Title: Changing schools as organizations: Structuring agents and acting structures in the implementation of mentoring practices
Authors: März, Virginie ×
Kelchtermans, Geert
Dumay, X. #
Issue Date: 2013
Conference: Annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) location:San Francisco, California date:27 April - 1 May 2013
Abstract: In this paper we study 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 (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 paper is to offer a theoretical framework focusing on the need to move beyond the agency-structure dichotomy in the study of educational innovation. More specifically, we identify and discuss some conceptual and analytical tools for studying implementation practices by drawing on work from two theoretical and complementary traditions: sense-making theory (see e.g., Coburn, 2001, 2005; Spillane, Reiser, & Reimer, 2002; Weick, 1995) and neo-institutional theory (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Rowan, 1995; Scott, 2008), both acknowledging the complex interplay of agency on the one hand, and cultural scripts, organizational routines, and roles on the other. To develop our theorizing, we illustrate our ideas with examples drawn from two extensive qualitative case studies on the implementation of induction programs, and more specifically mentoring practices, in Flemish (Belgian) secondary schools. 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 specific resources (so called “mentoring hours”) which allowed them to implement and refine induction programs and to include forms of mentoring as part of teachers’ formal contract. 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 included 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. The 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 preliminary data analysis further reveals three initial findings or tensions: 1) power versus control: illuminating beginning teachers’ micropolitical action; 2) macro versus micro: understanding implementation practices from the perspective of the organizational field; and 3) stability versus change: defining school organizations as characterized by stabilizing- as well as change-driven processes. This paper contributes to research on organizational sociology and educational innovation by illuminating actors’ role in organizational change and by recognizing how actors are institutionally constructed.
Description: Symposium title: ‘It takes two to tango’: Disentangling agency and structure in schools as organizations
Chair: R. Ogawa
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Instructional Psychology and Technology
Centre for Innovation and the Development of Teacher and School
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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