The Problem with Success: Perspectives of the Specialist Classroom Teacher Role in New Zealand Secondary Schools
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An on-going challenge for teachers and leaders is addressing the diverse needs of students in order to raise student achievement. Quality teaching is regarded as an important influence on outcomes for students. The key drivers towards this aim are a focus on effective teaching by accessing and using research to improve practice and student learning, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers in the profession, developing career pathways for effective teachers, providing opportunities to collaborate and developing best practice and providing collegial support. This study sought to examine the perspectives of leadership by Specialist Classroom Teachers and senior leaders within New Zealand secondary schools on the role of Specialist Classroom Teacher (SCT). The questions that sought to guide the research were: What are the understandings of leadership as perceived by SCTs and school leaders? What is the role of a SCT in a secondary school as perceived by SCTs and school leaders? What do SCTs and school leaders perceive to be their collective actions that influence staff to develop teaching pedagogy to improve outcomes for students? With this research focus, a small-scale, qualitative study was conducted with data gathered from five participants, three SCTs and two senior leaders, using semi-structured interviews. The key themes, which emerged, were identified and categorised to show the juxtaposition of the perceptions of the SCTs’ and senior leaders on the SCT role. The study reveals in its findings that the SCT role is a successful leadership role for the enhancement of pedagogy and teacher development in New Zealand secondary schools. Some of the success factors include: firstly, a mentoring focus for deeper reflection of teacher practice, evolution of the SCT role to include greater leadership of teaching and learning and secondly, working within collaborative cultures towards a shared collective efficacy. The complexity of the role is also recognised by the tensions and influences experienced by the participants in terms of their interpersonal relationships. A key finding of this study is that the aggregation effect of the success SCTs experience in the role has highlighted an emerging overload of the SCT role, which makes the role unsustainable for just one individual in the role. This study recommends that the SCT model be expanded to include more SCTs per school. Another recommendation arising from this research is the importance of sustaining the SCT model within and across schools. The findings from this study will also contribute to the literature on middle leadership and it will inform the practice of SCTs’ and leaders who are responsible for the professional learning of other educators.