Date of Award

2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Program

Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Duane M. Covrig

Second Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Third Advisor

Gary D. Gifford

Abstract

Problem. History acknowledges that change in education is difficult. Literature suggests that the educational system plays a critical role in individual school-change initiatives. Educators need to seek for better understanding of the influence that system issues have on the change process. This study describes a change process experienced by one small boarding school in a parochial school system. It describes the change process as experienced by teachers in the school, administrators at various systemic levels, and parents of students in the school. Their story brings greater understanding of how culture of the system impacts school change.

Method. This research used a qualitative single-case design in order to gain insight from the experience of the educators connected to the school in order to achieve greater understanding of how a system reacts to a school making significant change. The case was a small boarding high school in the Northeastern United States. The school is a part of the Seventh-day Adventist system of education, which is the largest Protestant system in the world. Data were collected by interviews, focus groups, observation, and from documents. The data were analyzed for themes, connectedness, and constructions that did or did not intertwine, affirm, or conflict with each other. The stories were then retold in a chronological pattern describing the school‘s experiences from as many perspectives as possible.

Results. The participants in this study described a system conflicted in its quest to maintain and improve on the quality of Adventist education. Five characteristics were revealed in the system as it related to the process of change.

1. The system tended to operate primarily from a well-established paradigm of holding schools accountable.

2. The system did not demonstrate a thorough understanding of what is known about change.

3. The system revealed that it lacked effective communication mechanisms and processes.

4. The system demonstrated some understanding of its role in school change, but events revealed it still had much to learn.

5. The system revealed a growing desire to facilitate positive educational change.

Discussion. Education leadership within the system seemed to realize a need for change in order to bring improvement, yet frustrations remained from many who observed continued pressure for the school to operate within traditional approaches to education, only to do it better and more diligently. As the change was measured against established expectations, concerns were increased. When the change brought a level of chaos and a level of dissatisfaction among students and parents, the system responded by imposing greater accountability. The school‘s response to the expressed concerns from various stakeholders was to scale back the change. There is a need for the development of processes to facilitate change where there is demonstrated understanding and support of change experiences that are usually chaotic. This education system like many others found its structure to be a hindrance to effective communication. There was a recognition that different support mechanisms were needed to develop better practices in education–beyond just verbal directives that proclaim support of change. This recognition came primarily from the administration level immediately responsible for the school. At this level in the system there was a measure of collaboration created in the change process. However, overall, the system did not provide deliberate, ongoing collaboration to develop new frames of references for all educators in the system. The result was an organization that had not created a context supportive of change. There were times that leaders from various levels of the system stepped in to provide a collaborative solution to problems. When that happened the change process was energized. Leadership also acknowledged weaknesses in the system‘s support process for change, yet no dramatic changes were visible as the study ended. The process provided information demonstrating that education leadership within the system could know how to better facilitate change and, it was clear, they desired to learn the lessons provided.

Subject Area

Educational change, Boarding schools, High schools, Church schools.

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