Principals’ Voices Pertaining to Shared Sense-Making Processes Within a Generally-Outlined Pedagogical Reform Implementation


Source: International Journal of Leadership in Education 


This qualitative study explores school principals’ perceptions and enactments of shared sense-making processes during a generally-outlined pedagogical reform, i.e. a broad-policy reform allowing educators to exercise their discretion in meeting its pedagogical goals, aiming to inquire what makes such processes critical to schools’ collective efficacy within reform implementation.

Interviews with 25 high school principals implementing this reform in state and religious-state schools produced data, whose analysis yielded two major themes and sub-themes: (1) Communicating a shared vision: (a) a shared pedagogical vision; (b) a shared values-based vision; (c) a shared vision of pedagogical bluff; and (2) Strengthening school collective efficacy: (a) facilitating a collaborative instructional culture; (b) adjusting school reality toward instructional focus. A shared sense-making process offers a beneficial framework for principals and teachers collectively navigating complexity and uncertainty, while implementing ambiguous pedagogical policy demands within their unique contexts.


A generally-outlined pedagogical reform implementation can be enabled and constrained by shared sense-making processes. While implementing generally-outlined pedagogical reforms, school principals and teachers make sense of reform messages to negotiate between internal and external school environments, which in turn affect the extent to which educators alter their pedagogical practices. Therefore, the district should invest time up front, communicating and working with principals and teachers to help them attain deeper understanding of reform demands at organizational and local levels. Nurturing a long-term shared sense-making process is an essential part of any pedagogical reform implementation. According to this approach, policymakers, superintendents, teacher unions, principals and teachers become the collective drivers of a long-term instructional improvement. Thus, fostering a shared sense-making process requires a district-level focus on professional development and school capacity building.

Understanding how reforms are mediated, enacted, interpreted, and negotiated within schools requires adopting a circulating bottom-up and top-down implementation strategy, which is determined by continuous and complex interaction process between state stakeholders (e.g. school districts), implementing agents (e.g. local stakeholders), as well as the organizational and local context. This process may not just leave space for sense-making processes but can also urge all stakeholders involved in the reform to work collaboratively while experimenting on how this is going to affect their school context. In this sense, principals need to weave the social sense-making network for discussions among staff members, which enhances joint negotiations of meaning (Pietarinen et al., 2017).

There is a need to create professional communities aimed at instructional improvement among local agents of change as a means of effectively implementing generally-outlined pedagogical reforms. In this way, using instructional dialogs, principals and teachers learn from one another and develop new knowledge necessary for translating reform demands into local practices.

Promoting ownership over the reform through a shared understanding of the instructional change and collaborative opportunities with the faculty members, principals used gatekeeping and framing activities to attend to their social contexts while implementing the reform. School principals and their colleagues could benefit from collaborating in a wide professional community to share challenging aspects of reform efforts, while working together in developing strategies to enact new policies (Woulfin et al., 2016). Providing guiding questions will prompt a fruitful dialogue: How does bridging or buffering either help or hinder school principals in shaping a shared sense-making process of pedagogical reform demands? Which gatekeeping strategies are more useful when working with teachers to shift their practices toward an instructional focus? What other strategies do principals use to meet accountability requirements while implementing new pedagogical demands? What is the effect of these strategies in leading instructional school practices? (Rigby et al., 2018). Addressing these questions extends and expands school principals’ understanding of their instructional role within the implementation of generally-outlined pedagogical reforms.


Pietarinen, J., Pyhältö, K., & Soini, T. (2017). Large-scale curriculum reform in Finland: Exploring the interrelation between implementation strategy, the function of the reform, and curriculum coherence. The Curriculum Journal, 28(1), 22–40.

Rigby, J. G., Woulfin, S. L., & März, V. (2016). Understanding how structure and agency influence education policy implementation and organizational change [Editorial]. American Journal of Education, 122(3), 295–302.

Woulfin, S. L., Donaldson, M. L., & Gonzales, R. (2016). District leaders’ framing of educator evaluation policy. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(1), 110–143.

Updated: Jun. 14, 2020