Reinventing Principal Preparation in Illinois: A Case Study of Policy Change in a Complex Organization

Reinventing Principal Preparation in Illinois: A Case Study of Policy Change in a Complex Organization

Angeliki Lazaridou
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6591-0.ch002
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Educational reforms are challenging and difficult with high-stakes political, economic, and societal consequences. A few years ago, the State of Illinois changed its specifications for principal preparation programs so as to better equip its school leaders to meet the contemporary learning needs of children in Illinois. In this chapter, the authors describe and analyze how the revision took place. They look for evidence of constructs presented in theories of change in complex organizations. The findings show that the complexity lens—with a focus on structures, interactions, relationships, and connectedness—contributes to an enriched appreciation of change in complex organizations like universities.
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Contemporary institutions of higher education are under great pressure to change how they operate. These pressures come from such vectors as increasing globalization, government initiatives, fiscal retrenchments and reforms, and critiques of the quality of students’ learning experience (e.g., Clark, 2004; Meister-Scheytt & Scheytt, 2005). However, effecting change in universities is difficult, particularly because of their complexity: they are professional service organizations that have complex governance structures, high workloads, and no single center responsible for implementing organization wide change initiatives (Clark, 2004; De la Harpe & Thomas, 2009; Eckel & Keza, 2003Meister-Scheytt & Scheytt, 2005;). Moreover, the professionals within them vary in their training, interests, and methods of working; hence faculties and programs of study operate in various ways and the differences between groups within the university are likely to be significant. Stacey (2000, p. 42) put it this way:

[A university is] a complex and adaptive system [that] consists of a large number of agents, each of which behaves according to its own principles of local interaction. No individual agent (e.g., teacher or administrator), or group of agents (e.g., teaching team or department) determines the patterns of behavior that the system as a whole displays or how these patterns evolve, and neither does anything outside the system.

Managing such diversity is a complex business (Clark, 2004; Meister-Scheytt & Scheytt, 2005) and effecting change is even more challenging. To compound the challenge, attempts to change universities must often be undertaken at times of budget cuts and with unclear objectives (Meister-Scheytt & Scheytt, 2005; Shattock, 2005).

The literature about change points to the conclusion that administrators in complex settings cannot expect to control change; at best they can guide it (Fullan, 2007). In addition, if change is to be effective and lasting it should involve all stakeholders, and it requires willingness on the part of stakeholders to accept the need for change and to change the way they do things (de la Harpe & Radloff, 2008). Further, recent developments in leadership theory point to the importance of dispersed leadership in complex situations – where problems, goals, and means are ambiguous.

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