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Leadership for School-Based Teacher Learning and Development in an Era of Reform and Accountability: A Complex Phenomenon Open Access

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This basic interpretive study explored teacher and principal perceptions of reform and accountability and how these perceptions influenced leadership for school-based teacher development and learning. Complexity leadership theory served as the theoretical lens for the study and provided a holistic view of how reform and accountability served as tensions for enacted leadership roles both within and without the complex adaptive system of teacher learning and development. Four principals and twelve teachers participated in this study and reflected a maximum variation sample of teachers and principals across a southeastern state in the United States. The researcher collected data through semi-structured interview questions in one-to-one principal interviews and three teacher focus groups. Additionally, teachers constructed a drawing to illustrate what teacher learning and development looked like in their respective schools. Data from the interviews and drawings were analyzed for emergent themes and theoretical connections. Results found that all of the participants felt pressure from accountability for student performance as measured by state mandated tests. Required/mandated reform, created pressure to change instructional practice to ensure students showed growth and achievement on state mandated tests. Patterns of leadership behaviors for learning and development illuminated the role of principal leadership and context to the dynamic interactions of agents toward the shared need of improving instructional practice and growth. All participants experienced some form of tightly coupled leadership behaviors that stifled the teacher’s ability to collaborate and interact with others. While reform and accountability were established to improve growth and achievement, the leadership behaviors oftentimes stifled the learning and development of the teachers. All of the principals and only three teachers’ responses revealed moderate couplings that supported agent interactions and one teacher experienced loosely coupled leadership behaviors. This study’s findings suggest reform and accountability influenced leadership behaviors that tried to control and predict outcomes through information getting sessions or trainings which oftentimes led to static learning environments. Leaders that supported creation, innovation, and sensemaking in their schools, relinquished tight control and fostered collaborative spaces. These findings may be useful as educators endeavor to learn and grow to meet the evolving needs of the twenty-first century.

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