Overcoming the Barriers to Educational Change in the Arab Context: Examining Pathways to Building Systemic Capacity for Sustainable School-Based Improvement by Rima Karami-Akkary, Coby Vincent Meyers, and Mariam Yamout, 2020
Purpose: Inducing educational change in the Arab region seldom influences school organization or classroom instruction (Bashshur, 2005; Karami-Akkary, 2014; Shuayb, M., 2018). Despite growing awareness about the importance of sustainable school improvement, translating this awareness into policies and practice is still a major challenge worldwide (Dinham & Crowther, 2011). Within the Arab context traditionally, building school capacity for continuous improvement is restricted to the individuals involved in implementing change with little consideration of systemic conditions. We consider school- and district-level factors in an all-girls Lebanese public school attempting to advance organizational improvement.
Perspectives/ Conceptual Background
The study adopts a conceptual framework advanced by Dimmock and Walker (2000) that leverages a cross-cultural approach where the school is the unit of analysis. Their model advances the examination of organizational functionality through a multi-layered model of culture: (1) organizational; (2) national/societal; and (3) regional/local.
This study follows a qualitative case study design that adopts the constructivist grounded theory methodology for collecting and analyzing data (Charmaz, 2015). It aims at understanding in depth the phenomena in “its real life context” (Yin, 2003, p.13). Generating codes happens through microanalysis with comparisons made at the level of incident.
The selected case is a high-achieving school that self-selected to participate in the TAMAM project (www.tamamproject.com) for the past four years out of interest in school-based improvement. The school is a K-9 all girls school with 1000 students and 76 teachers. Interviews with teachers, coordinators, school principal, district level officer, and ministry level inspector were conducted from September 2018 to April 2019, and relevant document data from 2015 to present were also examined.
The school members’ views of school improvement are constrained. Teachers appear limited to view improvement as triggered by different members of the system in other positions. The principal is an eager learner to earn the label of a change agent and who is willing to take risks and adopt innovations yet very much “content” with the confines of her role within the system. At the district level, system leaders seem to be absorbed in performing clerical work and have very limited pedagogical expertise or strategic vision for improvement.
Bain, Walker, and Chan (2011) argued that there is a need for explaining how “organizational support for capacity building for sustained change is theorized, developed and applied” (p. 703); and how to translate research findings on capacity building to practical, successful actions that schools could follow. This study underscores gaps in how practitioners conceptualize school improvement that result in limited understanding about how to lead change and consider possible policy change.
There is growing agreement that effective professional learning is enhanced when teachers connect and collaborate with colleagues (Fullan, 2007; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012; Strahan, 2003). Yet, existing organizational arrangements in schools, limit the opportunity for teachers to interact with peers within or across schools, leaving the teaching professionals constrained and isolated (Pawlas & Oliva, 2008). Furthermore, in response to the increase awareness of the limitations of change initiatives that are focused on the individual school level, a new paradigm of developing collaborative school structures aids in building the school capacity for improvement (e.g., Dı´az-Gibson et al., 2017). That is, collaboration between schools, as one strategy to building collaborative cultures, have become increasingly popular as means for building and sustaining school improvement (Ainscow, Mujis, & West, 2006; Muijs, 2008). In the Arab region, educational change is equally complex and faces a lot of unique challenges that prompted scholars to call for a new paradigm of educational reform to be adopted to frame research and frame practice (e.g., Karami-Akkary, 2014). The practice of inter-school collaboration as part of a new paradigm of school improvement is almost non-existent in the Arab world. Following that, the TAMAM professional network is the result of one of the few educational initiatives in the Arab region to incorporate professional collaboration as a foundation for its vision for developing innovative schools and as a strategy to achieve this vision. TAMAM is an acronym that consists of the initials of “school-based reform” in Arabic (al-Tatweer Al-Mustanid ila Al-Madrasa). Currently, the TAMAM project has an expanding network of Arab educators and educational institutions that share common vision and goals. The Project Steering Team, though, have neither examined this network of schools nor engaged in purposeful activities that target initiating and sustaining collaborations between schools as a strategy for school improvement. This study explores the TAMAM school lead team members’ experiences with the inter-school collaboration initiatives occurring in TAMAM schools in Lebanon and Jordan as part of the school teams’ participation in the project in the context of the TAMAM Project Steering Team (PST) attempts at building its professional network. This study will be conducted using a qualitative multiple case study research design to achieve an in-depth understanding of the perceptions of participants of the role of inter-school collaboration in building school capacity for sustainable improvement and the impact of these collaborations on decreasing the challenges of engaging in school-based improvement. For the purpose of this study, the researcher will purposefully choose the participants from selected TAMAM schools in Lebanon and Jordan. The countries chosen are the only countries from the eight participating countries in the project in which the schools initiated (facilitated by the Project Steering Team) attempts for inter-school collaborations. In addition, these countries include local external coaches who joined the project since the beginning of the project in these countries in 2008 and are following up and supporting the schools since that time. This study has significance to theory and practice. For theory, this study will be adding to the scarce knowledge base about inter-school collaboration as a strategy for building school capacity for sustainable improvement in the west and fill a major gap in educational research literature in the Arab world in specific. As for practice, this study will support the TAMAM PST in examining inter-school collaboration activities that has emerged and implemented among the schools in TAMAM professional network to enhance professional collaboration among the TAMAM participating schools.