Networking for New Headteachers

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Networking for New Headteachers

The purpose of this article is to highlight and discuss the question: What significance does networking have for new headteachers? The article is based on in-depth interviews with four headteachers of primary schools located in rural areas. The headteachers had completed national headteacher education and had been headteachers for one to three years at the time of the interview. The analyses show that the headteachers’ networks are an important arena for knowledge development, and their participation in networks contributes to increasing their school’s stability. The networks’ structure has implications in inhibiting or promoting the flow of resources in the networks: Networks with fewer members allow room for being open to challenges. The headteachers find support for decisions in networks in which they wish to participate. Networks with many members help to develop competencies, and the legitimacy of the headteacher’s role is most prominent in networks with many members and where participation of the headteachers, is mandatory. The main finding in the study is that school owners do support the development of the headteachers’ competencies and the legitimacy of the headteacher’s role, but it is up to the headteachers themselves to develop networks where there is openness about challenges and where support is given for decision-making. In this article, I argue that school owners, through the establishment and further development of formal and informal opportunities for interaction between headteachers, can help the school achieve national goals, both for the school and for the students. In addition, the content of the national headteacher education should include competence areas that support school development through network collaboration. Central themes: Network, new headteachers, primary school Introduction The interest in the development of the competence of headteachers through networking is increasing (Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson, & Orr, 2007; Leithwood, Harris, & Hopkins, 2008; Moolenaar & Sleegers, 2015). The evaluation of the Norwegian headteacher education has shown that the participants have established learning communities and new networks, and there is discussion about whether there is a need for support and an arena where the headteachers can talk about, reflect on and get advice on decisions regarding their schools (Hybertsen, Stensaker, Federici, Olsen, Solem, & Aamodt, 2014). In most cases, those who are recruited to headteacher positions in primary schools are given this management position after having spent some time in other school administrative positions. During this ‘learning period’, many new headteachers have the opportunity to 1

observe how a headteacher works (Spillane & Lee, 2014). Even with this basis, the transition from being a teacher, and later part of the school’s leadership team, to acting as the headteacher represents a significant change for most new headteachers. Becoming a headteacher is an important learning process, and it requires the new headteacher to become socialised into a new practice community. This learning process also involves the development of a new identity (Sackney & Walker, 2006). New headteachers get a clear and often unexpected change in perspectives, expectations and tasks (see Lortie, 1975; Thomson, 2009). Three main challenges in the practical performance of the headteacher’s role are described as particularly challenging: the scope of tasks, the diversity of tasks, and the unpredictability of events in school (Spillane & Lee, 2014). New headteachers in the United States have reported that there are tensions in the practical performance of the headteacher’s role. These tensions are not only linked to individual decisions that are important to consider, but also to the requirements and expectations that are formed and decided by the school administration/school owner or on a national school level (Spillane, Harris, Jones, & Mertz, 2015). Studies on new headteachers in England have shown that they experience professional isolation and loneliness, and that this is in stark contrast to previous positions the headteachers had at school (Bolman, Dunning, & Karstanje, 2000). Former teaching colleagues also develop a more cautious and restricted attitude towards the new headteacher (Sackney & Walker, 2006; Spillane & Lee, 2014). Networking with headteachers from other schools is an example of a good measure to reduce the sense of loneliness experienced by new headteachers (Spillane & Lee, 2014). Network collaboration helps to strengthen the stability of a school (Muijs, West, & Ainscow, 2010) and to strengthen the implementation of reforms at school (Daly, Liou, Tran, Cornelissen, & Park, 2014). Looking at the Norwegian school context, we can consider the headteachers’ networks as local initiatives to meet ideas coming from school owners and from government ministries and directorates (Furu & Lund, 2014). Based on this, the issue discussed in the article is: What significance does networking have for new headteachers?

The research questions used to provide a collective answer to the main issue are as follows: What topics are discussed in the networks? How do the headteachers describe the structure and processes in the networks? What importance do the headteachers attach to their networks? 2

The study is based on how four headteachers in primary schools in rural areas experienced their networks. The headteachers in this study had one to three years’ experience as school leaders, and they had completed the national headteacher education. Headteacher education in Norway was established in 2009. The programme is for school leaders in primary and secondary schools and is run by the Directorate for Education (Hybertsen et al., 2014). The programme, which has 30 study credits and is completed over 18 months, covers four subjects: students’ learning outcomes and learning environment, management and administration, collaboration and organisational building – staff guidance, as well as development and change (Lysø, Stensaker, Aamodt, & Mjøen, 2011). Three of the headteachers were also responsible for a voluntary municipal scheme for after-school clubs (SFO), which is offered to students in their first four years of primary school in Norway.1 In the first part of the article, networks are presented as a social capital, and a brief presentation is given of research literature on the importance of networking for new headteachers. The completed study is then described, and the headteachers and their schools are presented. The headteacher networks are analysed, along with the contribution of the networks to the following: openness about challenges, support for decisions, competence development, and legitimising the headteacher’s role. The discussions highlight how structures and processes in the networks influence the flow of resources between the network members in different ways, and how the four categories are included in a model that reflects the relationships between processes and structures in the headteacher networks. Finally, the article highlights the implications of the findings for school owners and for further education of headteachers.

