Advances in Applied Sociology
2013. Vol.3, No.7, 258-281
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 258
Instructional Leadership and the Sociopolitics of School
Turnarounds: Changing Stakeholder Beliefs through
Immersive Collaborative Learning
Joseph Claudet
Department of Ed uc a t i o n a l Ps ychology and Leadership, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, USA
Received August 31st, 2013; revised September 30th, 2013; accepted October 7th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Joseph Claudet. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attri-
bution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
This article highlights case production and analysis efforts associated with a multi-year, multimedia case
development project focused on providing alternative organizational learning opportunities to regional
K-12 schools and school districts. The School Leadership Case Simulation (SLCS) Project utilizes a
unique multi-entity partnership and school-based collaborative learning design in which teams of univer-
sity-based education researchers, multimedia production specialists, and regional education service center
school improvement consultants work in tandem with K-12 school educators and community members to
help these school stakeholders develop and produce multimedia organizational learning cases about their
own real-world, context-specific school dilemma challenges. Collaborative team learning efforts of one
group of school educators and community stakeholders grappling with an organizationally entrenched set
of instructional leadership and school improvement challenges in one regional high school community are
presented. Project findings relating to the viability and usefulness of the project’s multi-entity, immersive
collaborative teaming design and multimedia-integrated case learning tools for helping groups of K-12
school community stakeholders learn how to adopt a team-centered organizational learning approach to
reframing their real-world school leadership dilemma challenges and engage directly in data-informed,
collaborative decision-making are presented and discussed.
Keywords: Multimedia Case Development; Organizational Learning; Instructional Teaming; School
Turnaround Leadership
As an organizational psychologist focusing on studying col-
laborative leading and learning behavior in education settings, I
am continually fascinated by the complex dynamics involved in
the ways multiple stakeholders and stakeholder groups confront
difficult, system-wide school improvement dilemma situations
and navigate the challenges of enacting meaningful organiza-
tional change. To explore as directly as possible the processes
of change leadership and organizational learning in real-world
education contexts, I have spent considerable time over the past
25 years serving as a staff developer and school improvement
consultant to K-12 schools and school districts in the southern
and southwestern United States. Within this capacity, I have
worked with large numbers of education stakeholders (teachers,
campus principals and assistant principals, instructional coach-
es, district-level curriculum program coordinators and adminis-
trators, parents, elected school board officials, and community
members) to help these individuals learn how to work together
effectively as collaborative leading and learning teams to di-
rectly address and find creative solutions to their entrenched
school improvement dilemma challenges. During the process of
engaging in this work over many years, I have developed a
penchant for employing phenomenological case methods in
conjunction with a broad-based sociological inquiry approach
to glean rich descriptions and case-specific detail about these
school leaders, the varied school community contextual envi-
ron me nt s wi th i n wh i c h t hey i nt e ra ct , an d t he multi-faceted, real-
world instructional leadership challenges they face. Along this
journey, I have also expended considerable time and energy in
exploring the potential of using available multimedia technolo-
gies in connection with theatrical production techniques as
creative organizational learning tools to help school educators
and associated community stakeholders engage in immersive
“organizational case learning” projects to produce multimedia
cases about their own complex school leadership experiences.
These case-based learning projects are designed as an alterna-
tive means for enabling education leaders to intently exam-
ine—in a team-centered and data-intensive way—their school
dilemma situations in order to: 1) reframe their organizational
challenges; 2) focus on and energize their collaborative teaming
practices; and 3) improve their school improvement decision-
making. I have discovered that this kind of immersive, technol-
ogy-integrated case learning method can be useful in helping
large groups of education stakeholders who have reached an
impasse in their school improvement efforts learn how to think
differently and work together in new ways to better address the
political pressures and myriad uncertainties that often accom-
pany entrenched, organization-wide dilemma situations.
Steven Spielberg’s 2012 movie Lincoln captures well the
kind of determined change agent leader skills and creative team-
forging abilities that are needed by those attempting to lead
organizations that are experiencing system-wide dilemma chal-
lenges—challenges that are fueled by intense, multi-stake-
holder perspectivist conflicts and political turmoil. As the coun-
try’s 16th president during the American Civil War (1861-1865),
Abraham Lincoln (played in the movie by Daniel Day-Lewis)
had to confront head-on the intractable leadership impasse that
arose as multiple, competing groups of stakeholders and stake-
holder groups spreading across the American Union pro-
claimed (and acted upon) their passionate and unbending con-
flicting beliefs regarding the country’s proper organizational di-
rection and purpose. The entire sociopolitical environment of
the United States at the time was being torn apart by the fier-
cely conflicting perspectives and beliefs of citizens concerning
the legality of slavery and the rights of individual states to de-
termine their own economic destiny. These issues and how they
should be properly addressed were of central importance to
both southern and northern states, and to the future of the entire
country. And, as the Lincoln movie portrays, in the early months
of 1865 (at a time when a recent succession of northern victo-
ries was making it more and more probable that the war might
soon be coming to a close), Lincoln knew that he had to act
boldly and decisively (while the horrible atrocities of the war
were still vivid in people’s minds) to get the Thirteenth Amend-
ment to the nation’s Constitution—the amendment that would
abolish slavery in the country forever for both present and fu-
ture generations—passed by Congress. At this important time
in the nation’s thus far brief history, the clashing southern and
northern views regarding slavery were nowhere more passion-
ately expressed and debated than in the United States Congress.
Whereas a majority of Republican senators had enabled the
proposed amendment to pass easily through the Senate, it was
not at all clear whether the measure would be able to get enough
support to gain passage in the House of Representatives, within
which there were sizeable numbers of representatives putting
forward passionate arguments both for and against the amend-
ment. Rather than shrink from this conflict, Lincoln seized upon
this rivalry and brought it close to himself by appointing men
with differing perspectives and beliefs to serve on his Executive
Cabinet. Although, as a group, these cabinet members favored
preserving the Union, their varying temperaments and contrast-
ing beliefs about the right way to go about accomplishing this
task infused the Lincoln presidency cabinet meetings with tre-
mendous energy (and, often, passionate disagreement). Lincoln
tapped into the multi-perspectivist friction and political energy
of his executive cabinet—his administrative team of rivals—as
a source of leadership strength within his administration (Good-
win, 2005). As an organizational change leader, Lincoln knew
intuitively that in order to build a “team mentality” out of such
disparate forces (both within his own cabinet and within the
larger United States C ongress) he had to bring these fo rces close
together. Lincoln knew he had to fashion a highly immersive
collaborative team-learning environment within and through
which these rival political leaders could discuss their differ-
ences and, in doing so, learn to listen openly to and respect each
others’ views, and from there begin to forge a workable con-
sensus—to find “common ground” based on shared principles.
Lincoln’s genius as an organizational change leader lay in his
intuitive understanding that through bringing such strong-
willed personalities with passionate conflicting beliefs close to-
gether in a team-of-rivals environment, this very teaming envi-
ronment could become a powerful catalyst that could motivate,
challenge, and inspire these stakeholder leaders to use their
combined energies and principled convictions to construct—out
of their collective differences—a coherent team vision and prac-
tical plan of leadership action.
In an early scene in the movie, William H. Seward (played
by David Strathairn), Lincoln’s Secretary of State, admonishes
the President on the poor chances which the proposed Thir-
teenth Amendment had, in Seward’s view, of gaining passage
through the House of Representatives. Seward, a man of keen
political intelligence, berates Lincoln for attempting such a bold
move and attempts to dissuade Lincoln from embarking on an
enterprise that will surely fail and mar his second term as
president. Seward explains to Lincoln that they were twenty
votes short of the number of votes necessary to ensure the
amendment’s passage in the House of Representatives and that
it would be very unlikely that these votes could be secured. As
Seward emphasizes in this scene, the chances of building bi-
partisan support for the amendment’s passage were practically
non-existent: “Why tarnish your invaluable luster with a battle
in the House [of Representatives]? Its a ratsnest in there, the
same gang of talentless hicks and hacks that rejected the
amendment ten months back. Well lose”. To which Lincoln,
the ever-adept political consensus builder, replied: “I like our
chances now” [emphasis added] (Kushner, 2012: p. 19). Lin-
coln’s confidence as a change agent leader was firmly grounded
in his realization that within such passionate rivalries resided
the potential for deep common understanding—deeper insights
and common ground could be forged in the crucible of multi-
perspectivist conflict. And that, paradoxically, a team compris-
ed of rivals harboring contrasting organizational beliefs and
political views could become a practical vehicle for forging new
shared vision and common purpose on how to move the nation
forward decisively.
The Lincoln movie presents a remarkably compressed and
probing portrait of team-centered “change agent leadership”.
Lincoln’s nuanced insights into the sociopolitics of his time and
firm grasp of the American people’s fervent desire to address
their challenges head-on and to make sense of their complex
reality helped Lincoln realize that his central challenge and task
as a leader was to find a creative way to reunite the people
around core principles. And Abraham Lincoln, the insightful
change agent leader, accomplished this through bringing people
with conflicting ideas and beliefs close together in an immer-
sive team-building environment within which passionate diffe-
rences could be openly discussed and carefully examined, and
ultimately refashioned to build common understandings—to
create new organizational unity and sen se of purpose from, to use
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s evocative phrase, a team of rivals
(Goodwin, 2005). Lincoln intuitively understood that immersing
strong-willed individuals with passionate views and beliefs in
an intensive, extended team of rivals environment could become,
paradoxically, a powerful organizational learning catalyst for
challenging and enabling these stakeholders—motivated by the
power of team-initiated cogent argument and carefully consid-
ered evidential reasoning—to re-examine and ultimately change
their beliefs for the sake of the organizational survival and fu-
ture welfare of the country. In very similar ways, this manner of
responding to the leading and learning needs of organization
stakeholders experiencing multi-perspectivist dilemma challeng-
es through utilizing immersive team-building and organizatio-
Open Access 259
nal sense-making strategies has been a dominant feature of my
own ongoing consultant work spanning two decades with edu-
cators and community stakeholders in K-12 schools and school
districts. A central emphasis of my consulting efforts has and
continues to be on assisting groups of K-12 school community
stakeholders—who also desire to address their school improve-
ment challenges “head-on” and who strive to “make sense” of
their complex school leadership situations—to find new ways
to work together to engage collaboratively in data-informed de-
cision making to enhance the overall quality of teaching, lead-
ing, and learning in their schools and districts.
Through my involvement, beginning in the early 1990s, as a
school improvement a nd staff development consultant for sc hool
districts in the Permian Basin region of West Texas, I have had
the privilege of working with large numbers of education stake-
holders in a number of regional elementary and secondary school
communities and becoming familiar with the campus-specific
school leadership and improvement challenges facing these
school leaders. A singular focus of my ongoing consultant ef-
forts in working with these school stakeholders has been on
helping stakeholders in these communities reexamine and lev-
erage their own contextual situations and school performance
data to develop “organizational cases” about their own dilemma
challenges. These organizational cases are designed as an al-
ternative team-building means to enable these stakeholders to
learn how to work together in new ways to generate deep colla-
borative insights about their leadership challenges and fashion
creative, actionable school improvement strategies—and, as a
way to jumpstart these school stakeholders’ renewed commit-
ment to their own ongoing organizational learning and devel-
opment. During this time, my university-based, multimedia pro-
ject research team and I have worked and continue to work di-
rectly with stakeholder groups in several different school commu-
nities in the region to develop a number of multimedia organ-
izational learning cases about these school stakeholders’ own
real-world school improvement dilemma challenges. The indi-
vidual organizational case development project work completed
by groups of school stakeholders and university-based, multi-
media production teams at each participating regional campus
site is designed as an alternative staff development approach to
helping these K-12 school community stakeholders grow and
realize their potential as organizational leading and learning
teams. A central focus of this approach is on immersing school
community stakeholders in each participating school (teachers,
campus administrators, parents, community leaders, and asso-
ciated central office staff) directly—in an intensive, in-depth
way—in analyzing their own school community situational and
performance data in order to develop a “multimedia organiza-
tional case” about their school’s own school improvement chal-
lenges. This alternative multimedia case development method is
employed as a creative means to help school stakeholders at
each participating school explore learning how to work together
in a new way—as a school community multimedia case pro-
duction and analysis team—to collaboratively reexamine their
own school dilemma situations from different individual and
group perspectives and to brainstorm new team-generated solu-
tions to address their school improvement challenges.
As an off-shoot of this ongoing school district-university
partnership work, I sometimes receive calls from principals in
neighboring schools and school districts in the region who have
heard about the case development work my research team and I
have been engaging in with other school communities, and who
are interested in talking with me about their own school lead-
ership challenges. This article reports on the collaborative case
development and analysis project work my university col-
leagues and I completed with one such group of school com-
munity stakeholders. In responding to this principal’s request
for assistance, I soon learned that she and her fellow campus
educators and community stakeholders were struggling with a
complex set of politically charged organizational challenges
arising from an entrenched instructional leadership and school
improvement dilemma situation—a situation that was boiling
over into the larger district community and fraying the organi-
zational fabric of their high school teaching and learning com-
A High School Community Struggling with an
Entrenched School Improvement Dilemma
Around the middle of August 2007 I received a telephone
call from a principal of a large high school in one of the West
Texas regional school districts who was very interested in
speaking with me about her school community and the school
improvement challenges she was facing. During this initial call,
the principal indicated that she was just beginning her second
year as the principal of this high school campus, having moved
here from another area of the state. The principal informed me
that her superintendent had told her that he had hired her be-
cause he had high confidence in her abilities to bring together
stakeholders at this school to “turn things around” and move
the school community forward. In the last several years, this
high school has been struggling to deal with a number of inter-
related instructional leadership challenges, including: 1) an in-
creasingly diversified district student population base with a
continuously growing number of Hispanic families and students
entering the district, many of whom become students at this
high school; 2) an alarming trend of decreasing student exit
exam performance scores in STEM-related (i.e., science, tech-
nology, engineering, and math) content areas—particularly math
and science; 3) a large and multi-generational teaching staff;
and 4) continuing pressure from the district central office and
area business community constituents to find creative ways to
integrate technology effectively into classroom- and grade-le-
vel instruction. The principal explained to me that she was at-
tracted to this school district community, and specifically to
this high school position, because she viewed herself as a com-
munity change agent, and she was intrigued by the set of unique
school community leadership challenges this school was facing.
The principal also stated that she was impressed with the school
community’s considerable potential—in her view—for being
able to come together to address these challenges head-on to
bring about positive change and improvement. This veteran
principal’s evident enthusiasm for school change leadership
came across clearly during our telephone conversation as she
recounted a few of the efforts she had already made at her
campus to become familiar with her teachers and parents, and
the school’s various co mmunity stakeholders and education con-
Following our initial telephone conversation, I was able to
learn that this particular principal was well respected by mem-
bers of the state’s secondary school principal’s association and
had developed a solid reputation as a no-nonsense “school turn-
around change agent”. In her twelve years as a campus admin-
istrator in previous school leadership positions, she had gar-
Open Access.
nered praise from educators and community members alike for
being “tough, but fair” in her approach to instructional leader-
ship and school reform. Eager to meet this principal in person
and learn more about her school and the intriguing leadership
challenges she had briefly described to me via telephone, I
scheduled an on-campus visit in early Septemb er.
