping the design and implementation of mentoring practices in school organizations. Combining both perspectives, we aim at unraveling the particular way mentoring practices have been enacted in schools as well as how they evolved over time as a result of policy changes.
We draw on data from two extensive qualitative case-studies of secondary schools in Flanders. Since the late 1980s the need to provide specific support to new teachers became widely acknowledged in Flemish schools and resulted in a wide range of particular practices of more experienced teachers voluntarily providing help to beginning teachers. In 2006 these practices were institutionalized by a new Decree on Teacher Education. Schools received special funding (“mentoring hours”), which allowed including mentoring as part of teachers’ formal contract. The voluntary practice was replaced by paid work and the ‘mentor’ became a formal role in the school. In 2010, as part of budget cuts, this funding was ended abruptly, bringing mentoring practices back to an issue of voluntary work. This changing policy environment offers an interesting context to study processes of change and stability. Data sources include extensive interviews with key informants (mentors, teachers, beginning teachers, principals) as well as document analysis (e.g., mission statement of the school). Systematic interpretative data analysis (Kvale, 1996; Miles & Huberman, 1994) was used to unravel the practices and their rationale in relation to changes in (funding) procedures, policy logics, etc.
Although the process of data analysis is still to be completed, preliminary results indicate how structural elements that guide individuals’ actions and thinking are not only operating in each local school site, but are at the same time related to the broader societal-level system (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983). Moving between the local and the organizational field level allows for a more fine-grained understanding of implementation practices. The results also show how individual strategic responses as well as institutional and structural factors frame the actual implementation of mentoring practices. This research wants to contribute to research on organizational sociology and educational innovation by illuminating actors’ role in organizational change and by recognizing how actors are institutionally constructed.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Educational Policy and Innovation and Teacher Training
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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