Theoretical basis Network as social capital

Network theory is concerned with the pattern of social ties that exist between members of a network (Scott, 2000). A theoretical perspective on networking in education can be associated with the term ‘social capital’ (Muijs, West, & Ainscow, 2010). According to Hargreaves and


Section 13-7 of the Education Act states that the headteacher must be the head of after-school schemes organised in the school. The headteacher may delegate authority to a separate leader of the scheme. However, this does not deprive the headteacher of the responsibility for the scheme, and the headteacher has an instructional authority over the leader of the scheme (Directorate for Education, 2015).


Fullan (2014), the structures in networks, such as friendship, social activity, emotional support and trust, represent ‘social capital’. The researchers believe that ‘social capital’ can also provide access to relevant knowledge and work-related advice, as well as opportunities for collaboration on school management. When the theory of ‘social capital’ is used in the school sector, attention is paid to what resources are made available to a professional person, in this context a headteacher, through collegial interaction. The purpose of networking between headteachers is to create an environment for the development of the headteachers’ practices and for their position in the network to help promote access to resources (Waes, Moolenaar, Daly, Heldens, Donche, & Bossche, 2016). Network theory gives opportunities for analysing networks on different levels. At the micro level, headteachers are individual network members who represent their schools. At the macro level, headteachers create a network structure by establishing relationships between schools, and the relational links between the headteachers in networks are channels for information and resource access (Hite, Hite, Mugimu, & Nsubuga, 2010). There are several assumptions that underlie network theory as an analytical term (Daly, Moolenaar, Liou, Tuytens, & Fresno, 2015). The first is that members of a network are dependent rather than independent of each other. The second assumption is that studies of networks in education are primarily concerned with how network relations promote or inhibit the flow of resources (e.g. advice, knowledge, expertise, etc.), as well as provide insight into how individuals get access to, are influenced by and affect these resources (Daly, Liou, Tran, Cornelissen, & Park, 2014; Waes et al., 2016). Resources in this study refers to contributions from network members with various relevant experiences, skills and knowledge (Daly et al., 2014). In other words, the second assumption focuses on the ways in which processes in the networks can explain how resources contribute to the headteacher’s competence development, which is influenced from different contexts and forms a wide basis for decision-making. Network theory is thus a useful framework for understanding which processes underpin how headteachers can access resources that support school development (Hite, Hite, Mugimu, & Nsubuga, 2010). Network collaboration gives opportunities for learning, enabling members to discover errors and deficiencies in their own operations. Through collaboration, members can come up with creative solutions – and if desired, correct the course. This promotes the legitimacy of the decision-making processes and increases the likelihood of success. Networking can also trigger synergies and creativity, and increase motivation for the headteacher’s tasks (Fox & Wilson, 2015; Røvik, 2014). 4

The third assumption on which network theory is based is that the structure of a network is important for the resources flowing to and from a member. The fourth assumption is the presence of relational patterns of a network, which can serve as opportunities and limitations for individual and collective actions (Daly et al., 2014; Waes et al., 2016). Good network relationships help ensure that important information is considered and used by those who are part of the network (Shea, Li, Swan, & Pickett, 2005). In this study, emphasis is placed on analysing empirical evidence from the second, third and fourth assumptions mentioned above. I want to analyse what characterises the structure and processes of the headteachers’ network, and assess how structure and process help to promote or inhibit the flow of resources in the network. ‘Social capital’ denotes access to relevant knowledge (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2014), and online resources of different character will be included in this study. The fourth assumption points out that relational patterns in a network can act as opportunities and limitations of individual and collective actions (Daly et al., 2014; Shea, Li, Swan, & Pickett, 2005).

Importance of networks for new headteachers

To highlight the topic of networking for new headteachers, I have conducted searches in different Internet sites.2 I found that networks for newly appointed headteachers in schools were featured in international research literature to a limited extent. There were some research contributions from the United States, England and the Netherlands. An interview study of 17 newly appointed primary school headteachers in Chicago in 2010–20113 was summarised by the finding that almost all new headteachers experienced a reality shock and practical problems, but that the conditions for the transition to the headteacher’s role contributed to reinforcing or reducing problems (Spillane & Lee, 2014). A study of 148 school leaders in California, USA, with the purpose of assessing the value of headteachers’ networks and their ability to lead school development found that those participating in networks with experienced headteachers had greater ability to lead the school’s developmental work. The researchers also analysed the material from the study based on personality features such as ‘extrovert’ and ‘introvert’. The findings indicate that both their personality traits and the headteacher’s perceptions of social positions in a network are important for the development


