Open Journal of Leadership
2012. Vol.1, No.4, 22-36
Published Online December 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 22
Redesigning Staff Development as Organizational Case Learning:
Tapping into School Stakeholders’ Collaborative Potential for
Critical Reflection and Transformative Leadership Action
Joseph Claudet
Department of Educ at i on a l P s ychology and Leadership, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, USA
Received October 2nd, 2012; revised November 12th, 2012; accep te d No v e mber 21st, 2012
This article reports on activities associated with one school-university partnership project focused on pro-
viding multimedia-integrated organizational learning and development opportunities to stakeholders in
K-12 school communities struggling with real-world school change and improvement challenges. A cen-
tral feature of the project’s organizational case learning design is the use of multimedia case production
technology in conjunction with context-specific school situational data to immerse school stakeholders in
the theatrical portrayal and analysis of their own school dilemma challenges as a means to jumpstart col-
laborative teaming and data-driven problem solving. Multimedia case development and analysis efforts
involving stakeholders in one middle school community who are confronting a difficult, politically char-
ged set of school improvement challenges are highlighted. Project findings associated with the use of
multimedia technology and data-driven organizational case learning as tools to inform an alternative staff
development approach for promoting positive school leadership teaming and real-world problem solving
among education stakeholders in K-12 school communities are discussed.
Keywords: Multimedia Case Development; Organizational Learning; Instructional Teaming; School
Leadership and Improvement
In my staff development and school improvement consulting
work over the past two decades with K-12 schools and school
districts, I have worked and continue to work to help educators
and diverse groups of education stakeholders better understand
who they are and where they are going as teaching, leading,
and learning organizations through learning how to find crea-
tive ways to leverage their own situational contexts and chal-
lenges to work together more effectively as collaborative lead-
ing and learning communities. Leadership in school organiza-
tions is a very people-intensive enterprise. And leadership in
schools (and, for that matter, leadership in any public ser-
vice-centered organization) can often seem fraught with uncer-
tainty due to the multiple, many times conflicting, views
stakeholders tend to hold (fueled by their own passionate atti-
tudes and beliefs) regarding pressing organizational issues and
challenges. To help education stakeholders gain clarity amidst
an array of diverse organization member perspectives and be-
liefs regarding who they are and where they are going collec-
tively as organizations (i.e., to assist education community
leaders in learning how to engage together in new ways to iden-
tify shared values and beliefs that can anchor and energize their
collective school leading and learning efforts) I frequently ada-
pt and apply insights from cultural anthropology and utilize
phenomenological methods to help stakeholders gain new in-
sights that can help them better understand their roles and re-
sponsibilities as members of communal leadership cultures.
There is a pivotal scene in James Cameron’s groundbreaking
futuristic movie Avatar (Cameron, 2009) that captures well the
kind of intense organizational logjam that can occur when mul-
tiple stakeholders harboring conflicting passionate perspectives
and beliefs (starkly reflected in a conscious choice between pu-
rsuing “self-interest driven opportunism” or espousing “com-
munal stewardship”) collide head-on over organizational purpo-
ses and direction. The movie’s storyline, set in the lush, far-
away lunar environment of Pandora, portrays the intergalactic
colonial expansion efforts of humans and their profit-hungry
corporate sponsors in the early 22nd century who, as a result of
having mined their own planetary resources to extinction, are
now embarked on extraterrestrial exploitation of Pandora and
its tribal, nature-respecting humanoid inhabitants, the Na’vi, to
acquire new resources to fuel their unquenchable thirst for cor-
porate profit. As the movie’s plot line thickens and the perspec-
tivist conflicts begin to boil over, one of the movie’s primary
characters, “Dr. Grace Augustine” (played by Sigourney Wea-
ver), admonishes the corporate administrators in charge of the
Pandora mining operation that “if you want to share this world
with them [the Na’vi], you need to understand them [emphasis
added]”. With this statement, Grace Augustine makes a defiant
claim for the importance of working collaboratively to strive to
comprehend differences and to understand the multiple (some-
times conflicting) perspectives, values, and beliefs of the dive-
rse stakeholders in your organizational arena. Comprehending
differences and building multi-stakeholder understanding can
be the key to fostering a climate of organizational trust and co-
hesiveness among multiple stakeholders and stakeholder groups.
For Augustine, an interplanetary cultural anthropologist, under-
standing multiple stakeholder differences and then acting on
those understandings are fundamentally important tasks essen-
tial to building a solid foundation for positive collaborative
teaming. Interestingly, it was Grace Augustine and her fellow
“avatar” scientists—along with “Jake Sully” (played by Sam
Worthington), the story’s “marine-turned-collaborative teami-
ng” toruk makto [rider of last shadow] hero-protagonist—who,
through working directly and continuously in a culturally im-
mersive way via their “avatar bodies” with the native Na’vi,
were the ones who were able to most easily realize and inter-
nalize these insights. Jake, in particular, through his own im-
mersive avatar experiences living among and learning the ways
of the Na’vi (i.e., understanding them), was able to enact his
own personal transformation from a “self-interest driven op-
portunist” into a fierce advocate of “communal stewardship”.
Stated in organizational effectiveness terms, the key insight is:
the organizational payoffs of collaborative teaming as a coop-
erative, communal stewardship-based “win-win” solution are
more positive, desirable, and organization-enhancing than the
not-so-positive end results of a competitive, opportunist-driven
“win-lose” outcome.
Intriguingly, these insights on the nature of collaborative tea-
ming and organizational effectiveness—specifically, the idea
that nurturing multi-stakeholder trust and cooperation (and po-
sitive “win-win” organization-enhancing outcomes) can be best
accomplished through helping diverse stakeholders who are ha-
rboring passionate multi-perspectivist differences build commu-
nal understandings as a foundational basis for generating a co-
herent, consensual team vision of organizational purpose and
direction—became a central focus of my consulting work in
one West Texas middle school community. As I was soon to
discover, education stakeholders in this particular middle scho-
ol were embroiled in an intense instructional change and im-
provement dilemma situation. And, these instructional impro-
vement challenges, along with the multi-stakeholder perspec-
tivist conflicts that were boiling over in their school community
as a result of these challenges, were now straining these school
stakeholders’ collective capacities as organizational leaders.
The Challenge of Instructional Change in a
Middle School Community
My ongoing school improvement consulting work in the
West Texas Permian Basin region beginning in the early 1990s
and now extending over two decades has led to the establish-
ment of professional connections with a large number of cam-
pus principals and assistant principals, as well as central office
administrative staff, in several school districts. So, I was not
surprised when I received a call from a middle school principal
in one of the Permian Basin region school districts in early fall
of 2007. This principal indicated that she had heard of my con-
sulting work with other schools in the area, and was wondering
if she could talk with me about her own school situation and the
leadership challenges she was facing. Intrigued by the princi-
pal’s call and wanting to learn more, I readily accepted this
principal’s invitation to visit her campus and speak with her in
person about her professional experiences and her current
school leadership challenges.
I arrived at this West Texas middle school campus one mor-
ning in early October eager to meet the principal whom I had
spoken briefly with earlier by telephone about the school lead-
ership challenges she was facing. As I made my way to the
school’s administrative offices, I reminded myself—as my nu-
merous experiences working with various other school commu-
nities in the region facing similar organizational change chal-
lenges had taught me—that I would need to talk with not only
this school’s principal, but with as many different school
stakeholders as possible. I had learned through my own experi-
ences over the years as a school improvement consultant that
one of the best strategies I could employ to learn in depth about
a school’s overall organizational challenges would be to make
an effort to become as familiar as I could with the views and
beliefs of multiple stakeholders throughout the school commu-
nity. It would be important for me to hear in stakeholders’ own
words their individual stories about their school community’s
teaching and learning challenges, and their own unique per-
spectives regarding their struggles with organizational change.
The principal welcomed me into her office and we sat down
to begin our initial conversation. The principal indicated that
she was in the beginning of her second year as principal of one
of three middle schools in her district, and that the superinten-
dent had specifically brought her in “to improve science and
math scores” and “to turn this school around and make it a
model of instructional transformation for other schools in the
district to emulate”. She also confided that she had been strug-
gling for over a year now with what she believed were some
heavily entrenched cultural and political views held by a num-
ber of influential education stakeholders within her school com-
munity—views which she believed were serving as powerful
road blocks inhibiting and undermining her school change ef-
As our conversation progressed, the principal shared with me
her own realization that the true “complexity” of the challenges
facing this school community had not become completely evi-
dent to her until she became fully immersed in the day-to-day
leadership of her school during the fall of her first year as prin-
cipal. It was during these first few months in her new position
that she began to experience first-hand some of the entrenched
school community political resistance to the district’s new cur-
ricular and instructional improvement initiatives. In particular,
in a targeted effort to improve student learning test scores, the
district had just the previous year mandated the implementation
of a new instructional teaming initiative—an initiat i ve de si g ne d
specifically to help ensure that the state’s new curriculum and
student learning assessment guidelines would be utilized con-
sistently and effectively by teachers both within and across
grade levels at all district campuses. This new district-mandated
instructional teaming initiative would directly affect the way
teachers throughout the district would now have to engage to-
gether in monitoring and utilizing their own classroom- and
school-level data to inform their grade-level instructional plan-
The principal explained that science and math scores at her
school were below proficiency and had remained so for quite
some time. According to the principal, student performance in
science and math has always been a central challenge at her
school. The continuing regional demographic trend in recent
years of an increase in Hispanic families moving into the area,
however, has brought on additional new demands on her teach-
ers in terms of meeting the instructional needs of an increas-
ingly diverse student population. Her teachers’ efforts over the
past year have not resulted in any measurable performance
gains, and her school has continued to languish as an under-
performing campus. In addition to describing these escalating
school performance challenges, the principal also shared with
me some information regarding the professional staff makeup at
her school. Many of the current teachers at the school have
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 23
been teaching for fifteen or more years, and several of these
teachers have spent the majority of their teaching careers at this
middle school. In the past three years, though, as a result of the
normal cycle of teacher retirements within the district, a num-
ber of new, early-career teachers have been hired and assigned
to this middle school. These new teachers, although possessing
comparatively less overall career teaching experience and less
familiarity with the school and the community than the veteran
teachers, have brought with them considerable energy and en-
thusiasm, as well as a variety of new teaching techniques and
strong instructional beliefs which they are interested in both
applying in their classrooms and sharing with colleagues.
