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Shared sense-making: how charter school leaders ascribe meaning to accountability

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Purpose

– The purpose of this paper is to investigate the ways in which charter school leaders influence the understanding and conception of accountability policy and how that understanding translates into practice. In particular, this paper draws from sense-making theory and research on charter school leaders to identify their pre-existing understandings, their shared interactions, and their interpretations of accountability policy as they relate to professional development and instructional practices.

Design/methodology/approach

– This paper uses the qualitative case study approach to document the organizational processes of charter schools. Data for the study were collected in two elementary charter schools over the course of 18 months. The constant comparative method was used to analyze the data because this method is compatible with the inductive, concept-building orientation of all qualitative research. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with two charter school leaders and twelve charter school teachers. In-depth interviews with the leaders were also conducted to gain a deeper understanding of sense-making. In addition pertinent staff meetings, professional development sessions, and informal interactions between charter leaders and teachers were observed.

Findings

– While the charter school leaders in this study were inclined to adopt approaches that reinforced their pre-existing understandings, they did so using interpretative frameworks that sought to enact policies they deemed most crucial at the school level. These frameworks included metaphors and modeling, both of which reflected the policy signals received from the institutional environment. The leaders’ use of metaphors and modeling incorporated accountability policy into messages that encouraged constructive instructional practices, including data-driven analysis, project-based learning, and technology use.

Originality/value

– This paper broadens discussions about charter school leaders and accountability in three ways. First, it explores how school leaders interpret and adapt policy signals. Second, it delineates the frameworks used by charter school leaders to identify and make sense of accountability policy. Finally, this paper highlights the ways in which charter school leaders influence the teachers in their school buildings through shared sense-making.
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Keywords: Accountability; Charter schools; Leadership; Organizational theory; Qualitative methods; Qualitative techniques; Sense-making; USA

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 5, 2015

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