Date of Submission
In the Australian state of Victoria, the years of the Blueprint policies (Department of Education &Training, 2003; Department of Education and Early Childhood, 2007a) represented a distinctive time of educational reform in which the quantum of strategies and resources that were fed into the education system were unprecedented. Regional Networks were one component of that reform agenda. Seventy such networks were formed in October 2008. They were system-organised groups of around 25 schools led by a Regional Network Leader. The intent of the structure was to build the capacity of principals and schools within a district by fostering collective responsibility for students through collaborative practices. However, the Regional Network structure ended prematurely after three years following a change of government in November 2010.
Principals were energised by the scope of the reforms which were supported by a range of resources that included extensive opportunities for professional learning. There was a flamboyance of implementation, which engaged principals and enlisted them in the vision of system alignment and high expectations. However, that flamboyance and directedness towards alignment, was also met with apprehension by some principals. System leaders intended the reform agenda to lift student outcomes across all schools, leading to the recognition of Victorian state education as a leader in the international educational landscape. The Regional Network structure ended without the opportunity for the initiative to run its course and without an evaluation of its achievements. How principals felt about the Regional Network experience, is the focus of this research.
This study was based on a hermeneutic phenomenological research design, inspired by van Manen’s thematic analysis (van Manen, 1990, 2014). It explored 10 principals’ experiences of Regional Networks, on three levels. First, the study reconstructed participants’ stories as an essential understanding of the lived experience. Second, extended extracts were examined in relation to the contradictory range of emotions that were experienced. Third, a thematic analysis of the principals’ experiences of the Regional Network experience was presented under the categories of what helped and what hindered principals in their work. In addition, the thematic analysis was anchored in theory through the lens of three frames: Systems Thinking (Senge, 2006); Professional Capital (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012); and Governance (Moore & Khagram, 2004). An additional insider perspective to the study was presented through the researcher’s voice. As a former Regional Network Leader, the researcher included her own story to provide a unique counterpoint to principals’ stories and placed her voice firmly within the research.
Principals included in this study were drawn from five different networks and represented the range of school types within a district. The research questions asked were: How did members of the Regional Network perceive the experience? In what ways did membership of Regional Networks help or hinder their work?
The findings of this research indicate that although principals had some mixed feelings they valued the Regional Network structure, which provided a designated leader to coordinate the activities and act as a conduit for policy implementation. The findings show that principals enjoyed the collegiality and professional learning and they regarded the governance structure as representative of their needs. However aspects of the Regional Network experience were problematic and did not satisfy all principals’ professional needs. For example, mandated membership and restructures of some Regional Networks fuelled disillusionment. Activities that principals regarded as compliance exercises for the system such as the development of detailed strategic plans were tolerated but not valued. The quality of the Regional Network Leaders also varied, as did their understanding of the different types of schools, which impacted on the support that could be offered by these leaders. The findings show that the needs of all schools were not met, particularly specialist and secondary schools. Principals looked to self-chosen networks to satisfy their professional needs and self-chosen networks co-existed with principals’ participation in their Regional Network. For some principals, allegiance to self-chosen networks took precedence. While the features displayed by Regional Networks matched several of the features of networks outlined in the broader literature, they fell short in several areas and did not comply with the definition of networks that emerged from the literature. Because of their system-owned nature, Regional Networks would be more accurately described as pseudo-networks. However, principals were able to clearly articulate which aspects of their Regional Network membership helped or hindered their work. These insights contribute new knowledge to organisational structures for system-wide school reform. A new model of collaboration (TriCol) is introduced. TriCol addresses some of the problems raised by principals about the Regional Network structure. The TriCol model provides greater flexibility for collaboration and increased levels of expertise at the leadership level.
School of Education
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Faculty of Education and Arts
Gurvich, J. (2017). Principals' experiences of regional networks (Doctoral thesis, Australian Catholic University). Retrieved from http://researchbank.acu.edu.au/theses/632