The principal confided to me her strong belief that an ener-
getic, school-wide embrace of instructional teaming has real
potential for turning her school around, and she has been ac-
tively pushing the district-mandated instructional teaming ini-
tiative that began at her school during the past academic year.
However, as teachers at her campus began to get involved in
grade-level instructional teaming last year, it soon became ap-
parent to this principal that the majority of her teachers lacked
real understanding of the concept of “grade-level teaming”, and
lacked practical strategies on how to approach and go about it.
Teachers at her middle school campus, the principal said, have
also experienced real difficulties in effectively linking instruc-
tion across content areas—notably, in math and science, both of
which are instructional performance areas the district central
office is monitoring very carefully. And on top of these chal-
lenges, the principal added, the district is continuing its push to
have teachers at each campus work proactively to more thor-
oughly “integrate” technolog y into instruction.
With anxiety in her voice, the principal explained that, based
on her own continuing self-reflections up to this point on her
collective leadership experiences at her school, she was now
harboring a growing concern that many of the very same teach-
ers who were passionately resisting the new instructional team-
ing initiative (which required that grade-level teachers learn
how to work together as a team to examine and use their own
students’ performance data to make adjustments in their teach-
ing and develop teaching interventions to better instructionally
support these students) were, in fact, doing so because it was
for ci ng t hem to get out of their well-established “comfort zone”.
Teachers were so resistant to the new teaming initiative, the
principal conjectured, because it was abruptly challenging them
to jettison a way of teaching (and a set of engrained instruc-
tional beliefs) that they had become very comfortable with over
the years—teaching methods with which they were able to
teach well those students who did not require any intervention.
The principal further indicated that she felt that the instructional
beliefs these teachers were espousing were, in large part, self-
congratulatory and self-corroborating, but did not match the
new realities of their more diverse classrooms. These teachers
in their own minds felt that they had been doing a very good
job with their teaching, and that it was “these new kids and
their home environments” that were the problem. Moreover,
many of these same teachers were being supported in their con-
victions by a number of parents in the community (some with
ties to school board members) who were also very content with
the kind of “status quo” instructional methods being utilized by
these veteran teachers. Some of these parents, in fact, were con-
tinuing to be quite outspoken and insistent in condemning the
district’s new instructional teaming initiative as simply “more
unnecessary work for teachers”. In addition to this, the princi-
pal further explained, these entrenched teacher beliefs were
being reflected as well in the kinds of school-level staff devel-
opment recommendations that were emerging from the school’s
Campus Improvement Team (a group comprised of grade-level
chairpersons and teacher representatives from the campus’s
seventh, eighth, and ninth grades), with the CIT prioritizing and
scheduling staff development in-service events that focused on
topics such as teacher stress and wellness, peer mediation, and
assertive discipline. These kinds of topics, the principal sur-
mised, might indeed offer some incremental professional lear-
ning benefits to teachers, but they did not appear to address in
any substantive way any of the real, deep-structural instruc-
tional challenges the campus, and her teachers, were facing.
By now, the overall contours of this principal’s story were
sounding very familiar to me. Her story resonated with stories
of organizational change that had been recounted to me over
man y y ea rs by ot he r p ri ncipals in schools through out the region.
Although many of the details of this principal’s story were
unique to her own school situation, there were many similarities
with the school change challenges faced by other principals I
had worked with. Of particular note was the fact that this prin-
cipal, like so many other principals in similar situations, was
confronting head-on the reality that the challenges of school-
wide instructional change do not stop at a school’s front door
and are not enclosed conveniently by a school’s brick-and-
mortar walls. The process of transformative school change is
one that involves an entire school community—a broad-based
community to be sure that includes an array of diverse leading
and learning stakeholders, including students, teachers, and ad-
ministrators, as well as parents, school board members, and
community business leaders.
As we wrapped up our initial campus conversation, the prin-
cipal agreed with me that to gain sufficient information about
her school’s overall situation as well as specific, detailed in-
formation relating to the different grade levels on her campus
(information which would be essential if I was to be genuinely
helpful in my efforts as a school change consultant at her
school), it would make sense for me to spend some time getting
to know the school’s teachers and other instructional staff in
their own daily work environments. We both agreed that a great
way to do that would be to spend some time sitting in on teach-
ers’ grade-level instructional planning meetings. Thus, with this
principal’s story of school change now firmly resonating in my
mind, I spent the next three weeks in October sitting in on some
of the weekly grade-level instructional team meetings that were
now taking place on a regular basis at this middle school.
I knew from previous consulting experiences that spending
time observing and listening intently to teachers as they worked
during their daily grade-level team planning meetings was al-
ways an excellent way to: 1) get a sense of teachers’ own atti-
tudes and perspectives regarding the instructional challenges
they and their school are facing; 2) glean first-hand from teach-
ers their views on current school and district initiatives; and 3)
begin to construct a composite picture of teachers’ core beliefs
about their overall professional work environments, their class-
room teaching, and their students. As I quickly discovered, tea-
chers at this middle school were very vocal and quite willing to
share their views on their teaching experiences at this campus
and the initiatives that were being implemented throughout the
district which were directly affecting their professional work. In
one eighth-grade team meeting I attended, teachers’ genuine
passion for teaching and their commitment to their students
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
were clearly evident. As one eighth-grade teacher reflecting on
his teaching experiences at this school for the past couple of
years put it, “You know, I’m now beginning my third year of
teaching, and some of us who’ve recently come to this school
really understand the importance of collaborating to help kids
see links between math and science, as well as make connec-
tions across other content areas, and we’ve tried working to-
gether to create lessons that combine concepts and challenge
these kids, but many of these kids come to us with barely a fifth
grade education, and on top of that, they’re struggling with
some basic ESL [English as a Second Language] reading com-
prehension issues”. “Not only that”, another team member in-
terjected, “but in their computer classes they’ve learned how to
download content off the internet, and they’re turning that in as
their work”. She added, “I’ve been teaching at this school now
for several years, and I’ve seen the diversity of our community
increase. And, as a teacher, I continue to expend a great deal of
effort to reach out to my students to help them be successful.
But many of them simply don’t have the language comprehen-
sion skills to be able to engage in the kind of critical thinking in
science and math that the curriculum and the state assessments
In another seventh-grade team meeting I attended, teachers
were openly questioning the appropriateness of the new in-
structional teaming initiative the district was implementing. As
one teacher lamented, “. . . this new teaming initiative the dis-
trict has mandated and our new principal is pushing—this is
just more work for us to do. Some of us have been teaching for
a long time and we pride ourselves on the quality of our teach-
ing and the lesson plans we’ve developed over the years that
guide our teaching”. “Yes”, echoed another seventh-grade
teacher in the room, “I can not teach with someone else’s
plans”. Another teacher on the team was quick to add her own
perspective, “. . . this instructional team planning initiative
really just creates another layer of work for us . . . we have to
prepare additional ‘team lesson plans’ on top of our usual
classroom plans. It just doesn’t make any sense”. At this mo-
ment, a third teacher on this team, who had been sitting quietly
at the planning table up to this point listening intently as her
other colleagues spoke, sat up straight in her chair, eyeing her
colleagues directly, and exclaimed, “Well, my friend’s husband
is on the school board, and she tells me that this instructional
teaming initiative will be a topic of discussion at the next
school board meeting. It’s causing more work for us teachers,
and the district is not even listening to what we need. The dis-
trict is simply not providing us with the resources we need to
work with these kids”.