Searches in the databases ERIC (Educational Research Information Center), Google Scholar, BIBSYS and Web of Science, in October 2015. 3 Implemented at Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy. See Spillane & Lee, 2014.


of their competence as headteacher (Daly et al., 2014). The role and position of the headteacher in and outside the school was also examined in a quantitative study of 708 headteachers in the Netherlands. The researchers found that if headteachers had a central position in the school’s network, they were more likely to occupy an important place in the collaboration with a larger network of headteachers (Moolenaar & Sleegers, 2015). This finding is supported by the work of Brown, Daly, and Liou (2016), which emphasises that headteachers who have central positions in networks, compared to those with a more peripheral position, to a larger extent share and receive significant information that is important for them as headteachers. Network processes are closely linked to the trust between members of the network. If we assume that social relationships in a network are important for self-development, it is important to understand what creates such strong relationships between network members (see Spillane & Lee, 2014). Networks with a high degree of trust are characterised by several mutual benefits for the headteachers, such as collaboration, extensive sharing of information, problem resolution, shared decision-making, and coordination of actions. Networks with close relationships between few members are characterised by sharing information, suggestions for solving challenges, common decisions for everyone in a municipality and a comprehensive management of tasks (Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, & Luppescu, 2010). Such networks provide opportunities for individual and collective actions (Daly et al., 2015). The main finding in studies with 43 headteachers in England and 41 headteachers in the Netherlands, is that the support that the headteacher receives from others in their network does not necessarily depend on scientific and quantitative findings (Brown et al., 2016). This decisions are developed and supported by a collective judgment based on experience-based knowledge and insight (Brown et al., 2016; Moolenaar & Sleegers, 2015). There is some Norwegian research in this field. In the master thesis ‘I want a network!’, it is argued that participation in a practice community with other school leaders can constitute a complexity-reducing factor. Networking with other headteachers, where agendas and structures have been set, provides valuable contributions through open discussions in terms of highlighting educational themes, such as business plans, and administrative themes, such as budgets and human resources (Authen, 2009). In the evaluation of Norwegian headteacher education, this question is asked: ‘Is there a need for more solid and systematic networks to meet the needs of participants even after graduation?’ (Lysø, Stensaker, Federici, Solem, & Aamodt, 2013, p. 58). In their master’s thesis entitled ‘First-time headteacher: Experiences of the first year’, Lunde and Tusvik (2007) have written that new headteachers 6

described formal and informal networks with the other headteachers in the municipality as important. They could seek support and advice, and they could give input on current school matters. One of the headteachers in this study said that she feels lonely at work, but that in the network, she feels that she is working with colleagues (Lunde & Tusvik, 2007). There are critical aspects of networking for new headteachers. One decisive factor is personal prerequisites. Lack of understanding of theory and how to lead change processes is a personal prerequisite that can be a detrimental factor in networking (see Trotman, 2009). Personality traits also affect the development of a headteacher’s competence (see Daly et al., 2015), and the headteacher’s perceptions of his/her own influence on social positions in a network affects his/her competence development (Daly et al., 2014). Based on this, a critical requirement would be that headteachers assess their personal prerequisites before entering into networks that are aimed at leading school development (Daly et al., 2015). Leading a school requires a mix of knowledge regimes (Sørhaug, 2004), and there may be a democratic problem if the headteacher makes decisions on the basis of cooperation with few network members. Another potential problem with networks is that experience, knowledge and understanding can remain there and not be of benefit to other colleagues, or that the headteacher relies too much on a few ‘strong bonds’ in the network (Furu & Lund, 2014).

The completed the study Methodological approach

The research questions indicate that the study is of a qualitative nature, with a phenomenological research perspective. Attention is paid to the person’s own world, where the interview is the main source in the development of the study’s empirical foundation (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2010; Postholm, 2010). The aim of the study is to discover and analyse the headteachers’ worlds, as all headteacher perceive key experiences in their networks. Thus, I emphasise the psychological approach of the phenomenology. Based on this approach, I conducted interviews with four headteachers to capture their statements related to the issue and research questions (Moustakas, 1994). Selection of informants

The study has focussed on two women and two men who were new headteachers in primary schools in rural areas of Norway. One of the reasons for choosing headteachers in primary schools in rural areas is based on the fact that more than 55% of all headteachers in 7