I arrived at the campus early on a Monday morning in Sep-
tember. The principal greeted me in the administrative suite,
welcomed me to the campus, and invited me into her office.
The principal was clearly very interested in continuing our
initial conversation about her school’s instructional improve-
ment challenges. To help me more fully understand her
school’s overall instructional environment and some of the
leadership challenges she has been facing, she offered to share
with me a summary overview of the history of her leadership
efforts to date at the school. The principal explained that the
student demographics at the high school and the district have
changed in the past three years because of a redistricting effort
in response to burgeoning population growth that has caused
some students from neighboring areas to be bused to the cam-
pus. Many of the new students the high school is now serving
are minorities—predominantly Hispanic students, reflecting the
continuing large growth in the Hispanic population occurring
throughout the West Texas region. In addition, the school’s
teaching staff reflects a broad spectrum of professional teaching
experience, with a little over a third of the staff consisting of
veteran faculty who have been teaching in the district for 15 to
20 years or more, several of whom have been teaching at this
school for most or all of that time. Some recent teacher retire-
ments, in conjunction with the school’s student enrollment
growth, have enabled the district to recruit and hire a number of
new faculty members, and this principal stated that recruiting
and hiring new faculty had been a particular priority of hers du-
ring the summer preceding her first year at this school. Most
importantly, as the principal had briefly mentioned during our
initial telephone conversation, the campus is currently strug-
gling to deal with decreasing student “end-of-course” exit exam
performance scores, particularly in math and science content
areas. The principal emphasized that district central office ad-
ministrators have been unrelenting in their efforts to “pressure”
campus principals to engage proactively with their teachers to
respond to the state’s student performance accountability de-
mands, particularly in “STEM” (i.e., science, technology, engi-
neering, and math) content areas. As a result, the principal ex-
plained that a large part of her time during her first year here
has been devoted to instructional oversight in getting to know
and working with her teachers in addressing these instructional
improvement challenges.
The principal further explained that during the past three
years the superintendent had moved aggressively to seek and
acquire funding to implement several district improvement ini-
tiatives, including a district-wide dropout recovery program,
expanded staff development opportunities for teachers, and a
new instructional teaming initiative designed to bolster teach-
ers’ collaborative planning to enhance student learning. To ad-
dress student learning performance challenges at her school, the
principal indicated she has been working with the district’s cur-
riculum director to help teachers at her campus implement a
STEM-focused, collaborative teaching model that emphasizes
involving grade-level teachers in active instructional team plan-
ning as a means to enhance the quality and effectiveness of
STEM-related teaching and learning in secondary classrooms.
The principal recounted how, as part of her focused efforts to
get to know her teachers during her first year at the campus and
“to get a pulse” on the school’s teaching and learning environ-
ment, she spent a good deal of her time engaging in unsched-
uled, informal walk-throughs during individual teachers’ vari-
ous classroom teaching periods followed by scheduled collegial
conversations with each teacher. The principal explained that
she emphasized to teachers that these informal walk-throughs
and follow-up conversations were a way for her to: 1) observe
student-teacher interactions in each grade level within specific
content area classes; 2) become familiar with individual teach-
ers’ classroom teaching styles; and 3) begin to develop an in-
formed sense of the overall teaching and learning climate at the
The principal noted that while a number of her teachers were
open to her informal classroom observation and conversation
strategies (as well as her interests in encouraging teachers’ col-
laborative planning and integration of technologies into class-
room teaching), some others were not. One veteran teacher in
particular, the principal stated, was especially unappreciative of
her instructional supervisory approach, and openly derided the
new principal as being “intrusive” and “prone to meddling in
teachers’ work”. This teacher, “Steve”, has been at this high
school campus for fifteen years and also currently serves as the
math department chairperson. The principal characterized Steve
as a well-respected, long-time member of the high school
teaching staff, as well as a sometimes outspoken and stalwart
proponent of staunchly conservative educational values—val-
ues grounded firmly in “traditional ways of doing things” that
have been nurtured and reinforced over multiple generations in
this tight-knit West Texas school district community. In es-
sence, Steve’s educational beliefs centered around a “back-to-
the-basics” approach to instruction, placing heavy emphasis on
teaching essential content with “tried and true” teaching meth-
ods, namely: classroom lecture/direct instruction, student math
problem worksheets, and follow-up instructional intervention
strategies for individual students when needed (typically, one-
on-one diagnostic tutoring via additional problem-specific work-
According to the principal, Steve has consistently opposed
her efforts to encourage departmental faculty to work together
to integrate available mobile technologies (such as ipads, ipods,
and the like) into their classroom teaching. In addition, Steve is
particularly adamant in eschewing requests from other faculty
within his multidisciplinary STEM-teaching team to engage
together with them in cross-content instructional planning, ar-
guing that this kind of integrated team planning is just “too time
consuming” and doesn’t really enhance classroom instruction.
Steve’s passionate beliefs about teaching and the kinds of
classroom learning environments that work best for secondary
students emanate from his sincere commitment to his profes-
sional teaching craft and to his students, and he is quite vocal in
sharing these beliefs with teaching colleagues in the math de-
partment as well as with other content area faculty throughout
the campus. Several of Steve’s veteran teaching colleagues at
this high school, in fact, share his views on teaching and in-
structional quality, and also resent the district’s new interdisci-
plinary team planning and technology integration initiatives as
unwanted intrusions into their professional autonomy. More-
over, the principal further explained, a lot of the “old guard”
members of the community strongly support Steve and his
Open Access 261
ideas about teaching. In fact, many parents whose families have
been in the community for generations (a majority of whom
attended school in this district and graduated from this high
school) feel that Steve and other teachers with similar instruc-
tional beliefs represent the exact kind of “quality teaching” that
their children need. And these community members don’t un-
derstand why Steve and other “valued teachers” at the school
are being asked to radically change the way they teach. This
clash of instructional values has even worked its way into dis-
trict school board meetings, the principal added, since Steve
and several of his like-minded veteran teacher colleagues are
well-connected in the community and enjoy long-term friend-
ships with many prominent community business leaders, some
of whom are also current school board members.
At this point in our conversation, the principal leaned back in
her chair for a moment and stared pensively at an impressive
array of curriculum binders and team planning guides filling
one bookshelf on her office wall. Then, with a hint of frustra-
tion in her voice but still exuding determination, she explained
to me that she has spent considerable time in the past several
weeks reflecting on what she believes, in her words, is a “po-
litical impasse” existing among her faculty regarding instruc-
tional change. Steve and several other veteran teachers’ impas-
sioned ridiculing and rejection at recent campus faculty meet-
ings of her efforts to encourage departmental and grade-level
teams to move forward in their work to implement instructional
team planning and mobile technology integration have served
to frame in stark terms what she believes is the essence of this
school community’s instructional improvement dilemma chal-
lenge: a clash of conflicting teacher (and community stake-
holder) beliefs at a fundamental level regarding the nature of
instructional effectiveness and the purpose of instructional
This principal’s story of clashing educational beliefs and the
accompanying sociopolitical turmoil spilling over into her
school community regarding instructional change and teaching
effectiveness resonated in my own mind with similar campus
stories which I had heard over several years from other ele-
mentary and secondary principals in the region. Her story, in
fact, closely followed a pattern of recurring themes that typi-
cally emerge in similar school communities centering around: 1)
the “entrenched nature” of some educational stakeholders’ be-
liefs about classroom teaching and learning; 2) a collective fear
by teachers in general of “externally imposed” change initia-
tives; and 3) the resulting resistance to change mentality that
can ensue from these beliefs. Taken together, these themes
serve to put into stark relief what are considered by many to be
a set of “intractable roadblocks” that are often associated with
the challenges of enacting successful school turnaround leader-
ship and meaningful instructional improvement in elementary
and secondary school communities.
This story of heightened student learning challenges in
STEM and related content areas, sociopolitical gridlock ema-
nating from stakeholders’ conflicting teaching and learning be-
liefs, and the pressing need for instructional change in a secon-
dary school setting was one that appealed directly to my own
interests as a “change agent leadership” consultant, and I read-
ily agreed to begin working with this principal and her high
school community stakeholders on their instructional change
dilemma. Through my ongoing experiences in working with
principals and teachers in several other school communities in
the region, I was keenly aware of the need to immerse myself
directly in the school’s instructional culture to learn as much as
possible about the multiple educational beliefs and perspectives
of the various role players (teachers, department chairs, instruc-
tional support specialists, parents, etc.) who are so intimately
involved in the day-to-day instructional life of the school com-
munity. Thus, I proposed to the principal that I spend a few
weeks at the school early in the fall sitting in on a number of
teachers’ regularly scheduled departmental and grade-level ins-
tructional team meetings as a means to get to know her teachers
and their perspectives and to observe teachers’ daily conversa-
tions and interactions during their instructional planning. The
principal readily agreed to this plan of action and proceeded to
arrange my schedule of on-site observations to take place in
October of this same school year.
What’s the Point of Teaming, Anyway?
From my past experiences in working with educators at other
regional campuses, I knew that sitting in on teacher team meet-
ings and observing teachers interacting with each other during
their daily instructional planning was an effective way to: 1)
learn about teachers’ instructional practices; 2) glean important
insights about teachers’ instructional values and beliefs; and 3)
get an informed sense of teachers’ own perspectives regarding
current campus and district improvement initiatives that they
were being asked to implement. These kinds of informal, direct
observations were essentially a great way to get a “pulse” on
the overall professional learning climate existing on the campus.
Using this informal observational method, I began attending se-
veral grade-level team meetings at this high school campus in
early October.
One of the teams I observed early on was a ninth grade in-
structional team. Like many teacher teams at this campus, this
instructional team was comprised of educators with varied
years of teaching experience, both in and out of the district.
This ninth grade team consisted of Phil, a social studies teacher
who has been teaching for eighteen years, the last ten of which
has been in this district; Lois, a math teacher in her seventh
year of teaching, and beginning her third year at this campus;
Megan, a science teacher with three years teaching experience
at this campus; and Kelly, a new literature and language arts
teacher at this campus and district, who was beginning her sec-
ond year of teaching. As part of the planning conversations at
this instructional team meeting, Kelly shared with her team
members some creative ideas she had been exploring about
leveraging internet-enabled communication technologies to de-
sign an “international learning project” for her ninth-grade stu-
dents. The other team members listened attentively as Kelly ex-
plained that this project idea would enable the team’s ninth
grade students to learn and share broader “world-culture” per-
spectives on their reading assignments through collaborating on
book reading and creative writing critique project assignments
with fellow students in Sydney, Australia—using the internet to
engage in critical readings and discussions of literature. Kelly
became quite animated as she talked about the prospect of util-
izing wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, twitter, and other digital com-
munication tools to broaden and enliven the interactive learning
environment for her students. It was clearly evident that Kelly
was a teacher who was already very familiar with using digital
technologies as she described to her team the educational po-
tential of leveraging internet/world-wide we b resources and so-
Open Access.
cial media to motivate students to engage dynamically with
other students to bring some 21st century learning excitement to
the study of language arts and literature. Kelly’s enthusiasm
was contagious, and other team members who had been listen-
ing attentively congratulated Kelly on her creative instructional
design thinking and began to offer their own ideas on how
Kelly’s collaborative “international learning project” design
might be potentially broadened to incorporate their own content
teaching areas as well.
After several minutes of open team conversation in reaction
to Kelly’s international learning project ideas, Phil—the most
experienced teacher on the team—who had been sitting quietly
and pensively during this time, broke in with his own observa-
tions: “I think Kellys project ideas are very creative and have
some real potential for motivating our ninth grade students to
get them excited about literature and sharing their critical
reading with other students. And, Im generally supportive of
our teams efforts to explore these ideas in our instructional
planning. But, were talking about digital technologies, using
wikis, blogs, social media, and so ontechnologies that many
of us are not very familiar with. Im not comfortable enough yet
with these communication tools to feel like I can confidently use
them in my teaching. I feel like I, as well as other teachers like
me, need some help to get up to speed on these tools to have the
confidence to be able to use them effectively in the classroom.”
As it turned out, Phil wasn’t the only teacher on this ninth grade
team who was feeling some “technology anxiety”. Other teach-
ers on the team were also feeling that they lacked the requisite
knowledge and skills to be able to integrate digital technologies
effectively into their classroom teaching. In fact, Phil’s com-
ments triggered other team members to voice their own con-
cerns about their lack of familiarity with many of these new
digital learning tools. Lois, the team’s math teacher, offered her
perspective: “You know, in the last couple of years the district
has offered a few introductory staff development sessions for
teachers on available content-specific internet resources, such
as in math, science, and other content areas, that teachers can
utilize to broaden and enrich their lesson planning. But, the
kind of project Kelly is talking about is taking technology inte-
gration [emphasis added] to a whole new level. How are we
going to be successful in integrating these new digital commu-
nication technologies into our instructional planning if we
dont have the required knowledge and skills?” Lois paused re-
flectively for a moment as she surveyed the other members of
her team, and then exclaimed: “Many teachers like myself are
going to need some additional specific training to learn how to
incorporate social media and digital communication tools into
our teachingtools that many of the kids in this school are
already very comfortable with.” The team’s conversation ended
with no clear sense of how to go about bridging the real gap
between the “teaching and learning potential” of Kelly’s inter-
national learning project instructional planning ideas and the
“evident need” for more focused professional development for
teachers in the area of technology-integrated instruction using
digital technologies and social media.
Following this ninth grade team meeting, I then sat in on an
eleventh grade team meeting later on during the week. Interest-
ingly, this eleventh grade team reflected rather well the mix of
old and new instructional perspectives about which the princi-
pal and I had talked during our preliminary meeting. This parti-
cular eleventh grade faculty team consisted of two recent
teacher hires, both new to the district and in their initial three
years of teaching. One of the new teachers, Nick, is an enthusi-
astic social studies teacher, who is beginning his third year of
teaching at this campus, having moved to the district two years
ago and hired by the former principal. Jocelyn, the other new
teacher, is a science teacher in her second year of teaching,
having been hired by the school’s current new principal just this
past year. Teaching chemistry and physical science courses at
this campus, Jocelyn is a science teacher with strong science
educator interests in physical science, technology, and engi-
neering design, and who is a strong advocate of building a ro-
bust STEM-integrated curriculum—a curriculum that develops
students’ critical thinking skills through focused STEM teach-
ing. She is especially interested in brainstorming and discover-
ing ways to creatively integrate Next Generation Science Stan-
dards (NGSS) directly into her own classroom teaching and
instructional team planning with colleagues. The other mem-
bers of this eleventh grade team include Christie, a literature
and language arts teacher with seven years of teaching experi-
ence (three years at this particular campus), and who also
serves as the high school’s director of student drama produc-
tions, and Steve, a fifteen-year veteran math teacher and the
current math department chairperson on the campus. At the
outset of this eleventh grade team meeting, I listened attentively
as Christie and Nick engaged in an enthusiastic discussion re-
garding a creative plan put forward by Christie to perhaps work
together to develop a “language arts/social studies” collabora-
tive instructional unit around the idea of a “Readers’ Theatre”.