Many teachers within other teams I sat in on voiced similar
perspectives about their district’s improvement initiatives and
the instructional challenges they were facing on their own
campus. My collective experiences over a three-week period
sitting in on a large number of grade-level team meetings with
teachers at this middle school corroborated several of the in-
structional leadership concerns the principal had shared with
me during our initial conversations. My experiences thus far at
this campus also served to confirm my own growing suspicion
that these “road blocks” to organizational change which were
so evident in teachers’ teaming conversations—viz., teachers’
frustrations over having to implement the district’s team plan-
ning mandate; the continued pressure teachers were experienc-
ing in confronting the uphill challenge of trying to find suitable
ways to respond to their students’ diverse learning needs; along
with my own perceptions regarding many of these teachers’
apparent aversion to instructional risk-taking and their fear of
leaving their instructional “comfort zones”—were, in fact, sur-
face-level symptoms of a much deeper organizational dilemma
challenge that this school community was facing. And this
deeper, more systemic, dilemma challenge involved the need
for stakeholders in this school community to learn how to come
together in new ways to reinvent themselves as a middle school
learning community through reassessing and redefining their
core teaching, leading, and learning competencies and, in so
doing, nurture a new organizational team learning culture that
would enable these middle school stakeholders to reenergize
and redirect their school improvement efforts.
Expanding the Conversation to Find Common
Ground and a New Understanding of the
Purpose of School-Wide Staff Development
The passionately held, varied perspectives on critical issues
relating to instructional leadership I was hearing from teachers
and the principal at this campus were indicative to me of a se-
rious fragmenting of the organizational learning culture at this
middle school—a rift in the overall fabric of stakeholders’ col-
laborative organizational learning potential at this school that
current instructional challenges coupled with district-instigated
initiatives were causing to widen and deepen. At this point, the
insights I was deriving from my collective consultant field
notes along with the overall picture of instability that was
forming in my mind regarding the instructional leadership and
organizational learning dilemma challenges fomenting on this
campus led me to schedule a further conversation with the
school’s principal. At this follow-up meeting, I pointedly in-
formed the principal that, in my view, a number of critical fac-
tors were combining to create a perfect storm of organizational
stagnation at this middle school. Most prominent among these
critical factors were: 1) the school’s teaching and learning his-
tory reflected in the campus’s student performance data over
the past five years; 2) the added pressures and political turmoil
brought on by the district’s current mandated change initiatives;
and 3) the information I was collecting regarding the overall
fragmented condition of the instructional leading and learning
environment within and across grade levels at the school (evi-
denced by teachers’ varied, deeply held, and often conflicting
instructional values and beliefs concerning the possibilities for
instructional change and renewal at their campus). Many teach-
ers at this middle school were attempting to respond to their
school’s current challenges through a decidedly narrow-vi-
sioned and uni-perspectivist lens, making it difficult, if not
impossible, for effective organizational change leadership to
occur. The campus, in my estimation, was quickly heading
toward a critical impasse—one that could only be addressed by
dramatically opening up and deepening the organizational con-
At this point, I briefly shared with the principal my experi-
ences in using organizational futuring techniques to assist
school community stakeholders at other regional campuses who
either had been or were now grappling with similar dilemma
challenges. One particular applied form of organizational fu-
turing that is employed regularly in business organizations and
which I’ve utilized in a number of school settings over the
years involves the use of future search conferences (or, future
searches) as a means to engage large numbers of school stake-
holders in coming together openly as an organizational com-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 25
munity to: 1) critically examine their own school’s organiza-
tional history; 2) listen intently to multiple stakeholders’ indi-
vidual beliefs and perspectives; and 3) explore their school’s
current challenges from multiple angles. Participants in these
future search conferences typically include 30 to 65 or so stake-
holders from across the entire school community organiza-
tion—including campus-level teachers and administrators, par-
ents, district central office personnel, and community business
leaders. One important goal of the future search conference
design is to “. . . explore and validate differences, but we don’t
‘work’ them. Should people open old wounds, fight old battles,
or jump to problem-solving, we seek to have the m acknowledge
each other’s reality and remind them that the task is finding
common ground and future aspirations [emphasis added] . . .
When we work on common ground and common futures, we
tap d eep wells of creativity and commitment” (Weisbord, 1992:
p. 6).
If carefully planned and implemented, future search confe-
rences can be a powerful means to assist school stakeholders in
gaining needed clarity as a broader organizational community
on complex dilemma challenges they are presently confront-
ing—including helping to raise organization members’ own
awareness of the multiple, conflicting stakeholder perspectives
that are, very often, directly contributing to the multi-perspec-
tivist logjam of values and beliefs that can be fueling their
school’s dilemma situation. Importantly, stakeholders’ invol-
vement in the future search conference process can potentially
help to highlight and crystallize organization members’ critical
understandings of fundamental values and beliefs that they can
agree they share with each other. These shared understandings
can then provide a “common ground” or communal perspective
upon which stakeholders can then begin to work together to
fashion a new collaborative vision of a desired positive future
for their school organization.
With the principal’s enthusiastic assistance, three future sear-
ch conference meetings were planned and conducted at this
middle school in the early spring of 2008. Participants in the
future search meetings included current members of the scho-
ol’s Campus Improvement Team (i.e., the three grade-level
chairpersons, one for each grade level—seventh, eighth, and
ninth grades; two teacher representatives from each grade level;
and the principal and assistant principal). On my recommenda-
tion, this core group of stakeholders was expanded substantially
to include eight teacher representatives from each of the sev-
enth, eight, and ninth grade-level teams, as well as several addi-
tional parent participants from each grade level, along with a
number of district central office personnel. The structure of
each future search meeting included multiple small-group
breakout sessions followed by full-group debriefings and com-
munal discussion. This structure was utilized to encourage par-
ticipants to intently listen to and to strive to better understand
their fellow stakeholders’ perspectives on issues of importance,
and to share commonalities as well as differences in individual
Participant interactions during each of the future search
meetings served to underscore the breadth and depth of diffe-
rences existing across stakeholders and stakeholder groups on
challenging issues affecting this middle school campus. For
example, at one of the full-group debriefing sessions during the
second future search meeting, several different stakeholders
expressed views that starkly highlighted their own uniquely
individual perspectives on their school’s instructional chal-
lenges, while also serving to frame in broad strokes the nature
of the underlying conflict existing among stakeholders’ funda-
mental teaching beliefs. In particular, several of the same in-
structional attitudes and beliefs I had heard from teachers dur-
ing their daily teaming meetings (i.e., teachers having to deal
with the added pressures of trying to respond to the needs of
English language learners, coupled with real technology issues
and multiple content area integration challenges) were expre-
ssed again by more teacher participants during the future search
sessions. As one teacher summarized, “The increasing diversity
of our kids continues to make teaching much harder. Many of
our students are performing well below grade-level in reading
comprehension, which makes teaching content and reaching the
state’s student performance objectives much more challenging.
I feel like we’re already being pushed to the limit with all the
district’s school improvement demands. And now comes this
added burden of this new teaming initiative.” The school’s assi-
stant principal, who was listening intently to this teacher’s
comments, responded, “Well, our test scores have to improve.
And a way to do that is to start focusing on examining and lev-
eraging our own grade-level data so we can make needed ad-
justments in our team instructional unit planning to better meet
students’ needs”. The school principal immediately followed up
on the assistant principal’s remarks, “This ‘teaming initiative’
is not about working harder. It’s about doing things differently
from how we’ve done them in the past. We all agree that our
student population is changing, becoming much more diverse,
and because of this we also need to acknowledge that we need
to find new ways to change our teaching strategies to meet our
changing students’ needs. Rather than thinking of these new
challenges as an impossible burden, we can leverage this as an
opportunity to engage in new kinds of team-initiated and data-
driven progress monitoring to help all of our students succeed”.
Several teachers sitting near the principal noticeably bristled
at the principal’s statements, and the tension in the meeting
room was now palpable. There was an awkward silence as
teachers across the room exchanged pointed glances with one
another until one of their colleagues, a veteran teacher at this
middle school, sat up straight in her chair and firmly declared,
“Well, some of us have been teaching at this school a long time,
and we feel that we’ve been working very hard over the years
to meet our students’ needs and that our teaching overall has
been pretty successful”. The principal stood up and slowly sur-
veyed her teachers seated throughout the room, then she spoke
resolutely, “I’m not questioning how hard you’ve been working,
and I am absolutely sure of your dedication to your students
and to our school. But, if we are to improve as a school com-
munity, and if we are to improve in the performance areas that
we need to address, we will need to learn how to work differ-
ently. Our teachers in many ways have been working in isola-
tion and, because of this, many of our students are not making
needed connections across the curriculum, particularly in sci-
ence and math”.
During the third and final day of future search meetings, as
school improvement consultant I took a few minutes at the
outset of the final full-group session to congratulate stakehol-
ders on their candidness and energetic participation throughout
these meetings. I also reemphasized to all participants that one
of the central purposes of the future search endeavor is to help
organization members openly explore each other’s values, be-
liefs, and perspectives in a nonjudgmental, panoramic way as
an organizational community. And, further, that this process
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
can be used as an important opportunity to discover common
threads that can potentially weave through multiple stakehol-
ders’ sometimes disparate beliefs—shared understandings that
stakeholders might be able to construct as a group that could
bind them together as a teaching, leading, and learning organi-
zation. These shared understandings, if effectively internalized,
would then serve as a valuable “common ground” upon which
stakeholders could begin the process of collaboratively envi-
sioning their desired organizationnal future.
