Developing teacher leaders for social justice: building agency through community, critical reflection and action research
Smith, Cathryn Anne
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This study responds to the critical question: How could I as an educational leader in Manitoba improve educational outcomes for students who are the least privileged in society? I envisioned a leadership development program which would enhance the ability of teacher leaders to facilitate change from within schools. This critical action research study aimed to: 1) identify the knowledge, skills and dispositions teacher leaders required to be agents of change in educational contexts; 2) identify the learning processes that developed agency; and 3) determine the impact of a co-constructed community on teachers who participated in the leadership development program. As a participant-researcher I facilitated six full-day leadership development sessions with a cohort of nine teacher leaders committed to social justice. Qualitative data sources which captured the processes influencing teacher leader development included: videotapes of focus groups and leadership development sessions; participants’ and researcher’s written reflections, journals and action research cycles; pilot test feedback forms, self-assessment and peer reflection instruments; audio-recorded mentoring conversations; and curricular and design process notes. Data analysis was ongoing, cyclical and reflexive; it included content and thematic analysis, “themeing” (Saldaña, 2013, p. 175), and crystallization across multiple sets of data. Research outcomes include the creation of the Social Justice Teacher Leadership Self-Assessment (SJTLSA) and Peer Reflection (SJTLPR) tools offered for use in various educational contexts to promote self-knowledge, reflection and dialogue. A theory-in-context is proposed which synthesizes the knowledge, skills, dispositions and agency of teacher leaders for social justice. Seven elements were found to promote critical reflection and agency of teacher leaders: action research, learning-focused conversations, dialogue, self-assessment, peer feedback, journals and critical reflection. The co-constructed community contributed to participants’ feelings of acceptance, validation, belonging and challenge. A three phase modular leadership development model is proposed which summarizes the design, enactment and outcomes of the leadership development sessions. Positive outcomes for teacher leader participants were transformative experiences, frameworks for action and a community to support sustained engagement. The iris is used metaphorically to describe the catalytic potential of the leadership development sessions. Implications of the study for teacher leaders, facilitators of adult learning, theory and future research are identified.