Christie explained that she felt utilizing a “Readers’ Theatre” as
a teaching and learning design format might be an effective
way to creatively engage students in “active, immersive learn-
ing” through involving them directly in dynamic reading and
interactive role playing as complementary means to explore key
concepts that Christie and Nick would be teaching during the
upcoming nine weeks period. Christie also noted that she felt
involving eleventh grade students in an experiential “Readers’
Theatre” environment would be a creative, practice-oriented way
to provide additional “English language literacy” immersive-
learning opportunities for the Hispanic students in their classes.
It was apparent that both Christie and Nick enjoyed brain-
storming creative ideas for potential new classroom teaching
units and instructional strategies to better reach their students,
and their dialogue on the possibilities of Christie’s “Readers’
Theatre” idea continued for several minutes as they explored
various directions they might pursue in incorporating this col-
laborative content idea into their team’s overall instructional
unit planning efforts.
Reacting to this conversation her social studies and language
arts team colleagues were having regarding their creative plans
to design a “Readers’ Theatre” instructional unit for students,
Jocelyn, the second year science teacher, turned enthusiastically
toward Steve, the team’s veteran math teacher, and stated:
Steve, what Nick and Christie are talking aboutusing a
ReadersTheatreformat to develop a collaborative instruc-
tional unit in social studies and language artssounds great.
Im wondering if you and I could work together in a similar
way to design a collaborative unit in science and math around
the metric system? This could be a way for you and I to work
together to develop an exciting unit to help our students learn
how to transition naturally into integrated STEM thinking
through putting the math in science, and the science in math’.”
As you know,” Jocelyn added, “the metric system is something
our students need to become familiar with. We could incorpo-
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rate using the metric system into some STEM-focused word
problems that we could develop together to help students see
natural connections in the areas of science learning and math
application.” Steve, who had been diligently grading papers at
the team table throughout the team’s discussion, looked up for a
moment and then responded in a monotone voice, “I dont
teach the metric system, I teach Algebra. Anyway, if they dont
have it by now, they never will.” At this point, Christie, the
literature and language arts teacher, who was also the group’s
instructional team leader, looked worriedly at Steve and then
turned her chair to face the members of her team directly and
declared, “The stakes here are high! Our grade level teams
end-of-course test scoresin math and science as well as in
other content areashave to improve. The reason the district
has mandated this instructional teaming initiativeis to ensure
that teachers in schools throughout the district are motivated to
engage actively in instructional planning for student learning
improvement. Steve, I know change is hard. But, were all go-
ing to have to learn how to do things differently if were going
to improve the quality of instruction to meet our students
needs.” Steve took some time to reflect on what Christie had
just said, and then addressed the team: “Ive been teaching here
a long time; and, overall, my students have been pretty suc-
cessful over the years. I dont know why I have to change my
teaching practicespractices that I have perfected over the
years and that I have used effectively with my students. Whats
the point of teaming, anyway? [emphasis added] This is just the
latest instructional fad’, and we all know how those come and
go. This instructional teaminginitiative is just being pushed
on us by administrators who dont really understand the reali-
ties of classroom teaching and dont know what our students
need to succeed.” “And, let me tell you something else,” Steve
continued. “Ive been talking with my friends on the school
board about this instructional teaming initiative our principal
and the superintendent are advocating, and they are not at all
happy about this either. These school board members are very
supportive of the long-term teaching efforts of veteran teachers
in this district and they want this kind of teachingquality
teaching that has been part of the tradition of excellence in our
community for generationsto continue. Theyve told me they
have some serious questions they are planning to bring up at
the next board meeting regarding the value of the instructional
changes that the superintendent has been implementing.” The
other members of this eleventh grade instructional team stared
silently at each other as they reflected on the implications of
Steve’s comments.
These two teacher teams were representative of the dynamic
mix of instructional beliefs and educator interactions I was able
to observe over a three-week period sitting in on multiple tea-
cher team planning meetings at this campus. As had happened
many times before in working with groups of teachers and ad-
ministrators in other regional schools and districts in which I
had served as an educational change consultant, through attend-
ing these instructional team meetings I was able to collect im-
portant first-hand observer information relating to: 1) teachers’
perceptions regarding current school and district improvement
initiatives; 2) teachers’ individual and collective views regard-
ing the perceived supportiveness of campus and district admin-
istrators; and 3) teachers’ own professional sense (from their
unique classroom and instructional planning perspectives) of
what they felt were the realistic prospects for positive instruc-
tional change and improvement on their campus. Moreover, this
information provided an important backdrop to help me deve-
lop a more complete, multi-layered picture of the sociopolitics
of organizational change presently existing and evolving within
this school and district community. My observations confirmed
that there were definitely conflicting perspectives existing among
teachers at this campus regarding a number of core areas of
professional teaching practice, including: 1) the appropriate
overall structure for classroom teaching and learning; 2) the
purpose of instructional planning; and 3) the practical useful-
ness of externally imposed school- and district-level change ini-
tiatives and their impact on school improvement. These con-
flicting teacher perspectives were all driven by deep-seated
teacher beliefs about instructional quality, student performance,
and organizational effectiveness that were held and espoused by
individual teachers working within the grade-level teams I ob-
served on this campus. Armed with these sets of observational
data and organizational insights, I scheduled a follow-up meet-
ing with the principal to share what I had learned and to plan
next steps.
Coming Together as a School-wide Community
to Reassess the Purpose of Instructional Change
As I began planning for my next meeting with the principal, I
was very aware that I would need to not only report on my
organizational analysis of the various faculty team interactions
and related observational data I had collected over the previous
three-week period, but also be prepared to offer this principal
some concrete strategies on how to address the instructional
malaise currently existing at this campus and to recommend a
workable plan for moving forward. The principal at this high
school had already been expending considerable time and effort
over a period of several months to encourage her teachers to
realize the need for change in their instructional planning and to
motivate them to work together as grade-level teacher teams to
embrace the district’s instructional improvement initiatives. But,
as the principal had made resoundingly clear to me at our initial
meeting, the increasing student diversity at this high school
campus, in conjunction with the nature and complexity of tea-
chers’ multi-generational beliefs about classroom teaching and
learning and some teachers’ adamant negative views regarding
the “improvement potential” of the change initiatives themselv-
es, were combining to form major roadblocks inhibiting her
efforts. I would need to provide this principal with some new
creative strategies that could be genuinely useful to her and the
school community’s stakeholders in helping to break down the
organizational gridlock that had stymied instructional improve-
ment at this campus thus far.
As part of my data collection activities at this campus, I had
learned that during the past two years the school had been en-
gaging in a number of potentially worthwhile, albeit disjunctive
and disconnected, staff development emphases. A variety of in-
dividual staff development “events” were planned and sched-
uled at different times during the school year by the school’s
Campus Improvement Team (CIT)—a school-wide team con-
sisting of department chairs and teacher representatives from
each grade-level instructional team. This CIT group identified
staff development topics for the upcoming year’s series of quar-
terly staff development offerings through surveying faculty in
the spring to identify teacher interests and topic area recom-
mendations. At the time of my consultant work at this school,
the slate of staff development events included program topics
Open Access.
focused on such things as “teacher stress and wellness”, “bul-
lying prevention”, “remediation strategies”, and the like. While
these topics were certainly worthwhile in terms of the individ-
ual professional learning content they could provide, I quickly
pointed out to the principal that, in my estimation, these kinds
of “stand-alone” staff development offerings were disjunctive
at best and were providing only surface-level content informa-
tion to teachers. Most importantly, these staff development to-
pic selections were certainly not doing anything to address in
any coherent and systematic way the deep-structural organiza-
tional and instructional change issues that stakeholders at this
campus were currently grappling with. As the principal and I
continued our conversation, I emphasized to her that based on
my overall analyses of the school’s performance data and the
collective observational notes I had compiled, teachers, admin-
istrators, and community members at this high school were
struggling with a number of interrelated systemic challenges,
including: 1) the increasing student population diversity at this
school and throughout the district which was presenting new
(and difficult) instructional planning and student learning sup-
port challenges for teachers; 2) coping with the accountability
pressures resulting from the state’s new, much more rigorous
End of Course (EoC) exams and the district’s new instructional
improvement initiatives in response to these increased student
performance demands; 3) teachers’ multiple perspectives regar-
ding instructional planning and technology integration—fueled,
in some cases, by teachers’ longstanding, entrenched beliefs re-
garding teaching and learning, their roles as classroom teachers,
and the nature (and limits) of instructional effectiveness; and 4)
the fomenting anger and disgruntled reactions of multiple stake-
holders and stakeholder groups both within the high school and
throughout the district who were becoming more forceful of
late in voicing their strong objections to the district’s change
and improvement initiatives—initiatives which, in their view,
were unnecessarily disruptive and which were undermining the
history of instructional excellence that has been a longstanding
source of pride within this district community for generations.
Collectively, these systemic challenges were creating a hotbed
of sociopolitical instability within this campus community.
This instability was contributing to and exacerbating a dysfunc-
tional professional and community-wide educational environ-
ment that was effectively creating an impassable roadblock to
any meaningful instructional change and improvement. The
principal agreed with my organizational assessment and readily
acknowledged that a new, more targeted approach to the prob-
lem was needed.
Following an approach I had been utilizing in my consulting
work with several other schools and districts in the region who
were grappling with similar organizational change and im-
provement challenges, I shared with the principal my experi-
ences in using future search meetings as a means to bring to-
gether multiple stakeholders throughout an organization—par-
ticularly an organization that is experiencing internal conflict
and whose members are having difficulty identifying and im-
plementing workable strategies for addressing needed organiza-
tional improvement. These future search events are adapted
from “future search conferences” which are often used in cor-
porate settings as a structured means to enable organization
stakeholders to engage in open, reflective group conversations
to: 1) assess their organization’s history; 2) examine multiple
stakeholders’ perspectives on the organization’s present per-
formance; and 3) construct a communal vision grounded in
real-world strategies of a preferred future direction for the or-
ganization that can ensure the organization’s continued com-
petitive advantage and optimal growth. Importantly, future
search meetings can “enable organizations and communities to
learn more together than any one person can discover alone
through bringing the ‘whole system into the room’, [to make]
feasible a shared encounter with complexity and uncertainty
leading to clarity, hope, and action” (Weisbord & Janoff, 2010:
p. 4). Due to the entrenched and politically charged nature of
the multiple stakeholder perspectivist conflicts existing at this
campus (as well as throughout the district), I knew I would
need to adapt and customize a series of future search meetings
for this campus in very specific ways if they were to be genu-
inely useful to the educational stakeholders at this campus and
within this school district community. Given the limited suc-
cess of this principal’s recent change leadership efforts and her
negative experiences involving some teachers’ and other com-
munity stakeholders’ entrenched attitudes at her campus, the
principal was understandably skeptical about the prospects of
the future search meetings idea for positively addressing the
instructional gridlock existing at her campus. But with hope in
the possibility of change and a willingness to support any effort
that could potentially bring about meaningful instructional im-
provement on her campus, she agreed to convene a meeting of
the school’s Campus Improvement Team (CIT) the following
week so that I could present the future search meetings idea
myself to the school’s leadership team.
As I anticipated, the Campus Improvement Team shared the
principal’s skepticism about my future search meetings pro-
posal and expressed their concerns about involving teachers in
“yet more meetings and additional work” on top of their already
demanding classroom teaching and grade-level team planning
responsibilities. To underscore the point, one CIT member ref-
erenced an incident that had just occurred at the most recent
school board meeting the past Monday evening. At this board
meeting, which was widely attended by a variety of local
community members (parents and area business leaders, as well
as a large contingent of the district’s teachers), tempers had
evidently boiled over during some verbal interchanges that
occurred between school board members, district leadership,
and some community members in attendance regarding the dis-
trict’s new change initiatives. As this teacher recounted the
event, stakeholder perspectives were in sharp contrast at the
board meeting as some board members siding with vocal com-
munity members took the floor at the meeting to voice in no
uncertain terms their adamant opposition to the instructional
teaming and related district “instructional improvement” initia-
tives the superintendent and the district leadership team were
implementing. These school board and community members
were intent on making it clear that they considered these new
initiatives to be misguided change efforts that were being forc-
ed on teachers by an out-of-touch superintendent and central
office staff who did not fully understand the instructional reali-
ties of classroom teaching or the legitimate professional support
needs of the district’s teachers. In response to this teacher’s
report, I used this new information to impress upon the CIT
group and the principal the even greater sense of urgency this
turn of events signaled within their school community on the
need for the school’s leadership team to make some proactive
move to demonstrate that they were actively addressing stake-
holders’ concerns and were working to move their school com-
munity forward in a positive way that would be best for all
Open Access 265
concerned—especially, for the students. After some further in-
tense discussion among CIT members, the principal, and my-
self, in which these campus leaders considered the implications
of these latest school board clashes which clearly reflected the
escalating stakeholder tensions within the community and the
increasingly unstable instructional climate across the district,
the group conceded, albeit reluctantly, that they had exhausted
their ideas on how to address what had now clearly become an
intractable instructional improvement dilemma at their campus.
In view of the evident need to find creative ways to address
their school improvement challenges, CIT members agreed that
it was in their best interest to embrace any new creative strate-
gies available that might have potential for helping school
stakeholders tackle their school’s instructional challenges and
move their school community forward.
I readily seized this opportunity to share with this high
school CIT group my successful experiences over the years in
utilizing the future search meeting process in several other
schools and districts within the region. As I explained to these
high school campus leaders, the power of the future search
process is in leveraging this open meeting format as a means to
bring multiple stakeholders together within a school community
in a non-threatening way to review their organization’s rich his-
tory and accomplishments, to explore the changing conditions
and events that have combined to help create their present or-
ganizational reality, and to openly share stakeholder perspec-
tives on their school’s current instructional challenges. I em-
phasized that, if engaged in properly, these community-wide
future search conversations can serve as an initial useful spring-
board for identifying commonalities in stakeholder thinking
which can become an important foundation to support school
stakeholders’ subsequent extended efforts in building organiza-
tional cohesiveness and eventually arriving at shared consensus
on how best to move their school community forward. With
some anxiety about the unknown, but with determined hope
and a firm commitment to explore this new possibility for posi-
tive change, the members of this school’s campus improvement
team agreed to work with the principal and myself in planning
and scheduling a series of future search meetings to take place
at this high school during the winter months of the current
school year.
On my recommendation, participants in the future search
meetings included representatives from all major constituent
groups involved in this high school community, and consisted
of the following stakeholders and stakeholder groups: 1) several
parents of current high school students, some of whom were
elected parent officials serving on the school’s parent-teacher
organization (PTO); 2) an expanded Campus Improvement
Team (consisting of the various grade-level department chair-
persons, plus five to seven teacher representatives from each
grade level); 3) the school principal and two assistant principals;
and 4) the school district’s assistant superintendent for curricu-
lum and instruction, along with instructional specialists and
other central administration staff members from the district cen-
tral office. Because of the large number of stakeholder partici-
pants involved in the search conference meetings, the meetings
were held in the school’s expansive cafeteria, with the school
library and nearby classrooms used for breakout sessions. As
the school’s organizational change consultant, I served as both
conference facilitator and process observer for the series of
three future search meetings that was conducted at this campus
in January and February.
