March 1999, Vol.5, No.3A Series of Brief Reports
Change is inescapable and unrelenting. No secondary school in the province is immune to calls for renewal in organizational structure (whither departments?), culture (are schools in which teacher work together more effective or just pleasanter places to work?), and teaching methods (what does constructivist teaching look like?). Regardless of how schools respond—whether they struggle to retain existing practices or embrace the turmoil as an opportunity for renewal—they need a way to keep track of what is happening. This article describes one strategy for keeping track, the annual all-teacher survey. Other ways to monitor change are equally viable but the survey has the advantage of low cost and involvement by all staff.
A Concrete Example: Restructuring Schools in a Supportive School District
In 1994-95 the OSSTF local and the administration and trustees of the Northumberland-Newcastle Board of Education (now part of the larger Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB) reached agreement on a new way of operating. District officials turned over to each school the resources (headship allowances and release time) that had been allocated to positions of added responsibility. Each school received the same allocation as before but they were encouraged to use the funds in new ways. School planning committees, each headed by two teachers, constructed unique models to meet individual school needs. The district provided support for in-school teams, cut through regulations that inhibited innovation, and defined an overall vision. Few constraints were placed on what schools could do. It was a site-based, teacher-led, and program-driven approach to school organization. Responses varied. Some schools created new leadership positions that cut across existing departments; others made incremental changes to the status quo.
OISE (the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto) was asked to assist schools in collecting data about the change. The data was of two types: in-depth interviews with teachers and administrators who had special knowledge about the process and annual surveys completed anonymously by every teacher, beginning in June 1995, before the new models were implemented in the fall.
Building the Survey
The purposes of the annual surveys were to provide information useful to school planning committees and to assist the district steering committee in tracking system progress. The first step was to reach agreement on what should be measured. Three groups were polled: the co-leaders of nine school planning committees, principals/vice-principals, and members of the district steering committee (consisting of federation leaders, superintendents, a principal, and district support staff). Each group received a menu of categories of survey questions with a short explanation of how each category related to school improvement according to research studies. Each group selected the information category they believed would be helpful to them. Consensus was reached on seven categories. A survey was constructed by selecting items used in secondary school change studies. Each item was a statement with agree-disagree response options. The final version of the survey consisted of 50 or so items (half worded positively, the rest negatively) representing seven indicators of organizational health.
School goals and priorities, i.e., consensus about directions, especially continuous improvement goals, and the use of school priorities by teachers when making professional decisions (e.g., "in our school we rarely review goals and priorities")
Shared decision making, i.e., teachers’ feeling well prepared to participate in key school issues and having opportunities to deliberate with colleagues with different expertise than their own (e.g., "the organization of our school facilitates teamwork by staff").
Positive attitudes to school change, i.e., teachers’ belief that past attempts to bring about change had beneficial outcomes (e.g., "before we have digested one change, we are on to a new one").
School culture, i.e., teachers’ support for collaborative inquiry, dedication to constant improvement, and to mutual self-help (e.g., "we all help new teachers learn what is expected of teachers in this school).
Access to resources, i.e., teachers’ belief that they have adequate resources (materials, budget, and supportive colleagues) to change their practice (e.g., "we have few financial resources to facilitate professional learning").
School and community, i.e., teachers’ belief that the school and community share a common purpose (e.g.,"the community served by this school is very supportive of this school").
Teacher confidence, i.e., teachers’ expectation that they will be able to bring about student learning.
Administering the Survey
The survey was formatted for optical scanning, printed, and distributed in each school by the school planning committees. Committees encouraged every staff member to complete the form to ensure a high response rate (over 80%). The completed surveys were scanned into electronic data files and summarized. Each school received a customized report giving that school’s results for the current and preceding years, the average results across the district, and the average scores in the school for each survey item.
The graph shows the results from 1995-1997 on six indicators (the format of the seventh was changed in response to teacher concerns that it might be used to identify individuals so the results for that indicator are not comparable). The graph shows that there was a statistically significant change on all measures. After two years of greater control over school change, teachers reported greater consensus around school goals, greater participation in school decision making, a stronger belief that past change efforts in the school had beneficial outcomes, and they believed there were stronger ties between the school and the community. The only negative finding was that resources declined (hardly a surprising result).
The all-teacher survey is not the only way to measure secondary school change but it involves all staff, provides a consistent picture of the school using valid and reliable items derived from research, and entails lower costs than some other methods. The survey that was used in this study is available on request to any secondary school in Ontario (contact the OISE/UT Trent Valley Centre). Schools that want assistance in scanning results, creating data summaries, and/or school reports should contact the author at the address below. For further information see:
Hannay. L., & Ross, J. (1997). Initiating secondary school reform: The dynamic relationship between restructuring, reculturing, and retiming. Educational Administration Quarterly, 33, 576-603.
Hannay, L. & Ross, J. (in press). Department heads as middle-managers? Questioning the black box. International Journal of Leadership in Education.
Ross, J., Hannay, L., & Brydges, B. (1998). District-level support for site-based renewal: A case study of secondary school reform. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 44(4), 349-364.
John A. Ross is Professor of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (University of Toronto) and Head of the Trent Valley Centre in Peterborough.
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For more information about these research reports and other activities of
the Trent Valley Centre contact:
For more information about these research reports and other activities of the Trent Valley Centre contact:
OISE/UT Trent Valley
Box 719, 1994 Fisher Drive,
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada K9J 7A1
Tel: (705) 742-9773,
Fax: (705) 742-5104