Norwegian primary schools are leading a primary school4, and a large number of these schools have low student numbers. The choice of informants also resulted from wanting an equal representation of women and men, but the headteachers’ backgrounds and education were also strategic to the research issue (Thagaard, 2006). New headteachers who had completed the headteacher education at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology were selected from the available resources. They also worked in contexts where their development as managers could be linked to ‘significant knowledge’ about networking (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2010). Some challenges may be highlighted about my role in this research work. I was the supervisor for these four headteachers during their headteacher education. My tasks were to guide the participants in the design of four texts in the exam folder, read through and evaluate six short texts, and conduct group conversations with 8–10 participants. Through this work, I gained some insight into the headteachers’ school contexts, which was useful when I prepared the interview guide (see Table 1). The headteachers’ participation in networks was to a limited extent included in their education. My assessment is that the proximity to the headteachers helped to reduce the social distance between them and me. Although I strived to keep a distance to assess the external situation of the headteacher, I emphasise that I was familiar with the work situations of the headteachers involved in the study (Thagaard, 2006). To clarify my role, I have tried to reduce the areas of uncertainty of the study through informed consent. The headteachers were given the opportunity to read and comment on transcribed interviews and to offer suggestions (‘member checking’) (Postholm, 2010). I have received positive comments on the interview content and the proposals for the article from two headteachers. The headteachers

‘Bjørn’ is presently a general teacher who has worked as a teacher for a few years before becoming an inspector in a half-time position. He became a headteacher in 2014 and completed the headteacher education the same year. The school, which has 320 students and 40 employees, is in a municipality with 13,500 inhabitants. There are two secondary schools and three primary schools in the municipality. Bjørn is the administrative director of an afterschool scheme (SFO) with 140 children. ‘Ragna’ became a headteacher in 2012 and presently heads a school with 140 students and a SFO scheme with 60 children. Of an adult group of


As of 1/10/2015, there were 1,636 primary schools in Norway, in total 2,867 primary and lower secondary schools (public and private).


40, there are around 15 teachers and seven nursery teachers. Ragna completed the headteacher education in the autumn of 2013. She is a general teacher who has worked as a teacher for almost 20 years. She has also been the elected representative for teachers and politicians in a municipality with 6,000 inhabitants. The municipality has one secondary school and four primary schools. ‘Dagfinn’ has worked as a general teacher since 1997. He was an elected representative for four years and deputy headteacher for two years. Dagfinn was appointed headteacher in 2011 and completed the headteacher education in autumn 2014. His school has about 60 students, seven teachers and five other employees. There are around 4,000 inhabitants in the municipality, which has one secondary school and two primary schools. Dagfinn is not responsible for the SFO offer at the school. ‘Marit’ has been a headteacher since 2011, and completed the headteacher education in the autumn of 2013. She heads a school with 200 students, around 20 teachers and five teaching assistants. Marit is a general teacher with additional education in management and special education. She worked as a teacher for almost ten years before she got a position in the municipality’s human resources department. The municipality has around 5,000 inhabitants, one secondary school and two primary schools. Marit completed her headteacher education in autumn 2012. This short presentation shows that the selected informants have similar educational backgrounds, as general teachers with completed headteacher education. Another shared feature is their work experience as middle managers in schools. They have also worked as headteachers for a relatively short period of time. The schools have from 70 to 320 students, and are located in rural municipalities.

The interviews

The topics and questions chosen in the interview guide express the study’s horizon of expectations (see Table 1). The interview guide is built around three perspectives on the headteachers’ experience with networks and their own development in the first years as headteacher. Each main question has sub-questions meant to examine what the networks contribute to learning and development, what topics are brought up in the networks, and for what purposes the headteachers use digital networks. Semi-structured interviews were chosen as a model, focusing on everyday conversations with academic content (Postholm, 2010). The interviews lasted about one hour each and were recorded electronically at the offices of the headteacher. They were conducted 9

in the period from 7 to 30 September 2015. The informants were given insight into the overall objectives of the study before the interview and were informed that they could withdraw during the process. In addition to informed consent, I summarised the content of the interviews with the informants before the recordings were terminated (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2010; Thagaard, 2006). Towards the end of the interview, the headteachers were asked to draw up and comment on the meaning of the different parts of the network and which processes characterised the networks. On the network drawing, the headteachers highlighted which three networks were most important, and in the interview, they justified why these were the most important. Table 1. Interview guide with main and sub-questions as basis for designing a network map Research questions


How do the headteachers

Which formal networks are you part of at your school, in the

experience the importance of

municipalities, and in the region?

their networks?

What importance do these networks have for you as a headteacher? What networks have you established in the school, in the municipality, and in the region after becoming a headteacher? Which networks (formal, personal, digital) have you maintained and possibly expanded after becoming a headteacher?

What topics are brought up in the

What topics are raised in formal networks that are linked to the role

headteachers’ networks?

of the headteacher? What topics are raised in personal networks (family/friends) that matter to you as headteacher?

How do the headteachers

What processes are there in the formal networks?

describe the structure of and

What processes are there in the networks of family and friends?

processes in the networks?

How do the headteachers draw up their networks?