The series of three day-long future search meetings was or-
ganized into two parts: Part One was delivered on “Day One”
and focused on exploring the history and development of the
school community; Part Two encompassed “Day Two” and
“Day Three” of the future search meetings and was devoted to
examining the school community’s present overall organizatio-
nal environment and the instructional challenges the school was
facing. Each of the all-day meetings was structured to include a
number of “full group” sessions interspersed with smaller “break-
out” sessions to facilitate further brainstorming and informal
discussion among smaller groups of participants. Fully aware of
the volatile nature of the political climate existing in the district
and the intensity of the perspectivist views held by many stake-
holders regarding the district’s instructional change initiatives, I
emphasized at the opening of the first future search meeting
that the purpose of these meetings was not for stakeholders to
be critical and/or judgmental of each other, or even to attempt
to arrive at definitive sets of school leadership action strategies,
but to use these meetings as creative opportunities for stake-
holder participants to explore each others’ educational beliefs
and perspectives (including differences) regarding their school
community, and from this beginning to explore and identify
potential commonalities (i.e., areas of agreement in educational
values and beliefs) in their thinking.
“Day One” of the future search meetings focused on encour-
aging participants to explore the rich history of their school
community organization—and, particularly, to listen to and in-
ternalize this history as related through the multiple lenses and
perspectives of the diverse stakeholders and stakeholder groups
that were and are an integral part of the school’s communal fa-
bric. As school consultant and facilitator for the future search
meetings, I took special care during this important “Day One”
meeting to encourage each participant (parents and other com-
munity members, teachers, administrators, etc.) to contribute
their own perspectives and stories to help create a rich, multi-
dimensional “composite picture” of the historical journey these
school community stakeholders have taken and experienced to-
gether over the years. I was particularly interested in assisting
participants in developing a broad understanding of the multiple
contributions various stakeholders and stakeholder groups have
made to the school community over many years, in order to
help participants develop a larger “communal sense” of the
multi-dimensional, shared history of the organization. This
“Day One” future search work provided an important founda-
tion for the subsequent “Day Two” and “Day Three” future
search meetings which were devoted to examining the school’s
present organizational environment and the challenges school
community members were currently facing.
As I had anticipated, it wasn’t long into Part Two of the fu-
ture search meetings before the major topic on participants’
minds—the highly contentious district “instructional teaming”
initiative—took center stage in the discussion. It was during the
second and third days of the future search meetings that the
political tensions percolating throughout the school and district
community began to spill over into the future search meetings
and infiltrate into full-group discussions. As it turned out, sev-
eral of the school’s teachers had come to these future search
meetings fully prepared and eager to share their views on the
district’s instructional teaming/campus learning improvement
initiative. During the final “Day Three” meeting, one veteran
teacher (one of the most experienced educators in the district
who has been teaching at this high school for almost two dec-
Open Access.
ades) took the floor during one of the full group sessions to
vent her anger at district and campus administrators for their
“heavy-handed implementation tactics” and “callous disregard”
for the professional autonomy of teachers—particularly, teach-
ers who “have been teaching effectively in this district for many
years”. Relishing this opportunity to address the full group, this
teacher openly voiced her concerns about what she perceived to
be an ill-conceived and misguided initiative: “You all know me
well. I grew up in this community, went through this school
system as a youngster, and as an educator Ive been teaching
here in this districtand at this high schoolfor many years.
And, you all know that Im usually very up-front in making it
known how I feel about things, especially when it comes to
whats needed to ensure quality instruction for the students of
this district.” The full group of future search participants—
teachers, administrators, and parents assembled in the high
school’s cafeteria—were listening intently as this veteran tea-
cher continued, “The teaching strategies many of us have been
using consistently in our classrooms over the years have been
very effective in helping the students in our community be suc-
cessful, from one generation to the nextand these same tea-
ching strategies are exactly the ones we should be continuing to
use today. You do nt change tried and true instructional strate-
gies just because central office administrators are feeling in-
creased student performance accountability pressures from the
state. The best way to address the states performance ac-
countability demands is to provide teachers with additional
classroom aides and other kinds of instructional resources to
make sure we have the ongoing support we need to continue
our present efforts in our classrooms. We dont need instruc-
tional change, we need instructional support!” The reaction
from meeting participants to this veteran teacher’s impassioned
rhetoric was palpable as several groups of teachers and parents
sitting at small-group tables across the cafeteria meeting room
could be seen nodding to each other and echoing their agree-
ment with this veteran teacher’s views.
After a few moments of nervous fidgeting throughout the
conference room, the district’s assistant superintendent for
secondary instruction, who had been in attendance through all
three days of future search meeting events, stood to address the
full group. Stakeholders in the room turned in her direction as
she spoke, “Ive been privileged to be able to attend these three
days of future search meetings, and Ive been listening very
attentively to the perspectives that many of you have put for-
ward here regarding the quality of teaching and learning in our
classrooms and the excellent efforts of teachers both at this
high school campus and throughout the district who have been
working tirelessly to continue the tradition of educational ex-
cellence our district has been justly known for over the years.
And, this spirit of instructional leadership and commitment to
quality teaching and learning effectiveness is something that all
of us in our school district community should rightly celebrate
and be very proud of. This is a touchstone of excellence and
pride that those of us who are educators and school adminis-
trators, as well as those of us, myself included, who are parents
of children attending our schools can all draw inspiration from
as we look toward the future [emphasis added]. This focus on
the future will be especially important as we continue to work
together to find new, creative ways to address the real present
and future learning challenges of our diverse student popula-
tions and their learning needs .” A hushed silence permeated the
conference room as future search participants listened atten-
tively as this district instructional leader continued to address
the full group: “The present reality,” the assistant superinten-
dent proclaimed (pausing briefly to highlight her point), “is that
the students in our school district community have changed.
Our student populations have become much more diverse, and
the students sitting in our districts classrooms today come to
us with different cultural heritages and backgroundsand also
with different kinds of learning needs and challenges. And, as
educators, our job is to provide all of our districts students
with the appropriate kinds of instructional support they need to
be successful. But, we will have to think differently and work in
new ways to leverage new 21st century teaching tools and
technologies that are available, and put in place the right kinds
of instructional support programs to meet our studentsneeds.
And, in order to do all of this, were all going to have to work
to reinvent ourselves as instructional leaders [emphasis added].
We will all need to learn how to work collaboratively in new
ways to be able to examine effectively our studentsindividual
learning needs and to make data-driven team decisions that
enable us to make informed choices on the appropriate mix of
instructional tools and support strategies that will ensure that
our districts celebrated tradition of teaching and learning
excellence will continue.” The assistant superintendent con-
cluded her remarks by stating emphatically, “Our unwavering
commitment to instructional quality has not changed. But, we
as instructional leaders will need to change! [emphasis added]
We will need to change how we think about instruction, how we
select the kinds of instructional tools and strategies that we use,
and how we leverage these tools and strategies to work to-
gether in new and more effective waysin order to continue to
provide that level of classroom teaching and learning effec-
tiveness and quality instructional support to our students that is
the hallmark of excellence in our district.”
As a final full-group task to culminate the series of three day-
long future search meetings, participants were asked to collabo-
ratively review the various perspectives that were articulated by
stakeholder participants during the future search meetings and
generate a summary list of shared “common perceptions” regar-
ding the organizational realities and challenges facing the high
school and school district community. The “common percep-
tions” that were generated by future search meeting participants
included: 1) a broader recognition of the systemic impact of the
demographic changes that have irreversibly altered the makeup
of the student populations being served within this school and
district community; 2) a more focused realization of the kinds
of complex challenges involved in planning for and delivering
quality classroom instruction to diverse student learners, par-
ticularly in STEM content areas; 3) a better grasp of the perva-
sive feeling held by a majority of teachers at this high school
that they are ill-equipped to learn about and use digital tech-
nologies in their own teaching; and 4) a new, collective recog-
nition among participants that the intense, multi-stakeholder
perspectivist conflicts and resulting sociopolitical gridlock cur-
rently affecting this school and district community was not
sustainable, and that new creative ideas on how to bring about
meaningful organizational change were needed. This final list
of “common perceptions” which these future search partici-
pants generated reflected well both the nature and extent of the
instructional dysfunction existing within this high school and
district community, as well as participants’ evolving collabora-
tive insights—as a communal group—on the compelling need
for a major shift in their collective thinking regarding the pur-
Open Access 267
poses of organization-wide instructional change.
The culminating sets of “communal perceptions” and “col-
laborative insights” generated by meeting participants as a re-
sult of the collective future search activities conducted at this
high school campus provided the necessary frame for me,
working as the school’s organizational change consultant, to
propose to these stakeholders an alternative approach to ad-
dressing their dilemma situation—an approach that thus far
they had not yet considered. This alternative approach would
involve stakeholders becoming immersed in the realities of
school change leadership in a radically new way—as a multi-
media case learning team investigating anew their school com-
munity’s organizational challenges as a “school leadership mo-
vie production crew”. After much further discussion (including
the airing of anxieties about the prospects of embarking on an
“unknown adventure”), these education stakeholders—empo-
wered by their future search meeting efforts and exuding a re-
newed, resolute commitment to look toward the future—de-
cided to take up my challenge.
Embracing a New Focus on Organizational
Learning… Lights, Camera, Action!
Organizational case production efforts completed at this high
school campus followed the design of similar sets of organiza-
tional cases that were developed and produced over a ten-year
period in participating schools and school districts in the West
Texas Permian Basin and Texas Panhandle regions. These case
production activities were part of a decade-long research and
development project to investigate the use of multimedia or-
ganizational case methods as a creative tool to assist school
stakeholders in implementing collaborative change leadership
practices in school communities experiencing tough, real-world
school leadership dilemma challenges. The multi-year project
research and development work conducted at these regional
schools was 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 provided support for
the creation of a school leadership multimedia case production
research and development lab housed in the College of Educa-
tion at Texas Tech University. This R&D lab was equipped
with sets of betacam SP cameras, audio mixing and dubbing
equipment, and nonlinear digital video and audio editing hard-
ware and software to support multimedia case filming and post-
production work. Researchers and multimedia specialists in
digital video filming, audio mixing, and multimedia post-pro-
duction were key members of a university research team who
worked closely with school stakeholder case development teams
at individual schools participating in the funded project’s over-
arching university—K-12 collaborative partnership design.
A unique feature of the organizational case development pro-
ject work undertaken at the high school profiled in this report
(as well as with similar case development efforts completed at
other schools and districts throughout the region) was in the use
of multimedia case learning as an alternative approach to per-
sonnel staff development and school stakeholder organizational
learning. This approach centered on immersing multiple school
community stakeholders directly in the critical examination and
reflective analysis of their own context-specific organizational
dilemma situation through involving stakeholders as collabora-
tive developers and producers of a “multimedia case” about
their own lived school community dilemma experiences. As
part of production work, school stakeholders participating in
case development activities became immersed together—as mo-
vie production crew collaborators—in developing dynamic
multimedia portrayals of stakeholders’ multiperspectivist con-
flicts surrounding key case issues that were fueling their school
community’s organizational dilemma. This collaborative im-
mersive learning aspect of the project’s organizational case
learning design directly parallels and reflects the intense kind of
“creative immersion” experienced by movie production crews
on location as they are engaged in “scene shoots” and related
scene editing and production act ivities.
Case production work at this high school began in earnest in
the spring of 2008. Beginning in March, campus-based produc-
tion team members (consisting of thirty stakeholders directly
involved with this high school community and its organizatio-
nal and instructional change challenges—teachers, grade-level
department chairpersons, campus administrators, central office
instructional specialists, and parents) worked closely with uni-
versity multimedia production team specialists to begin the pro-
cess of “storyboarding” the organizational case and developing
detailed interactive scripts for individual case scenes. Because
of the intense nature of the perspectivist conflicts existing be-
tween and among various stakeholders and stakeholder groups
regarding the instructional change initiatives taking place at the
high school, university production specialists spent a great deal
of time early-on within initial case development project activi-
ties coaching campus stakeholders on how to adopt a proactive
critical reflective stance toward their case storyboarding and
scene scripting efforts. Campus-based stakeholder team mem-
bers were encouraged to strive for perspectivist accuracy and
detail in the development of their preliminary “case storyboard”
depicting the evolution of important aspects of their “organiza-
tional leadership case”. As stakeholder team members proceed-
ed to work on developing and refining individual case scenes,
campus stakeholders (with assistance from university produc-
tion specialists) spent a great deal of time engaging in open cri-
tical review and discussion of multiple iterative drafts of indi-
vidual case scenes depicting decisive interactive encounters be-
tween various stakeholders holding competing views regarding
case challenges. The goal of these activities was to develop a
set of well-crafted case scenes and scene scripts that accurately
captured the dynamic nature and contextual depth of the mul-
ti-perspectivist organizational dilemma situation which these
campus stakeholders were actively experiencing and were so
directly involved in within their school and district community.
Storyboarding and case scenes development work was com-
pleted by the end of May. The next phase of case production
work involved campus stakeholders directly in the actual stag-
ing and filming of individual case scenes. Case scene filming
was conducted during the summer months of June and July at
the high school campus. Importantly, as a creative way to ex-
pand and deepen stakeholders’ inclination toward sustained
critical reflective thinking during this phase of case production
activities, individual stakeholders were directed by university
production specialists to select and assume different roles than
their “real-life” stakeholder roles for the purposes of case film-
ing. For example, individual stakeholders who were teachers in
their “real-life” organizational roles assumed other stakeholder
roles (such as campus-level administrator or parent) in “acting
out” various case production scenes. Doing this forced stake-
Open Access.
holders to think deeply and critically about the perspectives and
beliefs of “other” stakeholders regarding the school commu-
nity’s instructional change initiatives. Interestingly, this role-
swapping strategy triggered multiple spontaneous events during
scene film shoots in which one or more of the campus-based
production team “stakeholders-turned-actors” would become
agitated and repeatedly call for time-outs within a particular
shoot in order to coach their fellow actors on the “correct” in-
terpretation and delivery of their own real-life stakeholder per-
spectives—perspectives which they insisted their stakeholder-
actor colleagues were not projecting correctly. These kinds of
impromptu peer coaching sessions occurred throughout the
filming of the case’s multiple scenes and they were recognized
early-on by university production specialists as important or-
ganizational learning opportunities for campus stakeholders
participating in the overall case production immersive experi-
In addition to the filming of various case scenes, campus
stakeholder production team members were also involved in
developing a number of important multimedia databases that
would become part of the completed multimedia case. These
databases included information files presenting multi-year
overview summaries of such things as: 1) the high school’s
student population demographics; 2) grade-level and school-
level profiles of student academic performance scores; 3) stu-
dent progress monitoring and intervention data; and 4) detailed
descriptions of the instructional improvement initiatives that
were being implemented at the school. Finally, several campus
stakeholder production team members also participated in the
filming of a number of Reflective Decision Making video seg-
ments that were incorporated into the overall organizational
learning design of the multimedia case. These video segments
highlighted conversations among multiple school leadership
experts (regional Education Service Center school improvement
consultants, secondary school association state-wide executives,
seasoned administrative and instructional leaders from school
districts across the state, etc.) who were invited to review the
case scenes and databases and provide their “expert panel per-
spectives” on the context-specific organizational change lead-
ership challenges portrayed in this high school multimedia case.
As part of their case review, these experts were encouraged to
share their real-world insights on potential collaborative lead-
ership strategies that could be adapted and employed by stake-
holders in the case situation to creatively address this high
school’s leadership challenges and help move the school com-
munity forward.
