Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Resourcing Change in Small Schools

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Resourcing Change in Small Schools

Article excerpt


Being a principal in the 21st century entails new responsibilities amid rapidly changing policy conditions and contexts for learning. New responsibilities for principals include managing and monitoring curriculum development, assessment and reporting; staff selection and performance management; financial management; mission building and managing reform; managing professional learning; school accountability; and community relations and marketing (Ingvarson, Anderson, Gronn & Jackson, 2006). In keeping with changing conceptions of leadership, school principals are also expected to work in shared or distributed school leadership models (Ingvarson et al., 2006).

Other emerging responsibilities include community and social welfare roles, supervision of major building works, and grief counselling (Lacey & Gronn, 2007; Redman, 2007). Increasingly, education interacts with other social challenges, including mental health and well-being, obesity, economic disadvantage, and access to products and services, requiring school leaders to actively engage with the complexity of schools within their communities.

More recently, policy developments at the national level in Australia--such as national professional standards for teachers, national curriculum and the reporting of individual school performance--require principals to negotiate and manage internal responses to these external pressures for change. These new responsibilities and policy developments are more acute for leaders in small schools as their own visibility and the relationship and position of the school to its community heightens the intensity of educational change management. Recent research (Halsey, 2005; Roberts, 2004; Sharplin, 2002; Starr & White, 2008) has confirmed that schools in rural locations continue to experience more staffing pressures than their metropolitan counterparts. Equally it is recognised that rural schools are more likely than city schools to be vital to the social and economic network and sustainability of their local community (Barley & Beesley, 2007; Halsey, 2005; Moriarty, Danaher & Danaher, 2003).

Within the study of school leadership, the differentiated experiences of those leading 'small' schools can be overlooked (Southworth, 2004). This article focuses on the challenge of resourcing change in small schools. The term 'resourcing' includes grants, in-kind and volunteer support, sponsorship, awards, prizes or donations, and, more broadly, relationship building within the school and externally. In particular, this article examines the experience of a principal in a small school as he and others sought to resource change. The concept of 'social capital' is used to examine why support is given to various ideas and practices of leadership, what the consequences are and on whom they fall.

Social capital

Social capital can be framed from different conceptual starting points, such as advantages to the individual (McGonigal et al., 2007). We adopt the definition of Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992) that social capital is:

   the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an
   individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of
   more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance
   and recognition. (p. 119)

We take our lead from the school leadership research that views change as a socially contextualised collective approach and practice (Blackmore & Sachs, 2007). Viewed in this way, inclusive school leaders are said to engage people in networks of support and relations based on trust (Duignan & Marks, 2003; Fullan, 2001). These are also the sorts of images and expectations conveyed of small-school leadership in the research literature.

Social capital has its origins in historical, cultural, social and political contexts of trust (Bottery, 2003; Bourdieu, 1997; Kilpatrick, Johns, Mulford, Falk & Prescott, 2002; McGonigal et al. …

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