To facilitate the summary communal sharing process at this
final full-group session, a participant scribe from each morning
session breakout group reviewed their group’s compiled list of
“organizational issues, challenges, and constraints” which each
focus group had generated. As each focus group scribe shared
their list with the full group, a composite picture of this middle
school organization, including stakeholders’ collective sense of
their school community’s pressing organizational challenges,
quickly emerged in full view. The aggregate list of challenges
that emerged highlighted the school’s (and district’s) expanding
population diversity, the test score deficits in science and math,
concerns over how to best go about integrating technology into
the curriculum, the growing pressures to meet the state’s stu-
dent performance standards, and the district’s multiple program
mandates, particularly the instructional teaming initiative. An
important additional organizational challenge the middle school
future search participants now agreed also belonged on their
“challenges list” was: the clearer sense of urgency these school
leaders now shared as a group in needing to find some creative
way to break through their multiple perspectivist gridlock to
move their school community forward.
Just as the scribe of the final focus group wrapped up her
summary presentation to the assembled stakeholders, one of the
middle school parents in the room turned to address the group.
“I see that the challenges facing our school community are very
real”, the parent began. “And I can also see that as a group we
can agree that there are no easy solutions to these challenges.
What I do know though is that I want my kids to learn relevant
content in science and math, and in other areas. But I also want
them to obtain useful technology skills so they can be produc-
tive in the real world. I know my kids take computer classes,
but I’m not sure they’re necessarily acquiring specific skills on
how to utilize this technology in ways that actually enhance
their learning of science, math, geography, etc. When I ask my
kids what are you learning in computer class that helps you
better understand math and science problems, they can’t tell me.
My kids have all become very attached to their ipods, their
iphones, and their ipads. But are they using these devices sim-
ply to socialize and play online games, or are they using them
as real tools for learning?” The other stakeholders in the con-
ference room were listening intently as this parent continued,
“You know, I think teachers at this school have a responsibility
to work together within all learning areas to teach kids how to
leverage technology to help them connect the dots across the
curriculum, across grade levels, and across the street to the real
world! I understand teachers’ concerns about how their class-
rooms have become more diverse and that this makes it more
challenging to teach. But diversity is part of today’s real world,
and it seems to me that technology can be a genuine learning
tool that can open up that world to all of our kids.”
Following this parent’s remarks, a central office curriculum
supervisor then stood up, smiled and nodded at the parent in
appreciation of her comments, and stated, “We are very aware
that the diversity of the district’s student population has been
expanding and that the students in our classrooms today are
different in important ways from the students we were serving
ten years ago, and this reality does create new teaching and
learning challenges for all of us in the district. And, at the cen-
tral office, we are fully aware that many of our veteran teachers
have been complaining that they feel stretched to the limit and
are already doing everything they can within their individual
classrooms to meet these new instructional challenges. But, you
know, sometimes how we approach a challenge ends up defin-
ing that challenge for us. Many of our teachers see this in-
creased diversity as a constraint, but maybe—just maybe—this
new ‘challenge’ might also harbor some hidden opportunities
that we can capitalize on, if we can just learn to view these
challenges in new ways.” The curriculum supervisor’s com-
ments were followed by a few moments of silence among the
middle school future search participants as they sat together at
their focus group tables arrayed around the conference room, as
stakeholders appeared to take some time to reflect on what had
just been said.
By the end of this final session, stakeholders participating in
this series of future search meetings were willing to admit that
as a school and district learning community they had reached an
impasse and had exhausted their ability to generate creative
ideas on how to deal with what appeared to be a genuine di-
lemma situation at this middle school. For the future search
participants in the room, the outlines of their middle school’s
dilemma were now clear: how do we respond to teachers’ in-
structional teaming implementation concerns and also effect-
tively address our diverse students’ teaching and learning needs,
improve our science and math scores, and move our school
community forward? As this middle school campus’s school
improvement consultant, I was intent on helping these stake-
holders expand their thinking and find workable solutions to
their organizational challenges. So, as I had done in the past at
other campuses in the region, I used this “reality moment” as an
opportunity to present a new idea to these stakeholders. I pro-
posed to these stakeholders that they combine the numerous
insights about technology, teaching and learning diversity, and
collaboration they had collectively generated during their future
search conversations to explore a new way of engaging with
their dilemma situation that they had not yet tried. Rather than
fretting over the constraints of technology, why not harness
technology as an organizational learning tool that stakeholders
themselves could use to collaboratively examine anew their
own situational challenges and, in doing so, possibly generate
new kinds of creative action strategies that they had not as yet
In short, I proposed to these stakeholders that they embrace
an alternative, school-wide staff development project for the
next two years—to engage in organizational learning in a new
way through working together as a “multimedia production
team” to develop and produce a multimedia case story about
their own middle school instructional leadership challenges.
Embracing a Multimedia Case Development
Opportunity and a Renewed Interest in
Organizational Learning
With some anxiety about the unknown, but with a determina-
tion to move forward, stakeholders at this middle school agreed
to work with my university colleagues and myself in a multi-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 27
year project to explore their school improvement dilemma chal-
lenges as a multimedia case development team. Case develop-
ment work undertaken at this campus constituted part of a lar-
ger organizational case learning research and development
effort conducted in a number of schools and school districts in
the West Texas Permian Ba sin and Texas Panhandle regions in
conjunction with a decade-long research and development pro-
ject made possible through initial funding in 1996 through 1998
(totaling US $400,000) provided by the Sid W. Richardson
Foundation (Fort Worth, Texas), the Abell-Hanger Foundation
(Midland, Texas), and the Franklin Charitable Trusts (Post,
Texas). This initial funding supported the creation of a multi-
media case simulation research and development lab in the
College of Education at Texas Tech University that served as
headquarters for a number of university researchers and multi-
media specialists who collaborated with regional school stake-
holders on individual project cases. University-based R&D
multimedia lab specialists with technical expertise in using
broadcast-quality betacam SP cameras, sound mixing equip-
ment, and digital nonlinear video and audio editing system
hardware and software played essential roles as members of a
university-based production team who worked in tandem with
regional, campus-based case development teams within the pro-
ject’s overall university-K-12 school collaborative partnership
Case development work at this middle school was conducted
over a two-year period beginning in late spring of 2008. The
school’s case development team was comprised of a majority of
the same stakeholders who participated (as members of the
school’s expanded Campus Improvement Team) in the three-
day future search events held earlier in the spring. An important
aspect of preliminary case development work carried out by
stakeholders at this middle school involved case team members
directly in conceiving and storyboarding individual case scenes
that accurately portrayed key events and interactive dimensions
of the case situation. Case team members were encouraged to
craft individual scenes that highlighted encounters between
multiple stakeholders holding conflicting beliefs and perspec-
tives on critical case issues in order to bring into sharp focus
specific elements of the school’s overall dilemma situation.
Following completion of this storyboarding process, team
members then engaged in the detailed work of carefully script-
ing each individual scene. Because of the entrenched political
tensions surrounding this case situation that were so pro-
nounced within this middle school community (tensions that
were to a large extent also reverberating throughout the wider
school district community), case team members spent a good
deal of time working on the scripting of case scenes to make
certain individual scenes were accurate in capturing the nu-
anced perspectives of individual stakeholders and stakeholder
groups. Refinement work on case scene scripts was completed
in May. The combined multimedia case team consisting of
middle school stakeholder case developers and university mul-
timedia production specialists then began in earnest to plan
filming activities for the summer.
One common thread linking case development work at this
middle school with other work completed over several years at
other campuses participating in funded regional case project
activities was the critical reflective immersion aspect of stake-
holders’ involvement in case development and refinement ac-
tivities. The entrenched school-community political tensions
that were such a pronounced feature of this particular case
made this immersive element especially important as university
production team members assisted middle school stakeholders
in refining case scene scripts. Special attention was given to
ensuring that relevant stakeholder perspectives on key case
issues were accurately portrayed in the scripted interactions
occurring within individual scenes. This attention to perspec-
tivist accuracy—and, in particular, to encouraging stakeholder
team members to cultivate a sustained critical reflective stance
toward each others’ deeply held organizational perspectives and
beliefs—spilled over and emerged anew in dynamic ways dur-
ing the actual filming process. During case filming activities,
school stakeholder team members were directed to assume and
play different “organizational roles” than the ones they played
in real life for the filming of individual case scenes. This active
role swapping and intense immersive experience in playing
other stakeholders’ roles during case scenes filming work (an
organizational team learning strategy that was included inten-
tio nal ly a s an i mpo rta nt as pec t of o verall case filming activities)
forced stakeholders to spend time consciously examining their
colleagues’ own (often different) perspectives and beliefs re-
garding critical organ iz a ti onal issues surrounding the case.
Often during scene shoots, individual stakeholders would
become agitated and call for a time-out. These stakeholders-
turned-actors would then complain that their own real-life role
perspectives and beliefs were not being portrayed accurately by
their actor-colleagues during scene interactions (through ap-
propriate vocal emphases, facial expressions, body language,
etc.). During the time-out, stakeholders would then proceed to
coach their fellow actors on the nuances of their own real-life
role perspectives so that their perspectives and beliefs about
case issues would be portrayed by their colleagues more accu-
rately and persuasively during filming. This kind of sponta-
neous stakeholder multi-perspectivist peer coaching became a
common occurrence during scene filming—so much so that the
university production team made it an ongoing practice of film-
ing and capturing these time-out peer coaching sessions as an
additional and important organizational learning dimension of
case development activities. Many of these impromptu stake-
holder peer-coaching sessions were then incorporated (as or-
ganizational learning archive elements) into the final multime-
dia case’s inter active design .