Multimedia Case Design Elements
Project designers and multimedia specialists working over
many years in collaboration with multiple groups of school
stakeholders have developed an interactive navigational design
template for the multimedia cases which have been produced at
the various school campuses involved in the project, including
the high school instructional leadership case highlighted in this
article. The various components of this navigational design
template were developed to create an overall multimedia case
analysis and decision making environment within which school
educators and associated school community stakeholders could
work together as a team to: 1) review the overall dimensions of
their school’s current instructional leadership and organiza-
tional improvement challenges; 2) easily access and examine
case-specific school accountability data and related resource
information pertaining to the campus (including Public Educa-
tion Information Management System [PEIMS] data and Aca-
demic Excellence Indicator System [AEIS] student performance
information from the state-level Texas Education Agency [TEA]
school performance accountability databases); 3) view, criti-
cally analyze, and discuss multiple case scenes depicting inter-
active encounters between key stakeholders and stakeholder
groups harboring conflicting beliefs and perspectives regarding
their school’s improvement challenges; and 4) deliberate on the
merits of possible sets of short- and long-term action strategies
that could be implemented to effectively move their school
community forward.
The project’s multimedia case design template incorporates a
number of interactive elements. These design elements are
illustrated in Figures 1 through 5. The overall multimedia case
design employs a “school leadership office” visual metaphor as
the interactive interface for case users (Figure 1). This school
leadership office serves as the interactive team-learning envi-
ronment and digital portal within and through which school
stakeholders can access and examine multiple school docu-
ments such as curriculum maps, instructional planning summa-
ries, progress monitoring and intervention records, grade- and
school-level student performance files, and other databases
relating to the case dilemma situation. School stakeholder
teams can utilize the interactive links embedded in this school
leadership office environment to: 1) review student demo-
graphic profiles and personnel staffing information for the
campus; 2) examine multi-year school accountability summa-
ries and related database information on aggregated and disag-
gregated student standardized test performance data; 3) view
individual multimedia case scenes; 4) interact online with team
colleagues, district administrators, and Education Service Cen-
ter (ESC) program specialists and consultants about case details;
5) analyze selected video frame segments of individual case
scenes and store their team’s video segment written reflective
analyses in a digital case analysis program archive; and 6) lev-
erage all available case information files and databases in con-
junction with team case scene analysis results to propose, dis-
cuss, and finalize detailed sets of short- and long-term action
Figure 1.
Navigational design template featuring “school leadership office” in-
teractive team-learning environment and multiple resource database
Open Access 269
Figure 2.
Case video scenes database area incorporating “video mark” frame ana-
lysis function.
Figure 3.
Individual “video marked” scene frames and scene frame
sections selected for further case team analysis.
Figure 4.
Case reflective analysis area showing specific examples of school case
team members’ comparative cross-scene “video mark” analyses along
with school leadership perform ance standards sorting functionality.
strategies to address their school community’s specific im-
provement challenges.
Case users can access, load, and view the school leadership
case’s multiple digital video case scenes in the Case Video
Figure 5.
Case reflective decision making area presenting mul-
tiple “expert panel” video segments for case team re-
Scenes Database area (Figure 2). Each scene portrays one or
more critical incidents identified and developed by the educa-
tors and community stakeholders working together as members
of the school-based “multimedia case development team”.
These critical incident scenes take the form of scripted interac-
tive encounters between multiple school stakeholders and stake-
holder groups who hold conflicting beliefs and perspectives
regarding the school’s instructional improvement challenges.
Importantly, through portraying in sharp relief the multiple
beliefs and perspectives of stakeholders within the school situa-
tion and how stakeholders’ beliefs and perspectives clash on
central case issues, these scenes are able to shed light on how
these stakeholder conflicts are contributing directly to expand-
ing and intensifying the sociopolitical turmoil that is fueling the
school community’s instructional leadership dilemma. Stake-
holder team members can utilize the “video mark” frame analy-
sis function incorporated into the multimedia case interactive
design to assist them in identifying and “digitally marking”
specific portions of individual video case scenes for further
team analysis (Figure 2). This “video marking” capability al-
lows users to select specific “scene frames” and “scene frame
sections” within individual case scenes, which users can then
examine and discuss in detail with their case team members
(Figure 3). The “video mark” function is particularly useful in
enabling team members to examine specific nuanced details of
role players’ interactions within individual scene segments, and
how stakeholders’ belief conflicts and related perspectivist
clashes are contributing to the intractable nature of the situation.
Working together as an analysis team, school stakeholders can
then generate written summary critical analyses of their “video
marked” scene frames and scene frame sections and save these
team analyses in the multimedia program’s case analysis ar-
chive files.
School stakeholder teams can further expand their analyses
of the multi-perspectivist, sociopolitical dynamics of the case
situation through engaging in comparative cross-scene analyses
of multiple critical incidents in the multimedia case design’s
Reflective Analysis area (Figure 4). Within this area, team
members can sort and organize their accumulated “video mark-
ed” scenes and accompanying written reflective analyses into
specific “school organizational leadership” domain areas (i.e.,
programmatic, contextual, functional, interpersonal)—critical
areas of school collaborative leadership practice identified in
Open Access.
state and national school leadership standards. These compara-
tive cross-scene analyses enable school stakeholder teams to
carefully examine observable patterns in stakeholders’ school
community behaviors and actions across the overall timeline
and trajectory of the school case situation, including allowing
team members to engage in standards-informed discussions to
pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in stakeholders’ collabora-
tive organizational leadership and decision making. In addition
to these kinds of reflective analyses of interactive behaviors and
actions that are portrayed within and across multiple case
scenes, school stakeholder teams can also engage in various
advance consequence analyses focused on brainstorming and
discussing multiple “what-if scenarios”—that is, potential al-
ternative (and more positive) situational outcomes that might
have been realizable under different conditions influenced by
different sets of stakeholder beliefs. As case team members
work together to develop their individual scene and compara-
tive cross-scene analyses, school stakeholders have access to
the full array of case-specific digital databases and information
resources available within the overall multimedia case-learning
Finally, school stakeholder teams can synthesize and lever-
age their collective case scene reflective analysis discussions to
inform their team-centered strategic leadership action planning
within the multimedia case’s Reflective Decision Making area
(Figure 5). Within this area, school stakeholder teams can re-
view several multiple “expert panel” video segments led by
groups of K-12 education consultants and seasoned school
community leaders who share their perspectives and insights on
the school dilemma challenges portrayed in the multimedia case.
Through studying these “expert panel” segments, school case
team members can glean important additional insights from
experienced education leaders regarding specific leadership
dimensions of their case situation, including insights on various
“organizational impact factors and implications” that should be
considered when engaging in collaborative school leadership
decision-making (such as: understanding the importance of
“data-informed, comprehensive planning” to guide school re-
newal; avoiding common school improvement “decision-mak-
ing pitfalls”; managing and optimizing school-community
“multiple stakeholder communications” to positively support
the ongoing school change and improvement process; etc.).
Case team members can leverage the real-world school leader-
ship insights provided in these “expert panel” video segments
to further inform and refine their own collaborative efforts as
they work together to generate detailed sets of short- and long-
term action strategies to move their school community forward.
The above design elements were incorporated into the mul-
timedia case interactive design to enable case users as a school
leadership team to focus directly on: 1) exploring both the
“macro” and “micro” organizational and sociopolitical aspects
of their school leadership dilemma situation, with special atten-
tion to examining the multiple dimensions and underlying root
causes of their school dilemma situation; 2) examining the nu-
anced interactive dynamics of stakeholder belief conflicts and
how these conflicts were contributing to and deepening their
school community’s overall dilemma situation; and 3) utilizing
their own case scene analyses to “reframe” and “recalibrate”
their school leadership and improvement thinking based on new
team-centered insights and shared understandings to generate
realistic, implementable sets of school improvement action stra-
tegies. In combination, the above multimedia case design ele-
ments provided these high school community stakeholders
(turned case production team members) with a new set of case-
specific digital tools and resources to assist them in exploring
how to think differently and work together in new ways to de-
velop their own collaborative teaming and school improvement
decision making capacities.
The multimedia case production and analysis project efforts
detailed in this report engaged multiple groups of school com-
munity members, multimedia production specialists, and school
improvement researchers in collaborating together in a unique
way to address the instructional change and improvement di-
lemma challenges confronting educators and other key stake-
holders in this West Texas high school community. The cumu-
lative production team efforts of participants involved in this
project resulted in the generation of a number of key insights
regarding the viability and usefulness of multi-entity, collabo-
rative teaming designs and multimedia-integrated organizatio-
nal case learning tools for assisting school community stake-
holders in: 1) reframing and refocusing their real-world school
leadership dilemma challenges in ways that can facilitate data-
informed, actionable decision-making; and 2) learning how to
work together more creatively and effectively as organizational
leading and learning teams. These insights are highlighted and
discussed below.
The Organizational Case Learning Project’s
Multi-Entity, Collaborative Design Expanded the
Prospects for Meaningful Organization-Wide
Learning and G enera ted Ne w Insights among
Participants Regardin g the Nature of Organiz ational
Change Leadership.
Multimedia case development efforts reported in this article
utilized a funded project “multi-entity cluster design”. This col-
laborative design set the stage for and enabled multiple groups
of stakeholders representing several education entities (a high
school campus and associated school district community, a
state university, and a regional education service center) to
come together to address the real-world “problems of practice”
challenges of K-12 educators and community stakeholders in a
highly immersive and intensive organizational case learning
project environment. Certainly, the high school teachers and
administrators, parents, business leaders, and district central
office personnel involved in this high school campus case deve-
lopment effort were presented with new opportunities for inter-
acting and learning together in a different kind of collaborative
learning enterprise. But, the case development project’s colla-
borative design also enabled the direct involvement of multiple
higher education faculty and specialists working in a number of
different areas within a university (i.e., curriculum and instruc-
tion; school leadership and improvement; adult learning; com-
puter technology; dramatic arts and theatre; sociology; organ-
izational communication), as well as engaging the expertise and
contributions of math and science instructional content and staff
development specialists from a regional education service cen-
ter. The K-12 school district-university-service center multi-en-
tity partnership design of this project was widely perceived
from the very beginning of funded project efforts as a unique
way to bring together diverse educators and researchers with
multiple specializations to collaborate in new ways to investi-
Open Access 271
gate and seek creative solutions to deeply entrenched problems
of K-12 school leadership practice. Similar to the way a Kand-
insky painting brings together many different colors, hues, and
shapes and juxtaposes them in unfamiliar ways to engender in-
triguing new visual insights and meanings, the multi-entity
partnership design of this case development project enabled
project participants to “team together” in non-routine ways that
generated new opportunities for: 1) critically examining multi-
ple sets of relevant school case data; 2) engaging in rich colle-
gial conversations about this high school community’s organi-
zational change and instructional leadership challenges; and 3)
sharing and discussing stakeholders’ multiple case analysis per-
spectives and insights—including collaboratively brainstorming
and deliberating on multiple “best-scenario” school improve-
ment decision making options.
One important insight regarding the “organizational learning
potential” of case production activities that emerged from pro-
ject work was the realization that the quality and depth—as
well as sustainability—of the project’s multimedia case devel-
opment “process” and “products” (and the impact of these on
participants) were magnified significantly as a direct result of
the multidimensional nature of the interactions occurring
among participating stakeholders and organizational entities.
Many of the education stakeholders involved in the project
noted that this was their first experience in collaborating to-
gether so intensively within this kind of multi-entity design.
The diverse kinds of stakeholders and stakeholder groups par-
ticipating together in project activities infused the combined
project teams’ case analysis reflective conversations with an
added richness and depth that would not otherwise have been
possible. These conversations facilitated a cross-pollination of
creative ideas across multiple perspectives and engendered new,
deeper kinds of organizational insights. This kind of involve-
ment in multi-stakeholder, cross-pollinating conversations about
real-world dilemmas of practice and how to solve them became
“infectious” and “exhilarating” for those participating, and be-
came a catalyst for engaging school community team members
in ever-deeper conversations about the nature of organizational
change and instructional leadership in schools. These conversa-
tions challenged and empowered stakeholder participants to ex-
plore new ideas, to investigate new avenues of change agent
thinking, and to push the boundaries of stakeholders’ own be-
liefs and understandings regarding what is possible in terms of
refashioning and rejuvenating a school community’s instruc-
tional leadership cultur e.
A majority of the high school educators and community
stakeholders participating as “case production team members”
in this multimedia case development project were convinced at
the outset of project activities that the entrenched, conflicting
beliefs permeating their school and district communities— con-
flicting beliefs which had stymied change implementation ef-
forts to date at their campus—were intractable and, in effect,
were permanently undermining any real prospect for open col-
legial conversations that could lead to meaningful change.
However, as stakeholders became actively involved in the pro-
ject’s case production activities, the immersive nature and in-
tensity of the collaborative participation necessary to actually
engage in and complete the case development project work
enabled these stakeholders to experience first-hand a new kind
of team-learning environment that challenged and expanded
their organizational thinking. Through their sustained involve-
ment in the project’s case development and analysis activities,
school stakeholders began to discover that they could actually
leverage their belief conflicts to advantage to engage in new
kinds of more open and deeper conversations about those very
belief conflicts—conflicting school community member beliefs
about instructional effectiveness and organizational change that
stakeholders had for so long been convinced were intractable.
And, importantly, stakeholders were developing new under-
standings (as well as new confidence) on how their own per-
spectivist differences, if addressed openly and honestly, could
become a starting-off point for building more multi-dimen-
sioned and nuanced sets of “team-centered” common values
and shared understandings about the nature of organizational
change and the prospects for positive instructional leadership in
their school community. Moreover, these new team-centered
understandings could serve as catalysts for opening up potential
new avenues of creative change leadership thinking and strate-
gic action planning that could help move their school organiza-
tion forward in positive ways. This process of evolving shared
values and reciprocal ways of thinking involved discovering
common ground and developing a sense of collegial agreement
regarding the overall nature and quality of the classroom-based,
grade-level, and school-wide teaching and learning environ-
ments stakeholders desired for students, as well as the kinds of
student progress monitoring and learning intervention and sup-
port mechanisms that should be in place on their campus to
ensure that all students can be successful. These initial team-
centered understandings regarding “standards of quality” relat-
ing to the school’s overall teaching and learning environments
then became an important foundation upon which stakeholders
could begin to build further consensus regarding the desired
focus and direction of their instructional leadership and school
improvement practices.
These critical reflective “team conversations” were an ongo-
ing, integral component of the overall project’s multiple case
development and analysis activities. Collectively, these team
conversations served as an important foundational impetus for
helping stakeholders begin the process of learning how to work
together in new team-oriented ways as school change leaders
(without at first necessarily being consciously aware that they
were doing so)—a process of immersive, collaborative organ-
izational learning in which the teaming process itself becomes a
new way.
Case Development Activities Provided Participants
with an Alternative Organizational Learning
Platform to Explore the Teaming Process in New
Ways and to Reinve nt Themselves as Col l aborative
Learning Communities.
The creative ways that communities of people throughout
history have come together as leading and learning communi-
ties to cope with adversity, to adapt to new environments, and
to deal with the challenges of limited resources have long fas-
cinated cultural anthropologists and organizational sociologists.