Data analysis The analyses emphasised finding the patterns of social ties between the members of the networks of Bjørn, Ragna, Dagfinn and Marit (see Scott, 2000). It is also interesting to analyse which processes are the bases for how headteachers through their networks can access resources that support school development (Hite et al., 2010), how networks contribute to developing ‘social capital’ (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2014), and how the networks legitimise decisions taken by the headteacher (Røvik, 2014). The analyses also relate to how structures in a network affect the flow of resources in the networks (Fox & Wilson, 2015). By highlighting what the headteachers perceived as key experiences in their network (Postholm, 2010), I have tried to find some common features in the headteachers’ networks. 10

In the interviews with the headteachers, their subjective experiences, statements and performances are most important. In the presentation of the collected data, the votes of the headteachers are given as quotes. The purpose is that the reader of the text can recognise his or her own situation and experience, thus assessing the usefulness of the findings of the study. The transferability of the study is linked to naturalised generalisation, which aim, among other things, at bringing forward new ways to see the field of practice (Postholm, 2010). One critical element of interview studies is that no conversations or interviews are ‘pure’ or non-interpretive. The ‘double hermeneutics’ that this represents means that I interpret a reality already interpreted by the four headteachers (Postholm, 2010). An interview as a data collection strategy is a reassuring way to get data about teachers’ experiences of their networks (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009, 2010; Ringdal, 2011). The thorough descriptions that the interviews represent are analysed and summarised to find their meaningful content (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2010). Longer interview texts are reduced through analytical methods to shorter and more precise formulations. I have categorised the answers given. Through this first analysis, I found that the networks together contribute to openness about challenges, support for decisions, developing competence, and legitimising the headteacher’s role. Bjørn’s network:

Bjørn was concerned with network processes that increased the flow of resources. He said, ‘Some networks (...) must be cultivated, and some networks are obligatory.’ The networks that were most important to Bjørn were the municipality’s pedagogical and psychological service (PPT), the management team at the school, and his personal network (see Figure 1). Bjørn participated in the municipality’s monthly headteacher meetings, ‘and it’s a valuable forum for me’, he said. Bjørn experienced a degree of professional loneliness, but tried to remedy this through collaboration with other headteachers. He sought to develop his competence as a school leader and was looking for networks that were affiliated with universities and colleges and other competence environments. He often used the websites of the Directorate for Education, the Reading Centre and the Writing Centre. These are intermunicipal networks in the region, and the gatherings gave Bjørn valuable insights into how other headteachers worked. He called for network collaboration in the municipality, where he could develop his own skills by gaining insights into how other headteachers worked. By collaborating with PPT, Bjørn gained increased competence in and understanding of the development of individual students and classes. These learning processes gave him a broader basis for making decisions in matters involving PPT. Bjørn sought support for 11

decisions in the school’s management team: ‘It cannot be only my mission because you cannot implement it alone...’. His personal network includes one colleague in the management, his wife, who he discusses issues with the most, and a football team with teachers, which was ‘very important in my role as headteacher’. ‘My neighbour, who does not have any education beyond primary school, challenges me on basic questions about school and education,’ said Bjørn, while the union leader helped him to see the development of the headteacher’s role from an employee perspective.

Figure 1: Bjørn’s network. The three most important networks – personal network (wife, neighbor and football team), PPT, and management team at school – are marked with stronger outline.

Ragnas network:

The three main networks for Ragna were her personal one with her spouse, mother and a former colleague, contacts in the municipality, and other school leaders in the municipality (school network) (see Figure 2). Ragna described her first year as headteacher as follows: ‘There are many tasks and you are on the go all the time / ... /. In the first year, I called someone several times a week.’ When asked why she used her network, Ragna answered: ‘Had I not had that network, I don’t know if I could have continued working. There were some tough times.’ When asked about what the networks contributed, overall, Ragna answered ‘I think that this (school) should be a good place to be for everyone. When it comes to the kids – they must be prepared for an adult life and for becoming good citizens. I hope that we will give them the opportunity to make good choices and pay attention to others.’ On her headteacher 12

education, Ragna said: ‘It was very useful, both professionally and also the informal settings around it. I learned a lot. I’ve become more secure in myself, in what I do.’ Ragna confirmed that the networks were of great importance, and she highlighted the school network: ‘All the headteachers in the municipality meet regularly. If I had not had that support, I would have been very lonely.’ The school network provided good support for taking administrative choices: ‘So that we appear as a unit.’ As a former politician in the municipality, Ragna had good – and for her, important – contact with the local counsellor. Her husband, her mother and a former colleague who made up her personal network were used a lot. ‘Then I have my mother; she is a school person and has been so for years.’ A former colleague had a central role: ‘It’s about getting someone who can give you some sensible input. When you’re a bit frustrated. Yes. To change your mindset a bit.’ On the municipality’s pedagogical psychological service (PPT), Ragna said: ‘PPT was very active when we ran the LP model5. Then, they were our coaches.’ Ragna said that the nurse and child welfare leader participated in meetings with the municipality’s headteacher group. She added, ‘They are very accessible if you have something you want to discuss.’