The collaborative project team of middle school stakeholders
and university production specialists worked enthusiastically on
completing filming of case scenes and other related interac-
tive/reflective elements of the multimedia case during the sum-
mer and following fall. Regional education service center con-
sultants having expertise in middle school instructional leader-
ship and organizational change were also invited to become
members of the case development team and participated during
the following school year in collaborative analyses of the case
and in filming reflective discussions with school stakeholders
about various aspects of the school’s organizational challenges
depicted in case scenes and related case databases. These fil-
med reflective sessions about this middle school’s instructional
dilemma were also integrated into the overall multimedia case
Multimedia Case Design Features
A number of interactive navigational features were incorpo-
rated into the overall design of the multimedia case to enable
case team developers and users of the multimedia case to di-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
rectly engage with and analyze multiple aspects of the organ-
izational case situation. These design features provided a con-
text-specific, multimedia organizational learning environment
within which middle school stakeholders could: 1) collabora-
tively examine in detail multiple dimensions of their dilemma
situation; 2) access and review multiple performance databases
and information resources relating to the case situation; and 3)
propose and reflect on the merits of various kinds of school
improvement action strategies that might best address their
school community’s organizational leadership challenges. The
interactive features of the multimedia case design were struc-
tured so school stakeholders could examine the case scenes and
other case databases both individually and as a group.
Key features of the project’s multimedia case design tem-
plate are illustrated in Figures 1 through 4. The multimedia
case design utilizes a “school leadership office” visual meta-
phor as the primary interactive interface within the overall or-
ganizational learning environment (Figure 1). This interactive
environment consolidates and makes available a variety of in-
teractive school information databases and professional re-
sources for easy access by users (e.g., student demographics,
multi-year school performance and accountability data, school
district policy handbooks, state and national school leadership
performance standards, etc.). Case users (working individually
or as a team) can navigate this interactive multimedia environ-
ment to: 1) access and view individual case video scenes; 2)
examine specific school leadership state and national profes-
sional performance standards relevant to the case; 3) interact
online with educational colleagues and mentors (e.g., school
district central office curriculum directors, program supervisors,
and other personnel; regional education service center curricu-
lum and instruction consultants; state education agency per-
sonnel; university professors); 4) search case-specific informa-
tion databases and educational resources contained in digital
file folders accessible within the multimedia environment; 5)
develop, refine, and digitally archive their own critical reflec-
tive analyses of interactive case scenes (and/or targeted video
frame segments of individual case scenes); 6) engage with
school community colleagues to discuss the relative merits of
various proposed action strategies to address case challenges;
and 7) formulate data-driven sets of short- and long-term school
improvement action plans.
A central area within the multimedia case’s organizational
Figure 1.
Multimedia case “school leadership office” environment and multiple
database interface.
learning environment is the Case Video Scenes Database (Fi-
gure 2). Navigating within this database, users can access, load,
and view individual digital video case scenes. Each scene por-
trays one or more interactive critical incidents involving various
role players in the case dilemma situation. To facilitate critical
analysis of interactive dimensions of the case situation, users
can utilize the special “video mark” frame analysis capability
included within the multimedia case design. The “video mark”
function allows users to select and digitally mark specific sec-
tions of individual case video scenes for further analysis (Fi-
gure 2). Using this “video marking” tool, users can digitally
frame, review in-depth, and develop written critical analyses of
selected sections of various case video scenes. The “video
marking” capabilities contained within this Case Video Scenes
Database area are especially useful in providing users with the
opportunity to zoom in on individual scene details and carefully
examine specific role player interactive dynamics associated
with various stakeholder perspectives contributing to the over-
all case dilemma situation.
Users can conduct their video scene frame analyses through
focusing on individual “critical incidents” involving multiple
stakeholder perspectivist conflicts identified within individual
scenes, as well as also engage in comparative cross-scene ana-
lyses of multiple critical incidents occurring at different times
in the overall case situation timeline and perhaps involving a
variety of different stakeholders and/or stakeholder groups wi-
thin the multimedia case design’s Reflective Analysis area (Fi-
gure 3). To further enhance informed analysis and group dis-
cussion of case dilemma challenges, users can utilize the mul-
timedia functions available in the Reflective Analysis area to
sort and organize their collective “video marks” and accompa-
nying written critical analyses into specific cognitive domain
areas (i.e., programmatic, contextual, functional, interpersonal)
referenced in available state and national school collaborative
leadership performance standards. This analytic sorting process
highlights specific collaborative leadership domain areas that
are most clearly and consistently referenced in users’ collective
“video mark” written critical analyses, and enables users to
engage in focused professional standards-informed group dis-
cussions of critical aspects of organizational change leadership
that are of central relevance to the case situation. As users are
involved in this ongoing process of developing, refining, and
discussing their “video mark” frame analyses, they have access
to all case-relevant information available in the digital file da-
Figure 2.
Case video scenes database area with “video mark” capability.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 29
Figure 3.
Case reflective analysis area illustrating “video mark” comparative
cross-scene analysis and leadership performance standards sorting
tabases included within the multimedia case environment (e.g.,
school community demographics; grade- and school-level stu-
dent performance and accountability data; school district poli-
cies and program resources; state and national school leadership
standards; expert panel perspectives; etc.). In addition, the
overall case analysis design allows users to digitally archive
their individual- and team-developed “video mark” narrative
analyses and group discussion notes in the multimedia case’s
organizational learning program for future reference.
Case simulation users can reflect on additional school lead-
ership insights pertaining to the case situation through access-
ing the case’s Reflect ive Decision Maki ng area (Figure 4). This
area presents a number of short “expert panel” video sequences
featuring discussions by seasoned school community leaders
and educational consultants on specific organizational issues,
stakeholder multi-perspectivist dynamics, and instructional lea-
dership challenges highlighted in the case simulation. Case
team members, as well as school stakeholders in other schools
and school districts interested in the leadership challenges pro-
filed in this middle school case, can review these expert panel
video sequences to obtain additional insights to inform their
own real-world collaborative leadership thinking.
The above interactive design features were incorporated into
the multimedia case to stimulate middle school stakeholder pro-
ject participants to: 1) focus in directly on the multi-perspe-
ctivist issues and challenges contributing to their middle school
dilemma situation; 2) leverage their own reflective thinking and
group analyses to reframe their dilemma and develop viable
sets of short- and long-term action strategies; and 3) through
engaging in the overall multimedia case development and ana-
lysis process, generate new insights as a multimedia team on
the potential benefits of embracing a collaborative teaming
approach to organizational problem solving. Collectively, these
multimedia case design elements provided case team members
with an interactive digital platform to explore and analyze their
own organizational dilemma situation in new ways and to en-
gage in reflective conversations on how to effectively move
their school community forward. This middle school instruc-
tional leadership case simulation was incorporated as one new
installment into the growing body of multimedia cases that
were developed and disseminated to school districts throughout
the region as part of the project’s multi-year school leadership
case development activities.
Figure 4.
Case reflective decision making area presenting a number of expert
panel case perspectives.
Collective experiences of middle school stakeholders and
university-based multimedia production specialists working to-
gether over a two-year period in this collaborative project ser-
ved to generate a number of intriguing insights concerning the
challenges and possibilities of organizational learning and de-
velopment in this middle school learning community. In par-
ticular, these insights related to the potential usefulness of mul-
timedia case development as an alternative staff development
endeavor that can help foster among diverse school stake-
holders a strong team mind-set and a collegial desire to realize
positive school community instructional change and organiza-
tional learning. Some of the insights gleaned from collaborative
project work conducted at this middle school are highlighted
and discussed below.
Multimedia Case Development Activities Were
Found to Be Useful as a Creative Means for
Energizing School Stakeholders’ Collective
Potential for Renewed Organizational
The immersive “production team” learning environment as-
pect of multimedia case development activities was found to be
a useful means for helping stakeholders develop a new, more
informed organizational mind-set regarding the possibilities for
instructional change and improvement in their middle school
community. Importantly, participation in project activities en-
abled stakeholders collectively to evolve and crystallize new
organizational perspectives on the potential benefits of thinking
differently and working together in new ways as a multimedia
case production team. Through their involvement in case de-
velopment and refinement activities, school stakeholders lea-
rned from each other about how to creatively leverage the in-
tensive collaborative scrutiny of their own context-specific di-
lemma situation itself as a creative means to examine anew
their organizational challenges from more integrated vantage
points. In doing so, case team members were able to glean new
insights about instructional leadership and to disco ver new ways
to enact positive organizational change and move forward to-
gether as a school community. The kind of immersive, collabo-
rative inquiry process engaged in by middle school stakeholders
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
participating in this multimedia case project reflects in positive
ways the research-based recommendations of many current
organization thinkers focused on the challenges of system-wide
strategic change who emphasize the need for collaborative
leaders to work together to integrate multiple perspectives in
order to yield deeper understandings. As Jacobs (1997) states,
“We need to integrate other viewpoints and perspectives with
our own by really listening and seeking to understand realities
different from those we currently believe in order to see the
world in more whole, broad, and often less absolute ways.