There are numerous accounts throughout history of communal
groups of people connected together via tight-knit social and
cultural bonds who have displayed remarkable ingenuity and
resourcefulness in responding effectively to the myriad limita-
tions and challenges of their immediate environments. These
communal groups have also exhibited an intriguing propensity
for learning how to work together creatively in win-win ways
that can benefit the entire group.
The French Acadians (Les Acadiens de France) of south
Louisiana, for example, have evolved a rich and fascinating
Open Access.
cultural heritage—a heritage hard-won over time as a result of
having to learn how to creatively adapt to the challenges of
surviving in a new hostile land: the unforgiving marsh and
swamp environments of the lower Mississippi River delta re-
gion and surrounding bayous and tributaries. The French Aca-
dians’ rich cultural heritage and collaborative teaming propen-
sities evolved to a large extent as a direct result of the difficult
historical circumstances that befell the Acadians, and through
which they had to both survive and learn how to reinvent
themselves as a people. In the mid-1750s war between the Brit-
ish and the French in North America was imminent. To prevent
the French Acadians from allying with the French forces, the
British decided to expel this entire group of people from their
settlements in Nova Scotia. Deported from Nova Scotia by the
British in 1755, the French Acadians were forced en masse to
board ships and sail south down the Atlantic seaboard, around
the tip of the Florida peninsula, and across the Gulf of Mexico
to eventually find a new homeland in the marshes and bayous
of south Louisiana. Their constant struggles to cope with the
hardships of everyday survival in harsh, semi-tropical environ-
ments, along with the attendant challenges of having to obtain
sustenance through foraging for wild game in dense swamps
and marshes and fishing in muddy bayous, molded these south
Louisiana French immigrants into a tough people with a
fiercely loyal and team-oriented communal culture. The need to
survive in difficult circumstances and an unfamiliar environ-
ment helped to shape the distinctive communal culture of these
French Acadians in unique ways. Notably, these French immi-
grants were compelled early-on as a people to quickly respond
to the challenges of their new south Louisiana surroundings
through: 1) adapting hunting and fishing techniques gleaned
from indigenous Indian tribes in the region; 2) learning how to
creatively extend and maximize available limited resources;
and 3) developing and refining distinctive cultural mores that
focused on the ingenious use of collaborative teaming methods
as a means to extend the quality of life for their families and
enhance the overall prospects for these French Acadians—as a
collective group—of surviving and flourishing in their new
The need to find creative ways to extend and maximize their
limited food resources compelled Acadian communities to in-
vent and engage in various kinds of creative communal events
that were designed to ensure the survival of their close-knit
communities. Acadian community members of all ages partici-
pated enthusiastically in these social gatherings that served as a
means for the Acadians to learn and share new cooking tech-
niques and new ways of teaming together to prepare food that
could feed large numbers of families and sustain them, often
through long winter months. The fierce, survivalist mentality of
the French Acadian people—and, in particular, their penchant
for infusing variations of collaborative teaming into all facets
of their everyday lifestyle—was especially evident in their
group-oriented approach to the preparation and sharing of food
within their communities. For example, this emphasis on team-
ing as a fundamental aspect of daily life was clearly evident in
the boucherie—a French Acadian communal event that was
commonly practiced for hundreds of years in Acadian commu-
nities, and continues on as an integral part of Acadian cultural
life to the present day. The boucherie, as developed and prac-
ticed in French Acadian culture, involved families throughout
an Acadian settlement coming together to slaughter and cook a
hog as a means to provide meat for the whole community. One
family would donate the hog, which would then be butchered,
cooked, and prepared for distribution throughout the commu-
nity. The traditional boucherie was (and still is) a day-long
communal event in which multiple groups of community mem-
bers would spontaneously form ad hoc cooking teams to turn
particular segments of the hog into specially prepared delicacies
for consumption. Some of these cooking teams, for example,
would focus on cutting away the backbone meat from the hog
and cooking it in large pots to prepare backbone stew. Other
teams would work on cooking down the head to make hogs-
head cheese. Still other teams would prepare andouille sausage,
and on and on until every bit of the animal (including ears,
snout, brains, feet, and all) was boned-out, carved, cooked, and
consumed. These cooking teams were multi-generational col-
laborative affairs in which older, more experienced family eld-
ers worked side by side with younger adults in the slaughtering
and multiple cooking activities to share their expertise and
time-tested best practices. In addition, community members
participating in the boucherie also engaged in a good deal of
“role swapping”, frequently taking on multiple roles both
within and across various cooking teams during the boucherie
event (e.g., cleaning the hog, chopping firewood and stoking
fires, preparing necessary ingredients to cook different parts of
the hog, etc.). These kinds of multi-generational collaborative
teaming and peer coaching group-oriented behaviors were in-
tegral socio-cultural aspects of Acadian communal events. The
active participation and ad hoc teaming aspects of the boucherie
served to generate an infectious joie de vivre and camaraderie
that was felt by all participants and which helped to define the
overall communal cultural nature of the boucherie event. Col-
lectively, this emphasis on multi-generational collaborative
teaming, in combination with a practical ingenuity in using
available tools and resources, and a pronounced focus on real-
world problem solving were distinctive characteristics of the
French Acadians’ way of life—characteristics which enabled
these immigrants to survive and flourish in their new environ-
Very much like the French Acadians of south Louisiana who
immersed themselves in culturally rich, communal learning
events as a way to share knowledge and ensure their own con-
tinued survival, the high school educators and school commu-
nity stakeholders participating in the high school campus mul-
timedia case learning project reported in this article were
able—through their direct involvement in case production and
analysis activities—to leverage their project experiences to
develop a more mindful and engaged critical reflective stance
toward their organization and its challenges. As project work
progressed and as school community stakeholders became im-
mersed in case development activities, these “school stakehol-
dersturned multimedia case developers” were able to move
gradually, but decisively, from simply reacting passively to or-
ganizational change via attempting to cling to old status quo
methods, to becoming more inventive and resourceful in their
organizational thinking and decision making. As a result of
their project-based “team-learning experiences”, these stake-
holders began to engage more consciously and purposefully as
a collaborative production team with their own high school
community’s current challenges with renewed confidence and a
determination to utilize their school organization’s limited re-
sources in new, creative ways (as “resource assets embodying
great potential” rather than as “limiting liabilities”) to benefit
the entire school community. This kind of practical ingenuity
Open Access 273
in the use of limited resources was extended and amplified as
stakeholders began in earnest to collaboratively explore and
reflect on their own school data. As an integral part of case
development and analysis activities, campus stakeholders ac-
tively participated in numerous critical reflective “team con-
versations” about their own school community data. This team-
oriented approach engaged many stakeholders (espousing mul-
tiple individual role perspectives and beliefs) in a dynamic
process of interacting directly with their school’s data and
sharing their individual and group assessments and interpreta-
tions of these data. Acting as members of a collaborative team,
these school community stakeholders then began to look much
more carefully and critically at their own school community
data in new ways—examining their school’s data (e.g., student
population demographics; grade- and school-level content area-
specific student performance profiles; progress monitoring re-
sults; response to instructional intervention data; etc.) with a
new sense of collegial awareness and a new discriminatory at-
tention to details in the data. These ongoing, data-driven team
conversations generated a rich palette of multi-stakeholder
school leadership interactions that served as a dynamic means
to inform the shape and direction of stakeholders’ collaborative
organizational thinking and guide their group instructional de-
For example, during case team “action planning” activities in
which campus stakeholders focused intently on critically ana-
lyzing their school community situational data in order to de-
velop specific short- and long-term action plan strategies to
move their school community forward, several teacher mem-
bers of the campus production team began to openly express
their new-found enthusiasm for the mobile digital technologies
(laptops, ipads, ipods, etc.) and social media resources (e.g.,
blogs, wikis, online pinboards, facebook, twitter) they were us-
ing in their multimedia case production work. These teachers,
some of whom had been decidedly negative in response to re-
cent pressures from the district to integrate technology into
their instructional practices, were beginning to see the potential
of these technologies as “digital tools” that they might be able
to adapt and apply directly to inform the design of their own
ongoing professional development as teachers. During their
case team’s analysis conversations, these teachers began to
reflect openly and positively about the broad application poten-
tial of these digital technologies and to ask some very practical
questions: “If these technologies can work for us in helping us
analyze our overall school situation within this case project,
could they also be potentially useful in assisting us with our
own ongoing professional development as teachers?” and “How
could we leverage these technologies which we are learning
about and employing in our multimedia project case develop-
ment workin particular, mobile technologies and social me-
dia resourcesto directly inform our own daily instructional
planning and classroom teaching practices?” These teachers, in
fact, were beginning to realize that they could actually leverage
digital technology itself (via mobile technologies and social
media) to work smarter and more efficiently. These teachers
were learning that these technologies could be viewed as “help-
ful resources” that these teachers and their colleagues could use
to acquire and share the practical kinds of real-world profes-
sional development knowledge they needed to help them inte-
grate technology effectively into their science and math teach-
ing (for example: through sharing helpful tips among teachers
on how to develop instructional videos or “vodcasts” that stu-
dents could access and download to enhance their individual
content learning). Educators at this high school, in essence,
were discovering new ways, prompted by their own case learn-
ing project experiences, that they—working together as a lead-
ing and learning team—could leverage and apply available
technology resources to create e-learning networks throughout
their school community to benefit both students and teachers.
In effect, stakeholders’ participation in project work enabled
them to experience first-hand—in an intensive, immersive
way—the positive payoffs of collaborative teaming. And, these
payoffs included the experience of learning how to think dif-
ferently and work together in new ways to extend and maximize
their school community’s own available resources to develop
“just-in-time creative solutions” to real-world problems. The
teaming process itself effectively created a new kind of organ-
izational learning environment within which “purposive gains”
in both individual and team-oriented organizational learning
could be achieved. These new learning insights accumulated as
the project progressed and set the stage for the team to generate
sets of practical action strategies that could lead to meaningful
organizational change. These kinds of “incremental gains” in
stakeholder thinking can be very important in building team
confidence as stakeholders embark on the journey of learning
how to work synergistically and effectively as a collaborative
team to deal with complex, and often unforeseen, organiza-
tional challenges. Moreover, these team-acquired insights can
be very beneficial in terms of helping to “institutionalize” the
practice of collaborative learning as an integral part of a culture
of continuous improvement in a school district community. In
recent years, researchers investigating the challenges of man-
aging real-world organizational change have underscored the
significance of these kinds of “incremental gains” for helping
stakeholder teams cope with difficult, unexpected problems and
build organizational resilience: “Small wins have their impact
through the tangible examples they provide for others, through
the allies they attract and the opponents they deter, through
doing something tangible, and through creating a context with-
in which change is now seen as possible [emphasis added]”
(Weick & Sutcliffe, 2007: p. 140).
The multimedia case production project completed at this
high school essentially presented participating educators and
school community stakeholders with an “alternative team-
learning platform” for exploring their organizational change
leadership thinking—using their own school community data to
do so. This team-learning environment enabled participants to
explore and experience first-hand the real pay offs of communal
decision making through learning how to think differently and
work together in new ways. The “teaming itself” became a new
way as stakeholders experimented and discovered together how
to creatively apply their own practical ingenuity and collabora-
tive problem-solving acumen to their school’s real-world chal-
lenges to reinvent themselves as collaborative learning commu-
Sustained Immersion in Organiz ational Case
Development Ac tivities Became a Powerful
Collabora ti ve L earni ng Catalys t for Changing
Stakeholder Beliefs and Jumpstarting the School
Turnaround Pr ocess.
Through participating in the project’s collective case devel-
opment and refinement activities, campus stakeholder team
members were engaging for the first time in a new kind of or-
Open Access.
ganizational learning experience that was purposely designed
to expand and deepen their individual and collaborative “lead-
ership thinking” about their own context-specific dilemma
situation. This expansion and deepening of stakeholders’ lead-
ership thinking as the project progressed was fueled by the
emergence of fundamental changes in stakeholders’ core teach-
ing, leading, and learning beliefs. These transformations in
stakeholder beliefs evolved incrementally and coalesced during
the course of project work within three identifiable areas: 1) the
change process itself; 2) the nature of instructional leadership in
their school; and 3) the potential of the instructional improve-
ment initiatives for jumpstarting the school turnaround process
and positively impacting student learning.
The Change Process
School leaders rely on multiple sources of information (in-
formation about programs, personnel, student performance
levels, etc.) to help them make informed decisions relating to
selecting and implementing the most appropriate and poten-
tially effective sets of school improvement strategies. And, all
information (i.e., “data”) in school communities really exists in
its raw form as a gestalt of potentials—“data” that, if engaged
with correctly, can be analyzed and interpreted by school
community stakeholders to generate creative action strategies to
assist them in implementing appropriate change initiatives that
can help move a school forward. The creative action plans gen-
erated might take the form of new “departmental improvement
action strategies” that team members could derive from spend-
ing time reflecting with and on their own data, or perhaps new
“district-wide implementation plans” that stakeholders could
arrive at together regarding the most cost effective and educa-
tionally sound way a district could move forward with a pro-
posed organizational change initiative. In this sense, an organi-
zation’s information (data) is a rich well or resource that must
be continuously tapped by multiple stakeholders throughout the
organization—stakeholders approaching their organization’s
data from multiple directions, perspectives, and departmental
vantage points.
To counteract the negative effects of “information analysis
collapse” (i.e., a phenomenon that often occurs when only one
or a very few administrators and other educational personnel
have access to and analyze available school data) school com-
munity leaders can work proactively to include as many stake-
holders as possible in collegial conversations to “analyze” and
“interpret” their school’s instructional programs and student
performance data to generate “multiple creative ideas” from
teachers and administrators on how to enhance instructional
planning and daily classroom teaching and learning. Research-
ers investigating the leadership challenges associated with en-
acting system-wide change in leading and learning organiza-
tions have noted the advantages of encouraging multiple mem-
bers to interact directly and continuously with their organiza-
tion’s data: “As each observer interacts with the data, he or she
develops their own interpretation. We can expect these inter-
pretations to be different, because people are. Instead of losing
so many of the potentials contained in the data, multiple ob-
servers elicit multiple and varying responses, giving a genuine
richness to the observations. An organization rich with many
interpretations develops a wiser sense of what is going on and
what needs to be done [emphasis added]” (Wheatley, 1999: p.
67). Assisting school stakeholders in learning how to refashion
their “organizational thinking” to embrace the win-win payoffs
of this kind of collaborative team approach to analyzing, inter-
preting, and leveraging their school data in order to expand and
deepen the potential sets of creative action strategies they are
able to generate is a critical element of school organizational
learning support programs that can directly influence the qual-
ity of stakeholders’ “involvement” in the change process, as
well as the overall “effectiveness” of the change initiatives
themselves. Engaging with educators and community stake-
holders in their own organizational setting within the parame-
ters of a context-specific case learning project to help these
stakeholders learn to develop and internalize a collaborative
team approach to mining and analyzing their own school
data—and then using the insights obtained to inform their real-
world instructional decision making—was a central focus of the
multimedia case development project described in this report.
