Collaborative Autobiography: A Vehicle for Administrator Reflection on Multiple Accountability Pressures
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This study focused on five administrators’ perceptions of multiple accountability pressures. The administrators used collaborative autobiography to address accountability pressures within the context of their personal and professional lives. This included reflective writing from the administrators on their experiences with different types of accountability pressures, their perceptions of whether accountability pressures conflicted with one another, their experiences negotiating the various pressures, and their perceptions of the effect of the pressures on their lives. The administrators also examined their life histories to determine connections between those life histories and how they negotiated accountability pressures. The study examined the benefits of collaborative autobiography, including how the administrators used the collaborative inquiry process to develop strategies to better negotiate pressures in the future. The participants shared their reflective writing with one another during group sessions and provided feedback to each other on its meaning and significance, creating a shared understanding. This collegial dialogue was an essential part of the study. The administrators also created recommendations for principal preparation programs, school district leadership, and policymakers based on their experiences participating in the study.
Findings included the discovery that it was difficult for participants to classify different accountability pressures and their sources because of overlap and interaction among those pressures, but that efforts to do so helped the administrators to reflect deeply on those pressures and their causes, something they had not done previously. Administrators often found that, because accountability pressures were interwoven, they often dealt with more than one pressure at a time. Administrators found multiple ways to negotiate pressures. These included attempting to maintain a positive school climate, and using goal creation and data-based decision-making as tools to manage pressures. Participants shared that many negative effects of accountability pressures stemmed from the Texas accountability system. Participants found the writing of their life histories to be significant emotional experiences. They discovered that writing about and discussing the connections between their life histories and their reaction to accountability pressures was helpful in reflecting on how they could better deal with accountability pressures in the future. Participants believed that they could better negotiate pressures in the future by changing how they perceived and understood the pressures they experienced.
Collaborative autobiography was a successful method for allowing the participants to write and share about their experiences and plan for a better future. Learning how to build meaningful relationships with teachers was a key theme raised during participants’ discussion of recommendations for principals’ professional development. Participants also felt that central office administrators need to understand the pressures affecting campus level administrators, model effective strategies for dealing with the pressures, and collaborate with campus administrators in addressing the pressures. Participants believed that policymakers should build relationships with campus administrators in order to see the impact of accountability pressures, many of which stem from policy decisions involving testing and funding.