Figure 2: Ragna’s network. The three most important – personal network (spouse, mother and former colleague), networks with other school leaders, and contacts in the municipality – are marked with stronger outlines.

Dagfinn’s network:

Headteacher meetings were one of the three most important networks for Dagfinn. ‘This is a


LP means Learning Environment and Educational Analysis. The model includes analysis and reflection in a system perspective, action development and evaluation. Ref: Læringsmiljøsenteret, downloaded 27/3/2016:


regular and nice learning arena, and especially one headteacher is important,’ he said. Two school leaders in the municipality who completed their headteacher education at the same time as he did formed the other important network he had chosen to participate in. ‘After the period of headteacher education, I, NN and NN have become so close that we can divide work between us and work more like a team.’ The collaboration with PPT specifically helped to highlight other perspectives on class environment and class management. Dagfinn said that he met with the leader of PPT. He added, ‘They discuss things before PPT sends things out to the school. This is very helpful to me.’ The structure of Dagfinn’s network included municipal and inter-municipal cooperation. One of these was the municipal ICT group that the school owner had asked him to participate in. Together with the ICT leader at the school, Dagfinn’s participation contributed to processes of management and anchoring of the work. Dagfinn also highlighted the composition of the Parent Council’s Committee and the School Environment Committee as important processes for the learning and working environment at the school. A significant inter-municipal network worked with school-related questions and the continuing professional education of teachers. Three teachers he had worked with since 1997 had been supportive of him as headteacher. In addition, he had meetings, together with the parent group, with students who were about to start school, which was an important point of reference in the headteacher’s role. Regarding the headteacher education, he said: ‘I noticed that after taking the headteacher education, we have become better at talking in the school administration in the municipality. NN, NN and I have good communication, and that has flourished after the period when we were in Trondheim. We think we can begin to complement each other here at the three schools where we work.’ Dagfinn also has contacted via Facebook with former fellow students from the headteacher education (see Figure 3).


Figure 3: Dagfinn’s network. The three most important networks – NN and NN, headteacher meetings and PPT – are marked with a stronger outline.

Marit’s network

‘The management team at school is my first priority. They are very supportive and nice, and are important for me’, said Marit. She worked closely with one headteacher colleague: ‘We’re just backing each other. We call and support each other.’ She mentioned that the personal network helped to discuss what could be prioritised and what attitudes were the bases for decisions in school cases. Marit worked as a teacher in another municipality before becoming a headteacher. Marit’s extensive network includes networks she or the municipality chose to participate in and which contributed to professional insight. These were the network for coaching and reading, networks for schools certified as Olweus schools6, courses and conferences ‘where I can meet former headteacher education students and colleagues’, ‘the Directorate of Education has some very good websites’ and the Coaching Corps7 who ‘was great for my own development!’ Other networks in which she as a headteacher had to participate were collaboration with the PPT, child welfare services, the school nurse, an interdisciplinary prevention team in the municipality, and nursery managers. These networks were based on the Education Act, regulations and decisions in the municipality.


The Olweus programme against bullying and anti-social behaviour is an educational programme for schools. The Coaching Corps provides support for school owners and schools that need guidance to improve the school's learning processes. 7


Marit got ‘important input from PPT; they see things in class/the student that the teacher may not see’. Child welfare services, the school nurse and the municipality’s action team also helped clarify matters concerning individual students: ‘For us (the headteachers), we know that we are the ones who have the decision-making authority.’ Towards the end of the interview, she commented on her work to establish new networks: ‘When I stopped being a teacher and started as headteacher, the collegial setting disappeared with the people I worked with. I think the gap was fairly big.’ On headteacher education, Marit said: ‘I think the headteacher education was very exciting. (...) I think the headteacher’s role is very extensive. The demands are great: You must work with the community, you must work towards politicians, you must meet the learning outcomes, and you are a personal leader.’ Marit had taken the initiative to establish contact with other headteachers in the municipality, but interest had been limited so far (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Marit’s network. The three most important networks – headteacher colleagues, the leadership team at school and leadership meetings – are marked with stronger outlines.


Discussion Introduction

In the discussion section, I would like to clarify the question: What significance does networking have for new headteachers? First, I will discuss what the networks contribute to (openness about challenges, support for decision-making, competence development, and legitimising the headteacher’s role). The discussion is linked to a model I have developed (see Figure 5), which shows possible relationships between processes and structures in the headteachers’ networks. The main theme of the second part of the discussion is how structures and processes in the networks are important for what inhibits or promotes the flow of resources in the networks. I will discuss how the school owners support the headteachers’ competence development and the legitimacy of the headteacher’s role, but that it is left to the headteachers to find the time and arena for support for decision-making and openness about challenges. Processes and structures of the headteachers’ networks – a model

Looking at the concept of professional learning communities that can be found in networks requires a design, a structure, to be productive (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2014). In my analyses, we can describe the structures of the headteachers’ networks along a continuum from networks with few members to networks with many members. At the same time, it is essential in this context to understand what processes underpin how headteachers can access resources that support school development (Hite et al., 2010). The second pattern that appears in the headteachers’ narratives is related to processes within the networks. Due to positions and tasks in the school, the headteachers are obliged to participate (must participate) in established network structures that support their tasks. At the same time, the headteachers are actively searching for resources that they can participate in by choosing to participate (choose to participate) in networks. Network theory contributes to analyses of network processes (Hite et al., 2010), which means that knowledge of the structure of the headteachers’ networks is insufficient to understand the meaning of the various network relationships for the headteachers’ competence development (Fox & Wilson, 2015).