Through participating in case production activities, including
an extended series of team conversations focused on analyzing
their own situational data and critically exploring multiple
school improvement options emanating from these analyses,
these school community stakeholders began to develop a new
appreciation for the rich diversity of leadership perspectives
espoused by individual team members. As campus stakeholders
became immersed in case development work and as the case
analysis component of the project progressed, team members
began to recognize that these different stakeholder perspectives
(considered individually as well as combined in various nu-
anced ways) could be leveraged and applied directly by the
team during their data analysis conversations to generate multi-
ple interpretations of their school data that, in turn, could lead
to a richer array of creative action plan options. School com-
munity stakeholders, in effect, were beginning to look more
carefully and critically at their own school data—examining
their data through the varied lenses of multiple team member
perspectives, causing stakeholders to develop a new sense of
collegial awareness and discriminatory attention to details in
the data. This ability to engage in self-referential communal
conversations through leveraging and applying stakeholders’
multiple perspectives to enhance their analyses and interpreta-
tions of their school data and to then use these conversations as
a springboard to tap into and refine their critical reflective deci-
sion-making potential as a school leadership team was seen by
all involved as an important positive “organizational learning
benefit” emerging from case project activities.
Collectively, these team-oriented attributes and behaviors
which stakeholders developed for engaging with and within the
change process—namely: 1) adopting a critical reflective stance
toward their school’s data; 2) discussing and applying stake-
holders’ varied perspectives to analyze and generate multiple
interpretations of these data; and 3) developing an evolving
collegial awareness and an enhanced discriminatory attention to
identifying details in their school data—were seen as important
latent organizational core competencies that emerged and were
strengthened as a result of stakeholders’ participation in project
activities. Through exploring and developing their own teaming
potential within these core competency areas, these campus
stakeholders gained increased confidence in their ability to
work together effectivelya new collaborative team confi-
dence that enabled them to successfully engage in and complete
their case production and analysis project work and to then fur-
ther leverage and directly apply this newly acquired team con-
fidence as they moved forward with their school community’s
instructional improvement efforts.
Open Access 275
The Nature of Instructional Leadership in Schools
School stakeholders’ continuous involvement in multimedia
case development and analysis activities associated with project
work served as a catalyst for encouraging these stakeholders to
begin to think differently about their own school instructional
data, and to think in new ways about their own responsibilities
as instructional leaders. To facilitate and enhance case project
development work, university multimedia technology special-
ists involved in the multi-entity case effort set up a number of
online discussion boards and chat rooms for campus stake-
holders to use as they collaborated together within the various
case development and analysis activities. While a few of the
teachers on the case production team were already familiar with
these kinds of online information sharing and collaboration
tools, a majority of the teachers and other stakeholder members
of the team were not. Thus, as part of project activities, univer-
sity technology specialists spent some time at the outset of pro-
ject production work providing “on-the-spot training support”
to these campus team members to help them become comfort-
able with using and interacting with these digital tools. These
kinds of digital information sharing and collaboration tools
(e.g., online discussion boards, chat rooms, and the like) proved
invaluable to campus case production team members through-
out the project, enabling school stakeholder team members to
begin to work together in new ways and to forge new collegial
bonds within a safe, mutually agreed upon virtual organiza-
tional learning environment. School stakeholders were able to
effectively utilize this virtual online environment to engage in
numerous dynamic team member interactions on a number of
important issues relating to their school community’s instruc-
tional leadership challenges, including discussions that focused
on: 1) identifying and utilizing appropriate interpersonal com-
munication strategies for managing the difficult “team conver-
sations” that often surfaced during case development and analy-
sis activities; 2) brainstorming creative strategies for interacting
more effectively with multiple school constituencies to enhance
boundary spanning and strengthen school-family-community
partnerships; 3) generating multiple ideas on how to go about
nurturing a positive school educational and social climate in an
era of increasing learner diversity; and 4) reflecting critically on
how campus stakeholders might be able to begin to work to-
gether differently to foster a genuine teaching, leading, and
learning organizational team mentality among all stakeholders
and stakeholder groups throughout their school learning com-
Intriguingly, as teachers and other stakeholder team members
began to actively use these digital tools during the project’s
case production activities to informally communicate with their
team colleagues (through brainstorming and sharing case de-
velopment ideas; identifying and discussing various features of
team members’ nuanced perspectivist views on case issues,
etc.), these educators began to realize that they might also be
able to leverage and use these very same digital tools more
expansively on their campus on a daily basis to support their
individual grade-level and school-wide instructional leadership
efforts. Moreover, these educators were also discovering that
these digital tools could be used quite effectively to facilitate
teachers’ own ongoing individual and collaborative profes-
sional learning. Through using these digital tools to engage
with their colleagues during case production activities, teachers
began to develop a more informed understanding and apprecia-
tion of the notion that the overall fabric of teaching, leading,
and learning in their school must include their own professional
learning and development as educators, and that they—as edu-
cational leaders—will need to play a committed, proactive
leadership role in shaping the direction and foci of their own
ongoing professional learning and development. These educa-
tors were developing a more informed awareness of the critical
importance of developing a greater sense of responsibility for
and ownership in their own professional learning as a vital
component of instructional leadership in their school—and,
importantly, that these new kinds of digital technologies could
provide them with the kinds of information sharing and infor-
mal communication tools that would enable them to take charge
of their own staff development and professional learning needs.
Teachers and administrators were learning first-hand through
their involvement in multimedia project activities about the
leveraging power of mobile computing technologies and social
media to enhance their own access to high quality, “just-in-
time” informal kinds of professional learning. These newer,
informal professional learning opportunities emphasized the use
of technology-mediated social networking to expand and
deepen educators’ ongoing learning, and included such things
as collegial sharing of instructional best practices and peer
coaching support—professional development opportunities that
were not readily available within the school community and
district before the advent of these kinds of technologies. Most
importantly, through their technology immersion experiences as
part of the multimedia case-learning project these educators
began evolving their own context-specific understandings re-
garding the role and usefulness of technology in enhancing
overall teaching and learning effectiveness. As a result, these
high school educators began to actively embrace a more in-
formed and critically reflective stance regarding the nature and
functions of technology-integrated instructional leadership
within a school and district learning community. Moreover, in
an intriguing way, these high school educators’ involvement
during case analysis project activities in directly using mobile
computing technologies and social media to facilitate their
team’s informal peer coaching and information sharing case
analysis work also served to create a new and powerful kind of
multi-generational communications bridge connecting veteran
teachers’ strong beliefs regarding the importance of traditional
instructional “quality” with other teachers’ interests in engaging
actively in technology-integrated “instructional planning and
teaching”. This evolving technology-mediated communications
bridge became a springboard for opening up new professional
learning insights among school team members on how they
might reconcile their diverse multi-generational instructional
beliefs to explore new ways to work together to meet the needs
of 21st century learners. In connection with this, a key insight
that was widely shared and discussed by campus team members
was their realization that in order to be competent and effective
21st century instructional leaders—that is, to be able to suc-
cessfully integrate technology into their classroom instructional
practices, which of necessity must include being able to effec-
tively model and foster technology-integrated learning in their
students—these teachers would first have to fully embrace,
internalize, and integrate technology into their own ongoing
professional learning practices. This insight regarding the na-
ture, purposes, and scope of instructional leadership in schools
underscores the importance of developing and nurturing a rich
instructional leadership culture in school communities—an
instructional leadership culture that is multi-dimensioned and
Open Access.
expansive enough to include teachers’ own career-long profes-
sional learning. There is widespread agreement among school
improvement researchers concerning the centrality of teachers’
ongoing professional learning as an essential component of
effective school instructional leadership. As Gordon (2004)
asserts, “Professional development is needed to foster collegial-
ity and professional dialogue, to help teachers develop a com-
mon educational purpose, and to facilitate collaborative plan-
ning, experimentation, and critique of teaching practice.” Addi-
tionally, professional development can help educators “identify
and critically examine aspects of a school’s culture that are
inconsistent with the empowerment of students as life-long
learners, and can lead to both cultural change and changes in
curriculum, instruction, and student assessment” (Gordon, 2004:
p. 7). Moreover, integrating robust and meaningful professional
learning and development experiences directly into teachers’
daily work life can help transform schools into what Roland
Barth (2000) describes as a “community of learners, a culture
of adaptability, and a place of continuous experimentation and
invention” (Barth, 2000: p. 69).
One noteworthy dividend that emerged following completion
of the multimedia case project was that these high school edu-
cators, many of whom were exposed for the first time to the
positive teaching and learning potential of digital communica-
tion tools through participating in project activities, continued
to expand and deepen their interest in utilizing these digital
technologies to enhance their classroom instructional practices
as well as their own professional learning. With ongoing post-
project assistance from university technology integration spe-
cialists, educators in this high school community have contin-
ued to explore ways to creatively leverage available digital
technologies (including mobile technologies such as laptops,
ipads, ipods, and the like) along with widely accessible social
media resources (e.g., facebook, twitter, pinterest, LinkedIn,
blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, shared annotation services,
RSS readers) as new kinds of teaching and learning enabling
tools for building flourishing e-learning communication net-
works for both students and educators in their school and dis-
trict co mmuni ty.
Change Initiatives and School Turnaround Efforts
A unique feature of the multimedia organizational case
learning project reported in this article is that the education
stakeholders (teachers, parents, community members, and cam-
pus- and district-level administrators) who became involved in
project activities were brought together purposefully by the
demands of their own organizational circumstances. These
stakeholders’ involvement in this multimedia case development
and analysis project represented a collaborative attempt on their
part to try to better understand and respond to a complicated set
of instructional and sociopolitical leadership challenges that
had evolved over time and that had come to define a very diffi-
cult and intransigent teaching, leading, and learning impasse
situation within their school community. In this important sense,
the “challenging situation itself” served as the primary catalyst
to bring these people together to work collaboratively to extend
the limits of their organizational leading and learning poten-
tial—in effect, to explore and learn how to think differently and
work together in new ways as a school leading and learning
Robust population growth in the region in recent years re-
sulting in a dramatic expansion of the Hispanic student demo-
graphic profile at this high school (as well as throughout the
district) along with increasing student performance account-
ability demands imposed by the state had converged to create
new sets of instructional leadership challenges for educators
and other stakeholders in this high school community. As a
result of these demographic shifts, the larger regional environ-
ment within which this high school resides had now changed so
dramatically that the school and its educational leaders had
reached a “tipping point” where the status quo instructional
practices of the past (which were developed and employed by
many teachers at this high school over several years) were no
longer as relevant to the learning needs of the school’s pre-
sent—much more culturally diverse—student population. The
reality of the new population diversity in the larger regional
environment within which the school and district were situated
was now necessitating the need to remake or transform the
instructional culture of this high school. However, many ex-
perienced educators in this school community and district were
continuing to display a passionate commitment to their own
well-worn instructional beliefs, including their belief in the
continued usefulness of the “traditional, time-tested instruc-
tional practices” which they had been using for years. Moreover,
these highly entrenched, status quo beliefs were engendering an
openly observable and ultimately counterproductive profes-
sional attitude bordering on “instructional complacency” among
many of these veteran teachers—teachers who, over time, had
become stuck in their own “instructional comfort zones”, and
who were still operating from a traditional set of instructional
beliefs and practices that they were highly committed to and
believed were in the best interests of students and their learning.
These attitudes were shared as well by many parents and other
members of the community who were also supportive of these
same status quo instructional practices. These sets of en-
trenched instructional beliefs were on clear display as many of
these same teachers and other stakeholders participated in case
project team conversations. Additionally, these beliefs clashed
directly with the contrasting, more progressive beliefs of other
educational leaders within the campus and district community
(some of whom were also participants on the case project
team)—particularly those leaders espousing the merits of the
new instructional change initiatives.
What was needed was a “new way of thinking about instruc-
tional effectiveness”—a new, creative way of reframing in-
structional leadership practice in this high school that was
broad and expansive enough to accommodate the school’s new
student diversity as well as focused and rigorous enough to be
able to respond to these students’ learning challenges. Intrigu-
ingly, such a potential “new way of thinking” emerged in a very
spontaneous way during one of the multimedia project team’s
case analysis sessions. As these high school stakeholders were
brainstorming possible practical strategies for dealing with their
instructional improvement challenges, one team member—a
tenth grade teacher of Hispanic descent at this high school who
had been both listening reflectively and participating intently in
the team’s conversations—at one point decided to share with
her fellow project team members a “cultural practice story” she
was very familiar with from her own upbringing. This teacher’s
“story” involved describing to her team colleagues an annual
celebratory event that she indicated was a common practice in
Hispanic communities: dias de fiestas. This teacher explained
to her team colleagues that during dias de fiestas locals typi-
cally show their generosity toward others through welcoming in
Open Access 277
all who come to share in the meals and festivities. Tourists and
visitors to the town are openly embraced and become an inte-
gral part of the dias de fiestas celebrations, as they are viewed
by locals as contributing in very positive ways to the overall
richness and diversity of the fiesta. Furthermore, there is a
widespread understanding among local community members
that displaying generosity and a welcoming spirit to others
actually is a way of giving to oneself—the act of inclusiveness
and cyclical reciprocity actually enriches oneself. This teacher
explained to her team colleagues that these dias de fiestas are
celebratory events in Hispanic culture—community-wide
events that emphasize the value and importance of nurturing
harmonious relationships and inclusiveness. As this teacher
continued sharing her story and reflecting out loud as she spoke,
she indicated that her own personal reflections on the cultural
practice of dias de fiestas were helping her to begin to reevalu-
ate and expand her own thinking about the notion of “instruc-
tional effectiveness” in a high school community. This cultural
practice analogy was helping her come to a new realization that
a “diverse learning culture” can be a source of organizational
strength rather than a liability, and that adopting a proactive
focus on fostering broad community engagement and inclu-
siveness can actually be a positive means for facilitating and
enhancing school-wide instructional improvement. This tea-
cher’s story—highlighting the culturally enriching benefits that
can accrue to both oneself and an entire community through
setting and maintaining a conscious focus on inclusiveness and
relationship building—was one that impressed her fellow team
colleagues and captured the team’s collective imagination. The
story resonated so strongly with team members particularly be-
cause of the rich insights it seemed to offer these stakeholders
in terms of helping them gain a deeper understanding of the po-
tential of their own school district’s change initiatives as crea-
tive celebratory means for: 1) recognizing and valuing the con-
tributions of multiple diverse learners; 2) increasing the level
and quality of overall learner engagement; and 3) nurturing a
broader and more inclusive instructional leadership culture
within their own school community setting.
Project team members continued to discuss and reflect at
length on this teacher’s “cultural practice story” as they pro-
gressed in their case analysis conversations and strategic action
planning sessions. In particular, team members’ ongoing col-
laborative reflections on their colleague’s story began to chal-
lenge and expand their own “team thinking” about instructional
effectiveness. These high school stakeholders, reflecting to-
gether as a leadership team, began to identify and crystallize
multiple school community leadership insights drawn from
their colleague’s story—insights that they were able to inter-
nalize as a leadership team and apply directly to their own si-
tuation to help them better understand their own school’s in-
structional leadership challenges. Indeed, at one point during
their case analysis and strategic planning conversations these
school stakeholders, working together as a case project team,
appeared to arrive at a collective “aha moment”. A growing
“team realization” began to evolve and take shape among team
members during their deliberations: the idea that proactively
embracing the practical strategy of including students and par-
ents directly in the process of collaborative instructional plan-
ning could be both a creative and a realistic way to approach
instructional planning in their school and simultaneously ad-
dress their school change and improvement dilemma challenges.
