Type of Document Dissertation Author Brandt, Nolia Camblin Author's Email Address firstname.lastname@example.org URN etd-07062004-203913 Title Constructing School Organization Through Metaphor: Making Sense of School Reform Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Carolyn D. Herrington Committee Chair Jerome S. Osteryoung Committee Member Karen L. Laughlin Committee Member Patrice Marie Iatarola Committee Member Sande Milton Committee Member Terrence Russell Committee Member Keywords
- Educational Reform
- Eduactional Research
- School Administration
- Change Management
Date of Defense 2004-04-22 Availability unrestricted AbstractConstructing School Organization Through Metaphor: Making Sense of School Reform is an in-depth case study of a K-12 laboratory school affiliated with a major state university. The school was undergoing a series of significant changes, mainly due to mandates brought about through educational reform policy and the upcoming loss and replacement of their school facilities. The study was of a particular period in time, and spanned approximately one year. The directed, open-ended questions asked during interviews with adults in the school were related to changes the school was undergoing, how these changes were being implemented, and how these were affecting teachers in relation to their teaching. Insights about the organization were in part gained by the use of metaphor as a tool for looking at organizational structure, and for viewing and describing the meanings that educators created around their roles, professions, and organization.
Qualitative research was chosen as the best method for studying these research questions:
1) What understandings about the organization and the changes exist?
A) What organizational metaphors are played out in this school undergoing rapid change?
B) Are multiple metaphors conflicting or complementary?
2) What are the consequences of competing metaphors on educators and the organization?
During times of change, an organization's metaphors are more readily apparent as the actors respond to the pressures of change: this was true at the lab school. Metaphors helped expose how individuals constructed shared meanings about their school, the changes impacting the school, and themselves as members of the organization.
The study provides insights into how metaphor and rhetoric were used by educators and others to help construct the social reality of their school, a reality played out through the school's culture. Great concerns surfaced during the interviews about the role of the teacher, the needs of students, the purposes of education, and issues about reform. At the same time, holding the culture together were certain underlying values, characteristics, and expectations—mainly a commitment to student learning and the best interests of the students. The shared metaphor of "teacher" allowed the culture of the school to survive with some strength, even while co-existing with the dissonance caused by other, competing metaphors. However, the shared metaphor of "teacher" did not reduce the school's struggle with change, and the socializing aspects of the culture did not appear to be contributing to an overall understanding or acceptance of the proposed new school and new metaphors necessary to implement the changes and mandates.
The research is descriptive in nature, and data (observations, interviews, and study of artifacts inside and outside of the setting) were inductively analyzed. The narratives of the people interviewed are the primary data. Aggregated data reported in this study are excerpts from the interviews with forty-seven adults within the school setting, compiled in such a way as to represent the repeated issues and mix of "voices" of those interviewed.
The thick data collected provides information on how educators within the school were making sense and meaning of themselves and their organization as the school underwent great change. The events that took place were observed, recorded, and analyzed through open coding into themes that described the changes, metaphors, negotiations, and processes taking place: these constructed the realities within the school. Metaphors were seen to effect and be affected by a series of changes within the school and by the rhetoric of school members.
The researcher's intention was accomplished--i.e., to examine and consider how the institutional arguments, as reported by stakeholders in the organization, were negotiated through a complex, interactive process. The examination was fundamentally based on the metaphors used by the participants, which both revealed and helped to create their views of the reality of the organization. Metaphors were also used in the production of the study as a means of helping the reader understand what was taking place in this school.
As a way of looking at people's behavior, organizations, and life constructs, metaphors serve as tools for understanding, identifying, and describing how educators within the school perceive and construct their organization and manage their work lives. Educators use metaphor to construct their realities of themselves as professionals and of their school as an organization, to share beliefs and realities with others, and to influence decisions. Some of the metaphors found and used in the lab school had to do with organizational issues, others with individual issues, including identity. Understanding the dynamics between the existence and use of metaphors, organization structure, and the people who work in the organization is important to educators and policy makers as schools re-create themselves to meet new mandates.
The narratives describe and give insights into how people in the organization used metaphors to organize their structures and work, and to negotiate, manage, construct, and deal with their realities and relationships with each other. The narratives and descriptions of the research also use metaphors to facilitate readers' understanding of this study and to link the narratives of those interviewed back to the literature review. The narrative data reveals that mandated changes were affecting the identity of teachers as professionals. Educators' typifications of themselves as teachers, with the best interests of students at heart, allowed the educators to function as a school that enjoyed some measure of success, even when their was no consensus around changes in the organization. Paradoxes existed in the form of opposing beliefs and realities of what was happening in the school, and educators talked about the school and its changes in ways that were contradictory to how they behaved as members of the school. Some educators talked about the organization as a dictatorship or other type of organization, while almost all of them behaved in ways consistent with a learning organization. On occasion, educators talked about competing realities within the school. Consternation about changes in the school and individual realities caused a variety of reactions, including fight-flight, avoidance, and engagement. The use of rhetoric to inform, build, or eliminate metaphors was in evidence, and members of the school tended to group with "like minded" people who reinforced their existing beliefs.
People in the school interacted with others based on each person's own stock of knowledge, which was informed, enlarged, reinforced, and changed through metaphor: realities were a constant work in progress. These sets of old assumptions and beliefs helped create paradoxes: the teachers who were interviewed focused on their stressors and distress about the changes in the school, versus the way they interacted as a learning organization with the students and each other in positive and supportive ways. This focus on the negative aspects of changes in the school appeared to be in large part due to the probe questions with which the researcher began the interviews.
While the school's Director focused on organizational metaphors, the teachers were focused on person-centered metaphors. There was no metaphor being promoted by the leaders in the school that was more attractive than the metaphors and identities members of the school were losing, particularly those of "lab" school, "professor," and "families." Organizational literature mainly deals with organization-centered metaphors, whereas the person-centered ones that teachers related to most point to a gap in the organizational literature.
The metaphor of democracy, which is important to site-based management such as the school had, was jeopardized by a lack of participation across stakeholders such as parents, teachers, and students. There were many valid reasons for this lack of participation, as reflected in the study and which were in agreement with findings of other researchers. School members struggled with issues unique to their school, but also those faced by other lab and site-managed schools and the U.S. workforce in general.
Communications appeared to be one of the biggest barriers to effecting change, and the reasons for communication breakdowns were varied. In addition, the school was undergoing a transformation from lab school to professional development school (PDS), yet forty-five of the forty-seven people interviewed seemed unaware of this. The transformation to a PDS reflected the trend of other lab schools in the U.S. that had managed to survive by changing their organizations and identities.
Change brought on other challenges as well: those who taught core or state-tested disciplines were challenged to cover all of the requirements and still keep their teaching engaging, up-to-date, and meaningful. Most of the excitement and innovation in the middle and high schools seemed to come from "elective" courses, with the exception of an integrative arts-based program that included core courses, such as math and science.
Although educators focused mainly on the stressors caused by change when questioned about change during the interviews, the majority of them behaved in the sharing and interactive ways of a learning organization. At the same time that the school had most of the attributes of a learning organization, most of the educators did not appear to understand key points of this type organization, particularly that chaos is real and embraceable, that change is constant, quick, and part of an everyday process.
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