Based on this, relationships between processes and structures in the headteachers’ networks are defined when processes in networks with few members contribute the most to openness about challenges, while legitimacy of the headteacher’s role is an important process in networks with many members. Another finding is that the headteachers choose to participate in networks with few members, where they find support for decisions. Based on the headteachers’ narratives, networks with many members, in which they must participate, are most characterised by competence development (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Model of structures and processes in the headteachers’ networks.

The horizontal axis in Figure 5 expresses a continuum from networks with few members to networks with many members. The vertical axis is based on obligation to participate in different networks that are linked to the headteacher’s role, while the opposite outer point of the axis is a network in which the headteachers themselves choose to participate. The headteachers described the role of the headteacher as very extensive and said that they had a challenging position in the school system (Møller & Ottesen, 2011). Two headteachers said they sometimes experienced professional loneliness. This is supported by the findings in British studies of new headteachers (see Spillane & Lee, 2014). The processes in the headteachers’ networks in many ways reflect how the headteachers, through socialisation into a new practice community, actively participate in developing competencies and a new identity (Sackney & Walker, 2006). These processes also show how the headteachers seek support to handle many diverse tasks in an unpredictable school day (Daly et al., 2014). 18

When the headteachers were asked about which three networks were the most important, they all referred to their personal networks, the network with their headteacher colleagues and the management team at their school, and the networks with resources in various disciplines, such as PPT. The personal network was of the greatest importance for the headteachers continuing to work. However, they also pointed to headteacher education as a significant contribution to a broader academic platform, enhanced understanding, and having secure discussions and decision-making. This is in line with the main conclusions of research on headteacher education in Scotland and Norway (Cowie & Crawford, 2008; Hybertsen et al., 2014).

Importance of networks Openness about challenges

The development of an identity as a headteacher is described in this article as an important learning process that occurs in a practice community (see Sackney & Walker, 2006). The headteachers maintain and build their personal networks, where they are in dialogue with and seek support from spouses, mums, headteacher colleagues, former teaching colleagues, and school leaders who were co-students in their headteacher education. This network structure is important for the flow of resources and for friendship, emotional support and trust (Daly et al., 2014). The headteachers clearly stated that the processes and trust in the personal networks gave members a sense of connection (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2014). However, it is important to understand what leads to strong relationships between network members (Spillane & Lee, 2014). One characteristic of the processes in the personal networks is that they allow for openness about challenges in the headteacher’s role. Examples of high levels of trust in personal networks are processes of sharing information, solutions for resolving challenges, common decisions for all schools in a municipality and a shared handling of leave periods, for example (see Bryk et al., 2010). The network structures that are most important for being open to challenges in the headteacher’s role are networks characterised by close relationships between a few members (Hite et al., 2010). By assessing the headteachers’ active role in establishing new networks, while also remembering that they are calling for network collaborations with headteacher colleagues where they can openly talk about challenges, one interpretation may be that the headteachers want a professional network where there are opportunities to highlight and discuss challenges of the headteacher’s role.


Based on this analysis, the network structure has significance for the resources that flow to and from one member of the network (Fox & Wilson, 2015; Røvik, 2014). Support for decision-making

Bjørn said: ‘There are some networks you need to grow’, while Marit and Dagfinn claimed that there were networks they chose to participate in and networks they had to participate in. The structures of networks that support decision-making include ‘contacts in the municipality’, ‘leadership meetings at school’, ‘municipal units’ and ‘cooperation with PPT’. However, descriptions and representations of the headteachers’ networks (see figures 1, 2, 3 and 4) show that network collaboration, which helps to support the headteacher’s decisions, is inspired by – but not dependent on – research-based knowledge (Brown et al., 2016). Researchers point out that support for decisions is developed and led by a collective judgment stemming from experience-based knowledge and insight (Moolenaar & Sleegers, 2015). Ragna and Dagfinn said that had close collaborations on joint tasks with some headteachers who made an effort to ‘reduce the amount of work’. These networks serve as opportunities for individual and collective actions (Daly et al., 2014). In this article, I have repeatedly mentioned that networks with professional learning communities require a design, a structure, if they are to be productive (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2014). My analysis emphasises that the networks that are structurally linked to the school locally contribute significantly to support for decision-making. It is not the school owners but the headteachers who have a central position in such networks, and the processes between the headteachers provide good opportunities to share and receive information that is important to them as headteachers (see Brown et al., 2016; Moolenaar & Sleegers, 2015). Developing competences