Subsequently, we act differently based on these insights.” (Ja-
cobs, 1997: p. 101) Additionally, the context-specific and data-
intensive reflective analysis design of the middle school multi-
media case project reported herein is consistent with recent
emphases in the school leadership literature on the importance
of making data-driven collaborative inquiry an integral part of
school operations and improvement initiatives (Love, Stiles,
Mundry, & DiRanna, 2008: p. 30).
The intensive multimedia case development and analysis
process engaged in by university and school-based collabora-
tive team project participants at this middle school (as well as at
other schools in the region over a period of several years) is
grounded firmly in a phenomenological approach to organiza-
tional learning (Van Manen, 1990). A specific overarching the-
me running through all phases of the organizational case learn-
ing activities team members participated in during the two-year
middle school staff development and case production efforts
detailed in this report involved stakeholders critically examin-
ing and leveraging their own lived experiences as a powerful
means for gaining new insights about both themselves and their
organization’s challenges (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009).
Collective experiences of collaborative teams of researchers,
multimedia production specialists, and school leaders working
over multiple years on case project efforts in schools like this
one have resulted in the accumulation of a great deal of positive
evidence to support the claim that school community stake-
holders, in fact, learn best about how to effectively lead their
schools in context and from each other. In addition, the evi-
de nce also sugge sts that involving stakeholders in an immersive,
constructivist multimedia learning environment that challenges
participants to step out of their comfort zones and carefully
examine their own context-specific dilemma challenges in new,
multi-perspectivist ways (a kind of virtual team learning ex-
perience) holds potential as a creative tool for invigorating
stakeholders’ interest in and commitment to their own real-
world instructional teaming and related, ongoing organizational
leading and learning efforts.
Campus improvement team members’ unique involvement as
a case production team in the multimedia case development and
analysis process engaged in at this middle school helped bring
into clear focus important aspects of organizational learning
and served to highlight critical organizational core competen-
cies that, up to this point, had remained predominantly dormant
in these middle school community members’ collective organ-
izational leadership practices. The intensive experience of being
immersed and fully engaged for an extended period of time in
the interrelated facets of multimedia case development (e.g.,
filming various case scenes, reviewing and organizing instruc-
tional performance data for inclusion as databases within the
multimedia case, and working together as a group to analyze
critical interactive incidents between and/or among multiple
stakeholders and stakeholder groups occurring within the over-
all case situation) caused stakeholders to begin to reflect with
new insight on the multiple, interrelated dimensions of their
school community instructional dilemma. In particular, case
team members’ sustained collaborative efforts in analyzing
various stakeholder role interactions and multi-perspectivist
conflicts highlighted during multimedia case scene production
activities caused team members to begin to actively scrutinize
their overall dilemma situation with an eye to more critically
elucidating the multi-leveled dimensions of their dilemma si-
tuation. This involved stakeholders, initially, in focusing their
efforts in analyzing the surface-structure features of their di-
lemma challenges (including the array of organizational issues
informing their dilemma situation and the immediate leadership
challenges these issues presented). These initial team analytic
efforts, in turn, became a catalyst for jumpstarting stakeholders’
enthusiasm for wanting to engage in further focused group
discussions to attempt to discern what might be the underlying
root causes of their dilemma (specifically, to answer the fun-
damental, deep-structural analytic question: How did we get to
this state of affairs as an organization?). And, importantly,
engaging in this kind of organizational sense making process
empowered stakeholder participants to examine anew their
collective potential for organizational resilience and served to
reenergize stakeholders’ shared sense of “what is possible” in
terms of their communal capacity to reinvent themselves as
school leaders. These latent core competencies (in-depth group
dilemma analysis and sense making; organizational resilience;
and a renewed, shared capacity for collective reinvention)
gradually emerged and became evident to university specialists
observing and assisting middle school case team members dur-
ing case project activities, and were increasingly recognized
and acknowledged by stakeholder participants themselves as
they continued to work together within case production activi-
The Case Development Project’s “Collaborative
Teaming” Design Served as an Impetus for
Stakeholders to Adopt a Distributed Leadership
Stance toward Organizational Change
Cultural anthropologists have documented that, in some cul-
tures, communities of people confronted with immediate pro-
ductivity challenges are able to successfully navigate those
challenges through tapping their own culturally ingrained, na-
tural predilection for collaborative problem solving and organ-
izational learning. In Japanese culture, for example, the Japa-
nese people possess a well-developed social disposition toward
collaborative teaming and focused group problem solving. This
inclination stems from the nature of life in rural Japanese
communities that has centered for centuries on subsistence rice
farming. For example, when confronted with a real and imme-
diate organizational problem affecting their small community’s
rice productivity, such as an overgrowth of weeds in their rice
fields’ water canal irrigation system, the inhabitants of any rural
Japanese farming community will instinctively come together
as a group (with both male and female community members
involved equally in the discussion) to articulate the problem’s
parameters and carefully deliberate the relative merits of possi-
ble practical solutions. The group will then proceed to imple-
ment a final agreed upon set of action strategies only after
working through any differences and reaching complete una-
nimity within the group on the superiority of this final set of
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 31
action strategies in comparison to all others considered. The
Japanese refer to this group thinking and decision making
process as kaizen (Seymour, 1995).
This process of kaizen (i.e., responding directly to encoun-
tered problems through careful group deliberation followed by
practical decision making and resolute action) has become his-
torically ingrained in the Japanese cultural psyche over many
centuries and can be defined in organizational productivity
terms as “the ongoing pursuit of continuous improvement by
every organization member”. This emphasis on the ongoing
pursuit of continuous improvement by all stakeholders involved
in an organization distinguishes kaizen as an “eastern” cultural
practice from many other “western” cultural practices, such as
organizational practices in America and other western countries,
which have tended (at least historically) to value specialist-
driven innovation by one or a few organization members over
general group collaboration. In Japanese culture, in contrast to
western cultures, willful individualism and competitiveness are
not valued modes of behavior. Careful discussion leading to
decision-making unanimity followed by group action is how
most major jobs get done. For the Japanese, relationship to the
group is of overwhelming importance in everything they do.
Within Japanese rural farming villages, community members’
own survival and continued productivity provided the strong
impetus for developing this distinctive culture of collaborative
teaming. Through their ongoing, collective experiences in con-
fronting and solving many real-world problems through group
deliberation and action, the Japanese over time have internal-
ized this teaming process as a valuable and useful part of their
cultural mores. Moreover, this centuries-old cultural inclination
towards collaboration and group problem solving has trans-
ferred readily to both the shop floor and the boardroom to posi-
tively impact Japan’s modern-day industrial and corporate pro-
ductivity. (Ouchi, 1981)
The kind of “just-in-time” collaborative teaming and group
problem solving process highlighted in this Japanese cultural
example provides some practical insights that might be of use
to stakeholders in similar kinds of leading and learning com-
munities (such as schools) who may also find themselves grap-
pling at various times and in specific circumstances with the
challenge of needing to find creative ways to deal with pressing,
real-world organizational problems. Of course, in contrast to
the socially-ingrained collaborative teaming culture that has
evolved over centuries in eastern countries such as Japan, so-
cieties in the west for the most part are still very much influ-
enced by the allure of rugged individualism and the “competi-
tiveness” that is often viewed as an integral part of organiza-
tional life. Thus, in attempting to apply the Japanese model of
collaborative teaming and group decision making to various
kinds of organizational leading and learning communities in the
west, this fundamental difference in cultural perspective must
be taken into account. One particularly intriguing aspect of
applying this kind of group-centered, organizational team lea-
rning and decision making process to organizations in western
cultures involves the mental shift many western-style organiza-
tion members may have to make if they are to become profi-
cient in learning how to work together as a group for the or-
ganization’s common good. This mental shift essentially in-
volves moving from a predominantly individual emphasis on
“competition” (either explicit or implicit) to a new focus based
on an understanding of the mutual payoffs that can result from
“collaboration”. Indeed, as human cultures have continued his-
torically to expand and evolve in complexity over time, this
gen e r al m o ve aw ay f r om a predominantly “win-lose” (zero sum)
competitive mind-set towards one that affirms the “win-win”
(non-zero sum) payoffs realizable through collaboration has
been recognized by some cultural evolutionists to be a defining
characteristic reflecting the overall trajectory of human cultural
“organizing” progress. (Wright, 2000)
As a general method of collaborative teaming practice, this
same sort of coming together as a communal group to confront
tough problems and to deliberate various options to arrive at
agreed-upon, practical solutions is integral to the design of the
multimedia case project effort. Of course, in entrenched school
situations such as the middle school case reported here, the
challenges are more difficult as the stakeholders have reached a
point where the problem has evolved into an intractable di-
lemma—due, in large part, to the entrenched socio-politics im-
pacting the situation. And, to be sure, a central aspect of the
middle school community case dilemma highlighted in this
article involved the intense “competitiveness” existing between
and among various stakeholders and stakeholder groups at this
middle school as a result of the multiple perspectivist clashes
caused by stakeholders’ conflicting values and beliefs regarding
instructional change. In an important way, then, stakeholders’
immersion in their own multimedia case production team ef-
forts became a creative means to assist stakeholders in making
a fundamental “mental shift” in their leadership thinking—from
thinking of themselves as mutual adversaries to thinking of
themselves as potential collaborators in a new and different
kind of problem-solving enterprise. In particular, the members
of this middle school case team, as they progressed through the
project’s various case development and analysis activities, be-
gan to mentally distinguish in their own minds between the
kind of self-interest driven “opportunistic thinking” that had
previously characterized many team members’ beliefs and be-
haviors (and which were so clearly highlighted during the film-
ing of case scenes) and the kind of “communal stewardly
thinking” that stakeholders as a team would have to adopt if
they were to be able to effectively analyze and make sense of
their organizational dilemma. And, when properly internalized,
this kind of “communal stewardly thinking” can become a
powerful enabling impetus through which stakeholders can
begin to “work together in concert” to decide collaboratively
what actions they need to take and how they will be imple-
mented. This idea of “working together in concert” itself di-
rectly implies that stakeholders functioning cohesively as a
leading and learning community must find creative ways to
respond to tough problems and to agree on what they are going
to do and how they are going to do it. As Gerzon (2006) ex-
plains, “The notion of ‘working in concert’ captures the syn-
ergy of many people, each doing what they do best. The impor-
tance of ‘working in concert’ is that it is a holistic approach to
action [emphasis added]. It covers everything from the initial
convening of the stakeholders all the way through decision
making and implementation.” (Gerzon, 2006: pp. 198-199).
