Wattam_whole_thesis.pdf (2.14 MB)
Understanding the role of the middle level leader in New South Wales Catholic secondary schools
thesisposted on 2023-05-27, 12:09 authored by Wattam, PC
The role that leadership plays in schools is well documented. In particular, the roles of principals and teachers have received considerable research interest both in Australia and internationally. Those who lead from the middle level of leadership in secondary schools however, have received much less research interest. As such, those who are responsible for leading the learning from a faculty or subject department perspective formed the research interest of this study. This study has aimed to provide a better understanding of the role of middle level leader in New South Wales (Australia) Catholic secondary schools. The research explored the role as it was practised by eight middle level leaders, in six different Catholic secondary schools, in a regional diocese of New South Wales. The study investigated what middle level leaders did in their role, how their articulated role descriptions matched with the lived experience of their role and how the role has evolved over time. Principals of the eight middle level leaders were also interviewed to examine how their expectations aligned with those holding the role. In addition, the study sought to find whether there was unfulfilled potential in the role of middle level leadership. A conceptual framework was developed from the literature to identify key aspects at play for the role. The framework also illustrates the silences and those under-researched areas in the research literature. It highlights how this study might inform potential future understandings. The research methodology used a qualitative, multiple case study approach. It included two rounds of interviews with the eight middle level leader participants, interviews with their principals, as well as focus groups of middle level leaders and document analyses. Data were analysed and reduced to produce eight key themes. These themes provided insight into how the role was experienced. It is clear from this study that there is a need to better frame the role, subject to its local context, with clear role expectations, boundaries and authority. This reframing would be best served by engaging in a distributed leadership approach, where middle level leaders are empowered to lead learning and to make greater contributions to leadership in the school more generally. There appears to be unfulfilled potential in the role at present. It is incumbent on senior leaders to tap into this potential so the role can be strengthened to benefit schools and students. Notably, middle level leaders and their principals are generally not well aligned in terms of their expectations. An outcome of this study is a series of seven recommendations to bring about a re-imagination of the role. A model of effective middle level leadership is developed from the research to illustrate the potential for the role with its attendant complexity and demands.
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