In essence, these stakeholders were beginning to embrace the
“win-win” organizational leadership insight that instructional
planning in their school could be usefully viewed as a school
community-wide collaborative team and instructional culture-
building endeavor—that is, as a multi-stakeholder, communal
school-family-community partnering enterprise. And, this com-
munal partnering approach to instructional planning, in fact,
could be a potentially very practical, real-world “instructional
team leadership” strategy that school stakeholders could proac-
tively enact together to address the teaching and learning chal-
lenges in their school community. The adoption of this kind of
practical “instructional team leadership” strategy, in fact, would
directly reflect the inclusive celebratory spirit of the dias de
fiestas, in which local community members recognize and ho-
nor all new visitors and guests as important integral partici-
pants in the fiesta, as well as active contributors to defining the
fiesta itself.
Importantly, as a substantive outgrowth of their case project
team deliberations, these educators and school community
stakeholders were developing their own collective team under-
standing that perhaps the very same kind of “leveraging digital
technologies to engage in immersive collaborative learning”
process they were engaging in within their multimedia project
activities could be expanded and applied broadly to their own
daily academic teaming efforts to enhance the quality and ef-
fectiveness of instructional planning and implementation within
their school. These stakeholders would be able to accomplish
this through taking a more inclusive approach to the “idea” of
instructional planning through finding creative ways to include
students and parents more directly in the instructional planning
process. Embracing this communal partnering approach to
instructional planning, educators at this high school began to
incorporate several new school-community outreach strategies
into school improvement action planning, including: 1) utiliz-
ing social media tools (such as twitter and facebook) to enable
teachers at this high school to communicate informally with
each other as well as with teachers in other schools within the
district for the purpose of brainstorming and sharing ideas on
instructional planning and classroom teaching practices; 2)
setting up monthly school-home liaison visits in which teachers
and administrators could meet directly with parents in the fam-
ily-home setting to discuss their child’s learning progress; 3)
staging multiple “school-community education celebrations” in
the evenings and on weekends to nurture a “culture of family-
connected learning” throughout the entire school community; 4)
scheduling bi-weekly teacher/parent meetings to keep parents
informed regarding their child’s teaching and learning class-
room progress; 5) utilizing the school’s classrooms and com-
puter labs in the evenings to provide interested parents with
adult literacy classes and technology training; etc. In actively
embracing this team-centered communal partnering approach
to instructional effectiveness through designing and implement-
ing these new school-community outreach strategies, these high
school educators and community stakeholders were, in fact, de-
monstrating that they had internalized a new, inclusive “com-
munity-wide team mentality” regarding instructional effective-
ness in their school. And, as part of this team mentality, these
stakeholders were beginning to realize that the school and dis-
trict’s instructional planning and technology integration initia-
tives were not simply burdensome initiatives that were at
cross-purposes with their own teaching, leading, and learning
goals for the school. On the contrary, these initiatives could
actually be utilized directly to help these stakeholders engage
Open Access.
together dynamically to bring about substantive change in their
school community ’s instructional learning culture. Indeed, these
instructional improvement initiatives could be utilized by these
educators and community stakeholders—working together as a
school community partnering team—as a means to jumpstart
their school’s turnaround process and help them positively im-
pact students’ learning. The positive value of this “synergistic
strategy” of utilizing a communal partnering approach in con-
cert with well-designed, targeted instructional improvement ini-
tiatives to positively impact a school community’s overall “fa-
mily-connected instructional learning culture” has been affirm-
ed by researchers examining the present challenges of enacting
social justice leadership in schools who emphasize the need for
school leaders to make “concerted efforts to reach out to fami-
lies who traditionally may not be active in their school and to
make bridges to the community, [including] making purposeful
positive contact with families of color, families who struggle
financially, and families who are non-native English speakers”
(Theoharis, 2009: p. 138).
These high school stakeholders’ adoption of a new “com-
munal team mentality” focused specifically on expanding and
deepening their school’s instructional planning and learning
culture as a means to turn around their school’s recent lacklus-
ter performance and spur their school community toward posi-
tive organizational change and improvement (i.e., to jumpstart
the “school turnaround” process) resonates well with insights
found in the recent literature on systemic school change. Re-
searchers examining the challenges involved in bringing about
system-wide change in school organizations recognize that to
be able to effect meaningful change in teaching and learning in
a school setting, educators must go beyond simply putting in
place new change structures (i.e., change initiatives of various
kinds). Fullan (1993, 1999, 2001), for example, has repeatedly
made clear that “restructuring (which can be done by fiat) oc-
curs time and time again, whereas reculturing (how teachers
come to question and change their beliefs and habits) is what is
needed” (Fullan, 2001: p. 34). In other words, in order to real-
ize substantive change in teaching and learning attitudes and
performance levels, the entire instructional culture of the school
organization must be changed at a fundamental level. And this
kind of fundamental school reculturing requires that educators
engage directly in intentional experimentation and social dis-
covery. As Elmore (2000) states, “[e]xperimentation and dis-
covery can be harnessed to social learning by connecting peo-
ple with new ideas to each other in an environment in which the
ideas are subjected to scrutiny, measured against the collective
purposes of the organization, and tested by the history of what
has already been learned and is known” (Elmore, 2000: p. 25).
And importantly, as Leithwood et al. (2010) emphasize, the
process of connecting people and ideas must include connecting
the school directly to the home family environment and directly
to parents: “Without doubt, parental engagement in children’s
learning makes a difference and remains one of the most pow-
erful school improvement levers that school leaders have. But
effective parental engagement will not happen without con-
certed effort, time, and commitment from both parents and
schools. It will not happen unless parents know the difference
that they make and unless schools actively reinforce their active
engagement in learning [emphasis added]. Parental engagement
has to be a priority, not a bolt-on extra. It must be embedded in
teaching and learning policies and school improvement policies,
so that parents are seen as an integral part of the student learn-
ing process” (Leithwood et al., 2010: p. 253). Moreover, this
kind of organization-wide cultural change can not be accom-
plished simply through the extraordinary efforts of individual
change agents working in isolation—no matter how dedicated
they may be to their school community or how passionately
they believe in the change initiatives themselves. Enacting sys-
temic cultural change in a school community requires the sus-
tained commitment of a critical mass of education stakeholders
who have developed an appropriate change-oriented “tea m men-
tality” and who are motivated to respond to their school’s im-
provement challenges in action-oriented ways.
As a result of their immersive collaborative learning experi-
ences in this multimedia case project, these high school educa-
tors and school community stakeholders were able to form im-
portant new professional and organizational bonds that cut
across stakeholder roles and personalities. These new relational
connections among stakeholders enabled a new “team mental-
ity” to evolve among these stakeholders—a new collegial way
of thinking that could support the emergence of generative
breakthrough leadership insights and new collaborative under-
standings across the team. This new way of thinking was forged
through the very act of participation in the case learning process
itself. Through the positive organizational leadership insights
these team members realized as a result of their case learning
project experiences (as well as through the sense of collabora-
tive accomplishment these stakeholders felt upon completing
this challenging project together), these educational leaders
were now empowered with a new team confidence and a re-
newed sense of their own collegial leadership efficacy. The
new “team mentality” that emerged was characterized by a
number of distinguishing features, including a shared sense
among these educational stakeholders of: 1) their own organ-
izational capacity as a school leadership team to enact mean-
ingful change; 2) a greater conscious awareness and under-
standing of the power of community engagement as a collabo-
rative partnering tool to facilitate school-wide instructional
improvement; 3) a new appreciation of the role of social net-
working as a means to enhance information sharing and to sup-
port the overall organizational learning vitality of their school
community; and 4) a greater confidence in the distributive lead-
ership potential of the group to design and implement team-
centered, targeted instructional improvement strategies that can
realize demonstrable student learning gains. Collectively, these
newly observed “team characteristics” reflected a set of emerg-
ing school turnaround leadership capabilities that was serving
to reshape and redefine who these educational stakeholders
were as school leaders and what they were capable of accom-
At an informal gathering of school stakeholder team mem-
bers and university project specialists following project post-
production work to celebrate the completion of project activi-
ties, these school turnaround leadership capabilities and the
newly minted “team mentality” they reflected were in clear
evidence as the members of the project’s high school case de-
velopment team—teachers, parents, community members, and
the school’s principal—shared some final reflections on their
overall project experiences. One school stakeholder team mem-
ber, a veteran teacher, captured well the sentiments of the group
as she reflected on her own and her team members’ experiences
participating in project activities: “This project was a real
eye-opening experience for many of us. The work was intensive,
and we were challenged to stretch our reflective thinking ca-
Open Access 279
pacities in new waysto enlarge our perspectives and broaden
our mindsets. But, you know, I think the most important result
of participating in this project is that weve developed a new
respect for each other and our differences, and weve come to
learn that our differences can be a source of strength. Through
this project weve learned to respect and leverage our differ-
ences to build some common understandings as a school com-
munity team. And, I think we now have a new and better sense
of what we are capable of achieving as a leading and learning
team.” This teacher’s remarks echoed the feelings of other
members of this high school stakeholder team and reflected
well the new “team spirit” of the group. Finally, it was the
school’s principal who possibly summed up best the collective
feelings of the entire high school team as she congratulated her
high school case production team on their collective project
efforts: “As a result of this project and the team conversations
weve had together, we now know that the school turnaround
process is as much about turning around ourselves as it is
about turning around our school. During our project work
weve engaged together in critically examining and turning
around our own thinking and behaviorsand learning from
this self-reflecting process as we go. We ve been working con-
scientiously on building our understandings as a team, and
weve been reinventing ourselves in the process. However, lets
be honestwe still have a lot more work to do to realize the
kinds of meaningful improvements we all want in our instruc-
tional programs. But armed with our new ability to think and
work together more effectively as a school community team, I
believe we can now look toward our schools futureand to-
ward the future learning success of all of our studentswith
new confidence.”
The case development and analysis project work reported in
this article is part of a larger, multi-year research and develop-
ment effort that focuses on engaging education researchers,
multimedia production specialists, expert practitioners, and
education stakeholders from multiple education entities (i.e., a
state university, a regional education service center, and multi-
ple regional K-12 schools and school districts) in working to-
gether in collaborative partnership to address and find creative
solutions to vexing, entrenched problems of K-12 school lead-
ership practice. A unique aspect of this project is the use of
available multimedia computer technologies in conjunction
with theatrical production techniques to involve K-12 school
community stakeholders in the development and analysis of
context-specific organizational learning cases about their own
real-world school improvement dilemma situations. The pro-
ject’s collaborative case learning design reflects a convergence
of concepts and tools across three areas of creative activity: 1)
multimedia computer simulations; 2) cinematography; and 3)
dramatic arts. The high school “instructional leadership” case
development project detailed and discussed in this article re-
presents one completed case that has become part of a larger,
continually expanding body of multimedia cases that are being
developed to focus specifically on the context-specific organi-
zational leading and learning challenges of groups of education
stakeholders in multiple campuses and school districts through-
out West Texas.
The organizational case learning methods and design of this
project are grounded in a rich history of research and develop-
ment in computer-based simulations and educational gaming
that has evolved over the past two decades. The success of such
“strategic life simulation” games as The Sims (2000-2008,
2012-present) and its various renditions (The Sims Online, The
Sims Stories, MySi ms, The Sims Carnival, The Sims Medieval,
The Sims Social), “fictional-world graphic adventure” video
games such as Myst (1993-present), “urban planning and de-
velopment/municipal engineering” simulations such as SimCity
(1989-present), and immersive “historical learning/adventure”
educational simulations such as Oregon Trail (1974-present)
and Westward Trail (2013) which are widely used by elemen-
tary and secondary teachers to engage students dynamically in
immersive, multi-disciplinary learning, have served to firmly
anchor online simulations and gaming as both recreational gam-
ing and educational learning tools in the popular imagination.
These individual- and multi-player simulation games offer rich,
interactive digital environments within which users can explore
a variety of social, organizational, engineering, and manage-
ment challenges integrated into multi-dimensional, online “vir-
tual-world” simulations. The direct application and use of these
kinds of computer simulations and video games in elementary
and secondary educational settings have continued to expand in
recent years. In addition, a variety of immersive digital learning
tools and interfaces are now being used in multiple higher edu-
cation learning contexts (e.g., business, economics, political
studies, science and engineering, languages, education) to in-
crease student engagement and retention and to stimulate
learning, including: serious games, multiple role-play, whole-
enterprise simulations, video simulations, augmented reality,
robotics laboratories, and virtual learning environments to en-
hance active learning and encourage interactive reflection (Ny-
gaard et al., 2012). These kinds of virtual worlds, games, and
simulations are being utilized in higher education settings to en-
gage learners within interactive digital environments that are
highly immersive, collaborative, and focused on real-world pro-
blem solving (Shiratori et al., 2005).
The multimedia case learning project efforts profiled in this
article seek to extend and apply these computer simulation/
virtual world development efforts directly to the area of K-12
school leadership practice through involving groups of elemen-
tary and secondary educators and associated school community
stakeholders in immersive, collaborative team-learning project
experiences to develop multimedia cases about their own real-
world, context-specific school improvement challenges. The
overarching goal of these immersive case-learning projects is to
jumpstart school stakeholders’ “team-learning” abilities to fo-
cus on and enhance the overall quality and effectiveness of
these school leaders’ collaborative decision making. This mul-
timedia organizational case learning project work is part of a
larger, decade-long R&D initiative to develop immersive team-
learning designs and attendant sets of school leadership learn-
ing cases that are of practical use for enhancing the organiza-
tional learning and collaborative leadership development of
educators and community stakeholders in K-12 school settings.
Collectively, these multimedia cases (and the larger immersive
team-learning design approach of which these cases are an
integral part) seek to contribute to the literature on the devel-
opment and use of educational games, simulations, and virtual
worlds through direct application of case learning simulations
and collaborative teaming techniques to the real-world chal-
lenges of K-12 school leadership practice. Results of cumula-
tive project efforts to date provide encouraging positive evi-
Open Access.
Open Access 281
dence in support of the potential of organizational case learning
and immersive, technology-integrated case production methods
as practical means for enhancing school leaders’ collaborative
school improvement practices.
Importantly, through leveraging the power of multimedia
technology and the creative enthusiasm and dedication of the
research teams involved, the collaborative team-building ap-
proach at the heart of this project’s organizational case learning
design provides a unique reflective analysis framework for
school stakeholder collaborative learning. Through immersion
in multimedia project case production and analysis activities,
K-12 educators and school community stakeholders in varied
school contexts can learn how to tap into their collaborative
school leadership potential for reflecting critically on their own
school leadership situations to reexamine, broaden, and deepen
their educational beliefs through transformative team-learning.
In short, through bravely heeding the cinematic call of lights,
camera, action! school stakeholders grappling with tough
school improvement challenges can elect to engage in a new
form of organizational learning—as dedicated teams of rivals
embracing a “collaborative case learning adventure” to develop
and refine their own school leadership capacities for: 1) forging
shared understandings and common organizational purpose;
and 2) engaging in data-informed, team-centered decision mak-
ing that can promote positive and lasting teaching, leading, and
learning improvements within their school communities.
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