Intriguingly, stakeholders’ intensive immersion in case pro-
duction activities over the course of the two-year collaborative
project served to trigger a new sense of shared leadership re-
sponsibility among participants for their collaborative case
development and analysis endeavor, resulting in the distribution
of leadership roles and problem-solving responsibilities more
evenly across all stakeholders involved. This kind of evolving
distributed leadership stance adopted and refined by stakeho-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
lder participants as a group as they worked on case production
tasks over the course of the project was noted by university
team specialists as an important organizational learning divi-
dend emerging from overall project activities. This notion of
stakeholders consciously evolving and fine-tuning their own
distributed leadership stance in relation to the context-specific
work at hand in leading and learning organizations (such as
schools) recognizes and affirms the centrality of the actual
leadership practices stakeholders engage in (as opposed to dis-
crete leadership roles, processes, and structures), as well as the
ongoing, multiple leadership interactions occurring between
and among stakeholders as they enact these practices, as im-
portant proximal causes or determinants of measurable instruc-
tional improvement (Spillane, 2006: pp. 93-94).
Case Project Results Provided Some Evidence
Suggesting Organizational Case Learning Has
Promise as an Alternative Staff Development
Tool for Building School Community Capacity
for Critical Reflection and Transformative
Leadership Action
The overall case development and analysis process, including
case team members’ collaborative efforts in developing their
“video mark” video frame analyses and Reflective Decision
Making short- and long-term school community action plans,
became for stakeholder participants an important catalyst for
learning how to think differently and work together in new ways.
Through their involvement in these case development and
analysis activities, team members gradually changed the way
they mentally looked at their dilemma situation and their per-
spectivist differences. Within their “video mark” frame analy-
ses, case team members could mentally zoom in on individual
“critical incidents” occurring in the case situation as a way to
better analyze perspectivist belief clashes between and/or
among various stakeholders and stakeholder groups. This, in
turn, enabled team members to begin to discern (at a deep-
structural analytic level) the underlying organizational root
causes of their dilemma challenges that were fueling these sur-
face-level perspectivist clashes and, as a result, team members
could begin to develop more insightful understandings about
the origins of their dilemma. In effect, this process enabled
team members in a more informed way to begin to address the
central organizational sense making question: why or how did
we get to where we currently are now as an organization? The
critical reflective conversations team members engaged in were
like a multi-perspectivist “360 degree walk around” their di-
lemma situation, enabling team members to critically view and
examine their organizational dilemma challenges from multiple
angles at once (reminiscent, in an analogous way, of a similar
kind of “simultaneous, multiple perspectives” visual mode of
representation which can be found in some graphic art— nota-
bly, in some of Pablo Picasso’s paintings). Case team members
were then able to leverage these “analytic insights”—which
they were able to collaboratively evolve and crystallize during
case scenes filming and during their “video mark” frame
analyses—to begin the important process of forging a coherent,
communal vision of “who we are and where we want to be
going as a middle school leading and learning community”.
One important benefit emerging from stakeholders’ sustained
efforts during multimedia case development activities was that
case team participants began to look with new eyes on their
collective perspectivist differences as a potent, valuable asset
rather than as a liability. These differences came to be viewed
no longer by these middle school stakeholders as insurmount-
able roadblocks, but as opportunities that enabled stakeholders
to engage in new kinds of critical reflective conversations. And,
these conversations were found to be useful for engendering
new collegial insights on the possibilities of communal leader-
ship, and for helping school stakeholders rediscover themselves
as a coherent and purposeful organizational leading and learn-
ing community. A key breakthrough insight team members
realized through their involvement in the multimedia case de-
velopment process was that robust stakeholder perspectivist
differences—and the group’s collective ability to recognize,
respect, and leverage those differences to inform and energize
their critical reflective conversations—was, in itself, a nuanced
and valuable organizational core competency that these middle
school stakeholders as a group could develop, refine, and opti-
mize in their own way to inform their collaborative decision
The critical reflective conversations team members engaged
in during the case development and analysis process also re-
presented for these middle school stakeholders a new way of
interacting and communicating—one in which stakeholders
became actively involved as a group in examining, analyzing,
and using their own situational data to collaboratively make
sense of their dilemma challenges and to brainstorm realistic
action plan strategies. The critical reflective and multi-perspec-
tivist insights stakeholders were able to generate during their
team conversations concerning the root causes of their organ-
izational dilemma challenges provided a new degree of analytic
clarity which empowered stakeholders to be able to work to-
gether in new ways as a communal leadership team to fashion
specific sets of short- and long-term action strategies to move
their school community forward. In this sense, team members’
critical analytic insights on the root causes of their dilemma
challenges became the catalyst for envisioning and realizing
transformative leadership action—leadership action strategies
that when implemented could result in meaningful organiza-
tional improvement. This new way of interacting and commu-
nicating with each other through focused conversations groun-
ded in examining and analyzing the team’s own organizational
data also played an important role in building an evolving sense
of collegial trust among stakeholder team members, both in the
process itself and in their own analytic abilities. The literature
on organizational learning and development has affirmed the
value of this practice of encouraging as many organization
members as possible to become actively involved in scrutiniz-
ing an organization’s data and holding c o nv e rs a ti o n s about th e i r
observations as a means for generating a wide array of organ-
izational insights and potential creative solutions to problems.
As Wheatley (1992) has noted, “a multiplicity of interactions
[among diverse organization members] can give a genuine
richness to the data that is lost when we restrict information
access to only a few people . . . an organization swimming in
many interpretations can then discuss, combine, and build on
them; the outcome of such a process has to be a much more
diverse and richer sense of what is going on and what needs to
be done” (Wheatley, 1992: p. 65).
Moreover, middle school case team members began to see
parallels on how the same critical reflective analysis skills they
were acquiring during these project-related case development
experiences (i.e., new collaborative techniques for intensively
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 33
mining and leveraging stakeholders’ own situational data to
achieve breakthrough insights to inform their organizational
improvement action strategies) could also be applied directly
within team members’ own ongoing instructional teaming prac-
tices. These middle school educators and community members,
in effect, were learning about the payoffs of critical reflective
analysis through immersion directly in the teaming process. In
this regard, the overall multimedia case development process
served as a kind of organizational learning incubator for assist-
ing team members in developing a genuine team analytic
mind-set. A central observation noted and confirmed repeatedly
by university project specialists (as well as by school-based
team members themselves) as they worked on case develop-
ment activities with stakeholders at this school and others in the
region was the emerging organizational learning insight that
school stakeholders had to actually come together in an inten-
sive collaborative effort and experience first-hand the payoffs
achievable through engaging in sustained critical reflective ana-
lysis of their own situational data (including spending time
reflecting on what and how they were learning) to be able to
fully appreciate and embrace teaming as a viable tool that could
enhance their ongoing professional practice. Stakeholders’
overall project experiences as a “case production team” served
to provide them, in effect, with an immersive experiential tem-
plate for how they could begin to work together constructively
in their school community instructional teams. Thus, an impor-
tant outgrowth of the multimedia case development process was
that stakeholder participants (teachers, administrators, and par-
ents in this middle school community) began to feel comfort-
able with and believe in themselves and their analytic abilities
as a team. As a result, case development team members as a
group began to accept the idea of team-centered, data-driven
critical reflective analysis as a viable form of professional and
organizational practice—a collaborative practice that could reap
tangible dividends and lead to real payoffs for the whole school
Furthermore, immersion in the multimedia case development
process was for these middle school stakeholder participants an
alternative kind of staff development experience. Participation
in the multimedia case development and analysis project was
seen as an immersive and more dynamic form of organizational
learning that could replace some of the more traditional kinds
of staff development that teachers were familiar with. Most
importantly, multimedia case project activities provided a uni-
que means for stakeholders to leverage their own context-spe-
cific dilemma challenges in a constructivist-experiential manner
to discover new reservoirs of collaborative team energy and
engage in organizational learning in a new way. Through par-
ticipating in the overall process of developing, refining, and
producing their multimedia school leadership case, these mid-
dle school educators and community members were able to “tap
into” their own collaborative potential for critical reflection and
transformative leadership action. And, in so doing, these stake-
holders were able to prove to themselves that working together
as a purposive, collaborative team to solve organizational chal-
lenges has advantages over simply relying on the sum of indi-
vidual effort—and that multi-stakeholder teaming (when prop-
erly developed and grounded in a genuine collaborative team
mind-set) can indeed lead to more effective and sustainable
organizational improvement results.
