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How School Administrators Use Strategy-as-Practice to Achieve Organizational Coherence

Hartmann, Jeffrey D. (2013) How School Administrators Use Strategy-as-Practice to Achieve Organizational Coherence. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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As public education continues to grapple with private marketplace pressures, including depleting resources, it must contend with questions of organizational identity and direction, a dilemma emerging from increased competition. The accountability movement has ensured that instructional elements like academic standards, assessments, and curricula, “cohere.” Little attention has been paid to how institutional elements like collective bargaining agreements, budgets, and strategic plans “cohere” to support instruction. In the private sector, competitive companies must skillfully distribute resources and mitigate inefficient practices while pursuing their common goals.

To understand this changing context, a case study was designed to determine how school administrators supported district goals or reconciled local institutional constraints while supporting the district’s instructional goals. The case study was in a rural public school district in Pennsylvania. Using Strategy-as-Practice (SAP) methodology, the researcher closely examined the practices school administrators engaged in on a day-to-day basis over a two-month period. They were classified as supporting goals or reconciling constraints. Descriptive data was collected and nine school administrators and the school board president were both observed and interviewed. The study yielded 60 specific practices participants used to support the organization’s goals and 58 to reconcile constraints.

Analysis of these data revealed that newcomers and locals were distinguishable by their choices of practices, with newcomers being more goals supportive and locals more focused on reconciling constraints. This resulted in internal tensions that made effective communication across newcomers and locals difficult. Each saw the other’s activities as interfering with their work. Newcomers tended to find their efforts repeatedly constrained, despite their instructional successes. Locals tended to focus on the need for more respect for the local community.

This resulted in two conclusions. First, while institutional elements of goal support and local constraint reconciliation brought stability to the organization, the pursuit of instructional reform proved to be temporarily destabilizing. Second, the district tended to resolve this instability by supporting local constraint reconciliation even at the expense of goal support for improved student achievement.

This suggests that newcomers who focus on student achievement goals may need to be better informed about local constraints, independently of job interview rhetoric.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Hartmann, Jeffrey
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMcclure, Maureenmmcclure@pitt.eduMMCCLURE
Committee MemberHughes, Seanshughes@pitt.eduSHUGHES
Committee MemberBenson,
Date: 13 May 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 4 April 2013
Approval Date: 13 May 2013
Submission Date: 30 April 2013
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 212
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Administrative and Policy Studies
Degree: EdD - Doctor of Education
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: strategy-as-practice, school leadership, case study, strategic decision making, public education, coherence, organizational change
Date Deposited: 13 May 2013 17:45
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:12


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