Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

To What Extent Do School Leaders in Slovenia Understand Physical School Environments as a Learning Factor?

Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

To What Extent Do School Leaders in Slovenia Understand Physical School Environments as a Learning Factor?

Article excerpt

Introduction

School leaders have demanding and responsible roles, tasks, and responsibilities. They act as models, both for the staff and the students (Cencič & Štemberger, 2014). If, for example, school heads understand the school environment to be an important factor in learning and teaching, the staff will also accept this view, because school space is not just space adapted for teaching (Ivanuš Grmek, 2003), but also a factor of learning, as it conveys many non-verbal messages (Day & Midbjer, 2007).

It is not only the natural environment (e.g. forests, seaside) that exerts great influence on us, the built environment (e.g. internal and external school environments) also have significant influence, whether we are aware of this or not (Playce, 2012). Thus, the impact of the built environment on school climate, on health and on learning performance (Woolner, 2010) has been determined in the literature, which suggests that the school building acts as a third teacher (Nicholson, 2005), and educates (Ivanič, 2009), that schools themselves (building, playgrounds, rooms, and corridors) teach; they are passive lessons or silent lessons (Day & Midbjer, 2007), hidden curriculum (Bida, 2012; Bregar Golobič, 2012; Taylor, 2009), and they can serve as three-dimensional textbooks for learning (Taylor, 2009). The school environment is becoming an additional factor of learning, as pupils accept the symbolic messages communicated by the school building and its surroundings.

Given that school heads function as models, we were interested in knowing how school heads in Slovenia assess their school environment as a factor of teaching and learning, which factors they rank the highest, and which lower, and whether the school heads' assessments differ depending on how old their school is. We created the factors based on Taylor's (2009, p. 153) presentation of how school environments can support Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.

Different roles and/or competences of school leaders

School heads assume different roles in school today: '[P]rincipals are not only the educational leaders of their schools but managers who are responsible for financing, personnel, and the results of their institutions.' (Alava, Halttunen & Risku, 2012, p. 16).

In Slovenia school heads' roles, tasks, and responsibilities are defined by law. It is emphasised among their roles that the school head is the person who takes care of the legality of school's functioning, taking account of school governing board's guidance and decisions, and that she/he is the coordinator of the work in the school (Roncelli Vaupot, 2001).

In addition to the formally declared and defined roles, however, school heads also perform a number of various other roles they are expected to perform, despite the fact that they are not explicitly listed.2 Among such roles,3 we would like to mention that of a role model for teachers, because leaders act as a model for the staff, and that the staff tend to uncritically follow the example of school leaders. If the school head is also a model or example for the employees, for a good school head this represents an additional obligation.

In current discourse, the term 'school head's role(s)' has been increasingly replaced by the term school head's competences (e.g. Schratz et al., 2013). With reference to school head's competences, various more or less extensive lists of competences have been constructed (e.g. Schratz et al., 2013), which include various areas of knowledge, skills and attitudes. At present, however, the existing lists of competences do not include one that would indicate school head's competences in relation to the physical learning environment as an important factor of learning, although, as Tomšič Čerkez and Zupančič state: 'Physical space plays an important role in our everyday life. It determines us, and at the same time we define it' (2001, p. 5).

Physical or built school environment as an additional learning factor

According to Sigurdardóttir and Hjartarson (2011, p. …

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