Finally, as a caveat, it is important to note that the organiza-
tional learning and development payoffs these middle school
case team stakeholders realized as a result of their project ex-
periences were substantive and school community-enhancing,
but were also hard won and came with a price. The multimedia
case development process described in this project report is
certainly one that is time-consuming and effort-intensive—one
that requires a high level of sustained commitment by all par-
ticipants involved (teachers, department chairpersons, cam-
pus-level administrators, parents, school district central office
personnel, and partnering university specialists). Moreover, this
kind of multimedia case development endeavor can only be
genuinely successful if backed by strong and continuous ad-
ministrative and motivational support from the school principal
and key district central office personnel. Even with these sup-
portive elements in place, however, for a school community to
be able to engage effectively in this kind of alternative staff
development endeavor a fundamental key ingredient must be in
place and subscribed to by all school community participants.
That key ingredient is a conscious and proactive willingness on
the part of all stakeholders involved to experiment, to take risks,
and to explore and extend the limits of their own organizational
learning through thinking differently and working together in
new ways. This kind of adventuresome spirit was captured well
by one of the school’s veteran eighth-grade teachers who, re-
flecting near the end of the two-year case project on her collec-
tive experiences as a member of the case production team,
noted the sense of professional renewal—and the sense of new
responsibility—she felt toward her grade-level colleagues and
her school community, as well as the sense of renewed com-
mitment she felt toward her own teaching: “As everyone on our
case production team knows so well by now, I was the real
skeptic in the group. And, even now, I’m not sure that teaming
can solve all of our school challenges. But I can say that this
project has caused me to expand my horizons. I now understand
better the value of taking the time to listen to and to really try to
understand others’ views. It’s not just about agreeing or not
agreeing with others. As we’ve learned in our case production
work, teaming goes well beyond that. It’s really about the
bonds of respect that develop between and among people who
have decided to come together to identify and achieve a focused
goal. You don’t have to agree on everything to succeed as a
team, but you do have to agree on and want to achieve a com-
mon goal. When we first began this project, we weren’t even
sure what a multimedia case was. But the idea grew on us, and
we made it our own. As we became more and more involved in
the production effort (and it really was an effort), this case pro-
ject became our project. What seemed at first like a lot of work
became more enjoyable as we went on. For me, the teaming
itself has become something that I now value—the teaming
itself has become a new way.” Similar sentiments regarding
both the nature of the work and the individual and team learn-
ing value of case project experiences were voiced by other
stakeholder members of this middle school case production
team as they participated in case project concluding activities.
Perhaps it was the principal who best summarized the collec-
tive feelings of her middle school case team colleagues when,
at a spring school stakeholder gathering to celebrate the pro-
ject’s completion, she remarked, “I feel much better about our
prospects for tackling our school improvement issues now than
I did two years ago. Our student learning challenges in science
and math are still very real, and we will have to continue to
work very hard to achieve measurable progress, and to sustain
those incremental improvement results. But our case team ex-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
periences have helped us learn how to become a team, how to
work together as a group to develop shared vision and purpose.
We now know that if we put our minds to it we can set clear
goals and work together as a team to achieve those goals. We
now know how it feels to be a functioning team—we’ve ex-
perienced the payoffs of collaborative teaming. What we need
to do now is to continue to work together in our grade-level and
campus improvement teams to internalize this teaming mind-set
further and make it a permanent part of our school’s instruc-
tional teaming culture.” As university production team mem-
bers witnessed again and again in partnering with different
groups of campus-based stakeholders during multiple case de-
velopment project efforts at different schools over several years,
the organizational learning payoffs of coming together as a
multi-stakeholder team to experiment, to take risks, and to ex-
plore and extend the limits of your own and your team’s organ-
izational learning potential can yield valuable rewards—not the
least of which can be more informed and insightful under-
standings of the new opportunities and renewed levels of com-
mitment that can be realized through the teaming process itself.
In short, as school stakeholders who are confronting intractable,
real-world dilemma challenges elect to become multimedia
case developers and embark on this kind of alternative shared
learning experience, these same school stakeholders—working
together as a group to effect meaningful change and improve-
ment in their school community—must be willing to suspend
their prejudices and disbelief and place their faith, even if con-
ditionally, in the promise, prospects, and payoff potential of
collaborative teaming.
The multimedia case collaborative project efforts engaged in
by middle school stakeholders and university specialists and
reported in this article represent one case installment in a larger
body of organizational cases developed over more than a dec-
ade of intensive research and development work focused on
providing meaningful organizational learning and development
opportunities to K-12 educators. A unique feature of this
school-university collaborative project involves leveraging the
power of multimedia technology to engage school stakeholders
directly in addressing their own context-specific school leader-
ship dilemma challenges through sustained immersion in a
constructivist multimedia case production and analysis team
learning experience. The multimedia case development design
utilized in this project reflects a creative integration of three
central design elements—dramatic theatre, cinematography,
and computer-based simulations—used in combination to cre-
ate a unique organizational team learning experience for school
stakeholder participants.
The multimedia case learning work described above falls
within and is supported by a rich tradition of creative research
and development in the use of computer-based gaming and
simulations in education. Indeed, the widespread use today of
educational games and simulations in K-12 and university
classrooms to enhance teaching and learning in both synchro-
nous and asynchronous (i.e., face-to-face and interactive web-
based) teaching environments in a variety of applied content
areas (such as in math, science, economics, and engineering, to
name a few) itself draws on the commercial success of a num-
ber of popular online games and simulations that have evolved
in the past decade, some of which have found their way into
educational classrooms (e.g., SimCity, Civilization, and Oregon
Trail). As a direct result of the evolving commercial develop-
ment and popular use of gaming and simulations, online virtual
worlds such as The Sims and Second Life are now being used
with increasing regularity by educators as teaching and learning
tools to engage students in sophisticated simulated environ-
ments in ways that dynamically frame concepts and immerse
learners in interactive worlds of constructivist exploration and
learning. Moreover, a growing body of research on the educa-
tional use of computer-based games, simulations, and related
multimedia technologies has emerged in the past several years
exploring multiple utilization issues as well as factors influenc-
ing learning effectiveness (Mayer, 2005). This research has
examined the impact of using multimedia simulations within a
broad array of instructional approaches and interactive learning
contexts. The organizational case learning R&D project work
profiled in this report seeks to contribute to the literature on the
use of computer-based simulations to enhance learning in the
social sciences (Petrovic & Brand, 2009; Shiratori, Arai, &
Kato, 2005) through focusing specifically on the application of
multimedia simulation design to real-world challenges associ-
ated with education stakeholders’ organizational leading and
learning development in K-12 school communities.
Importantly, the case development and analysis activities
engaged in by middle school stakeholders participating in the
organizational case development project reported here reflect a
conscious effort to move away from the kinds of staff deve-
lopment programs typically available to K-12 campus teachers
and administrators (e.g., “ad hoc” programs that tend to focus,
often in a somewhat piecemeal way, on discrete, stand-alone
aspects of classroom teaching and student learning performa-
nce). In contrast to these kinds of traditional staff development
offerings, this project utilizes a more targeted and holistic ap-
proach that emphasizes the value of leveraging the power of
multimedia simulation design to immerse school leaders di-
rectly, in an in-depth way, in their own school organizational
data through involving these stakeholders in the constructivist
re-creation and analysis of their own context-specific leadership
dilemma situations via organizational case learning. At the
heart of this multimedia case learning approach is the intent to
create an immersive and data-rich interactive team learning
environment within which school community stakeholders (tea-
chers, administrators, parents, central office personnel, and
other interested stakeholders) can engage together in the con-
structivist re-creation and critical analysis of their own con-
text-specific dilemma situations as a means to reframe these
dilemma situations and generate transformative, action-based
solutions to effectively move their school communities forward.
Collective efforts of middle school educators and community
members participating in this case development project enabled
stakeholders to more critically examine their perspectivist dif-
ferences and to carefully analyze the root causes of their di-
lemma situation. As a result of their multimedia organizational
case learning experiences, these stakeholders were able to
forge a new team mind-set for generating new leadership in-
sights to positively inform their real-world instructional deci-
sion-making. Through leveraging the power of multimedia te-
chnology and an adventurous “case production team” spirit (as
well as an acquired “Avatar-like” cultural respect—a la Grace
Augustine—for the organizational case learning benefits of co-
mprehending differences and building multi-stakeholder under-
standings), these middle school stakeholders were able to dis-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 35
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
cover new organizational purpose and direction and develop a
more insightful appreciation for the school improvement pay-
offs of collaborative teaming.
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