Professional development is increasingly based on learning in networks (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2014). The headteacher’s role is linked to several functions and tasks, and there are some networks in which headteachers are obliged to participate. My analysis shows that the processes in leadership meetings at school, meetings with other school leaders, or meetings in a children’s committee can promote or inhibit the flow of resources. One important structure in the development of competencies is what the headteachers described as ‘professional networks’, such as participation in conferences, collaboration with professional communities and the use of online resources. The processes in these structures are characterised by the participation of school owners and that they contribute to the development of competencies. The headteachers also largely choose whether they want to participate in ‘professional 20

networks’. The headteachers gain insights into how colleagues work, they see other’s perspectives on headteacher tasks, and the headteachers complement each other through relevant knowledge and work-related advice. In the interviews, the headteachers emphasised that good relationships in such networks helped to ensure that important information was considered and used by those who were part of the network (see Shea et al., 2005). Again we see that the structure of these networks has an impact on how resources flow between the members of the networks (Daly et al., 2014; Hite et al., 2010). Legitimising the headteacher’s role

Education in schools is led by the headteacher, and he/she is expected to be familiar with the daily activities in the school and to work to further develop them (Kunnskapsdepartementet, 2010). The headteacher’s role helps set the premise for public policy and will also work to implement such policies. The headteacher thus also becomes a policy actor (Eriksen & Molander, 2010). Based on this, the headteacher participates in networks that are based on the Education Act, regulations and rulings in the municipality. School owners play a central role in such networks. The headteachers in this study said that they had the decision-making authority (Marit), management and anchoring were important (Dagfinn), and the headteacher had to make decisions (Bjørn), while Ragna argued that development happened in the school network, where they had discussions on where to go next. Legitimisation of the headteacher’s role plays a significant part in network structures with many members (see Hite et al., 2010), which helps to recognise the position of headteachers as a profession in a legal context (see Eriksen & Molander, 2010). The processes in those networks that most legitimise the headteacher are characterised by a stream of resources that set the premises for decisions made by the headteacher. In addition, the network members see themselves as headteachers (Daly et al., 2014). The headteachers in this study experienced that responsibilities and obligations related to regulatory documents for the school, such as laws and regulations, contributed to the legitimacy of the headteacher’s role in public, political and legal contexts (see Eriksen & Molander, 2010).


Concluding remarks In this article, I have used theory and research related to the importance of networks for new headteachers in primary schools in rural areas. I have shown how the headteachers maintain and develop networks for the purpose of strengthening development in their own schools. I have discussed the importance of school owners in facilitating and seeing the value of headteachers cooperating in networks where the development of competencies and the legitimacy of the headteacher’s role have a central place. All headteachers see it as crucial for their professional practice that they have networks that focus on openness about challenges and support for decisions. The theoretical framework rests on an understanding of networks as a social capital, and that networks contribute to the development of skills and stability in schools. One of the main findings in the study is that the headteachers are not only active in developing existing networks, but also in creating new ones. The headteachers, however, call for networks with colleagues that allow for openness about challenges. Looking at the categories openness about challenges and support for decisions, a critical analysis may be that the headteachers rely too much on a few ‘strong bonds’ and that resources in networks with few members do not benefit other colleagues. In addition, there may be a democratic problem if the headteacher makes decisions based on cooperation in these network structures. Another critical aspect of network collaboration can be the members’ lack of understanding of theory and how to lead change processes. These critical aspects of networking can be balanced if school owners initiate the development of good networks between headteachers and between schools. Network collaboration provides opportunities to support school development and friendship, social activity, emotional support and trust (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2014). A consequence of this would be to recognise the value of headteachers’ network collaborations. We can see the headteachers’ networks as a local initiative to meet ideas from school owners and ministries and directorates. An example of this is that cooperation on school developmental projects in the implementation phase is strengthened through local solutions, and the strategy is thus given a new perspective (Furu & Lund, 2014). The school management requires the skills and understanding that new headteachers seek to acquire. The headteacher’s formal and informal networks have structures and processes that help administer the implementation of school reforms at a decentralised level. To prevent assessments and decisions in school management being taken by a few headteachers, it is crucial that the networks have the desirable critical functions, and as such, the ability to adjust the content and effort based on solid knowledge of the local context. Overall, this study shows 22

that networks between headteachers and between schools can be a strategy to stabilise efforts in implementing school policy decisions. The national headteacher education programme should highlight the theme of networks for new headteachers (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2016; Hybertsen et al., 2014). As seen in this study, one proposal would be to strengthen competencies related to the importance of networking for headteachers.


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