Educational leaders in school communities responding to complex and high velocity events

Participant Information Letter

Project Title: Educational leaders in school communities responding to complex and high velocity events

Investigators: Dr Judith Norris (CI), Professor Lauren Stephenson.

Dr Judith Norris, is the Chief Investigator, currently teaches and researches in the field of educational leadership at Australian Catholic University. She has held various role in schools and school systems, including principal and a senior school system leader. Previous experiences and research around educational leaders making and giving sense to their communities have led to an interest in leaders responding to complex events. It is here that we can learn insights about leaders themselves, which are poignant for others’ learning.

Professor Lauren Stephenson, is the co-investigator and is the Professor of Learning, Teaching and Educational Leadership and former Dean of the School of Education, University of Notre Dame, Sydney Campus. Lauren is an experienced educator and researcher with over 30 years combined in English language teaching (ELT), English as an additional language/dialect (EAL/D), teacher education, educational leadership, research methods, second language acquisition and service learning and a range of educational leadership roles.

What is the project about?

The research project aims to investigate the professional practices of educational leaders in educational communities in response to complex and high velocity events. Such events occur when information is ambiguous and obscure, and when normal approaches no longer work (Salicru, 2018). Australian education in 2020 and 2021, like jurisdictions worldwide, has seen turbulent school environments impacting on the work of students, teachers and educational leaders. Such turbulence calls on educational leaders to be agile and adaptable to co-navigate (ideally) with teachers to stabilise such turbulence and continue to meet the learning needs of children and young people. Educational leaders’ 2020-2021 experiences, through the consequences of COVID-19, offer opportunities for insights about educational leaders’ practices of giving and making sense through these high velocity events.

Who is undertaking the project?

This project, initially conducted by Dr Judith Norris included participants in educational leadership studies within the Faculty of Education and Arts, at Australian Catholic University. Professor Lauren Stephenson extended this research to include post graduate students at University of Notre Dame, Sydney. In October 2022, the project was extended to include leaders in schools and school systems across Australia.

Are there any risks associated with participating in this project?

There are minor risks associated with this project. One minor risk concerns participation in the focus group where your identity and sharing of your experiences will be known to 4 or 5 other participants. Participants will be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. All recordings from the Focus Group will be deleted and transcriptions will de-identify participants through coding processes and pseudonyms. These will be stored in ACU’s server, password protected by me. The second risk may involve concerns in participants’ recall of critical events, creating unforeseen emotions. To minimise this risk you will be reminded of what you may wish to share or not, acknowledging that such sharing may create discomfort. The following  referral services are available for your support: link to all ACU student services: and out of hours crisis counselling service 1300 638 485 or text 0488 884 191.

Should you wish to opt out before, during or after with your experiences being deleted then this is very acceptable.

What will participants be asked to do?

The commitment from participants involves a 30-45 minute questionnaire with the option to attend a focus group (one hour).

The nature of the questions in the questionnaire will:

  • situate the event(s) that you have experienced;
  • recall the event(s);
  • how you or others made sense of the event(s), such as being recalling similar events or taking gambits;
  • how you or others gave sense to the community, such as telling stories, providing  metaphors.
  • your learning about leadership and;
  • your overall perceived levels of success in how the event was managed.

Some questions that will be asked for example are as follows: Over the last 18 months what events have been difficult for you as a leader in your community? What was involved? What made it difficult? How did you make sense of what was happening? What actions did you take? How did you help the community make sense of what was happening? How did you know you were effective (or not)? If you had this time again would you approach the process differently?

Protocol of the Focus Group:

Should you wish to participate in a focus group they  will be held at a mutually convenient time through a Zoom meeting invitation. Within each focus group there will be no more than 6 participants.  Participants will not be asked to identify their geographical region, school system or school, nor their position in their school. The event(s) has been described in the questionnaire. The researcher  is interested in the participants’ processes of sensemaking and sensegiving.

Given the nature of questions being asked (see below) and events explored, other participants may know you and your school community and/or school system. As such participants are reminded of the following:

  1. Being mindful of the information they are sharing, ensuring as much as possible that the information does not identify others, school communities or school systems.
  2. Any information that is disclosed is kept confidential by participants at the time and into the future

These requests intend to keep participants safe and also to protect others’ not present.

The focus group questions centred on sensemaking properties about the event(s) will include some of the following:

  • explore the personal identity of the leader;
  • the capabilities of integrating information;
  • the reliance on previous experiences.

The questions centred on sensegiving will:

  • explore the concept of the co construction of meaning making;
  • the strength of the leaders’ sensegiving with the school community members;
  • the moderating factors of sensegiving through the event.

Should the focus group run out of time for a participant to share their experience the researcher will follow up with the participant, individually.

It is anticipated, with your consent, that the focus group will be recorded with audio. Once the recording is transcribed the recording will be deleted. All transcriptions will be undertaken by me and coded through data analysis with pseudonyms being employed in the presentation of findings.

What are the benefits of the research project?

Participants may benefit by having an opportunity to reflect on their leadership experiences from the COVID-19 restrictions. Educational leaders’ 2020-2021 experiences offer opportunities for insights about educational leaders’ practices of giving and making sense through these high velocity events.

Several international research studies regarding educational leaders’ sensemaking (Ganon-Shilon & Schechter, 2019; Wong, 2019) have been conducted, however no widespread studies have been conducted in Australian Catholic schools regarding leaders’ sensemaking or sensegiving practices. An overarching benefit of this study will be localising these previous research studies and to include the possible faith-based dimensions of educational leaders’ making of and giving sense to high velocity events.

One Australian research study found that the low levels of self-efficacy reported by some Australian educational leaders in influencing teaching practices impacted upon their professional practices, compromising their long held professional commitments (Norris, 2017). This current research will be significant as it builds upon this previous study, theorising the influence of a leader’s levels of self-efficacy on their sensegiving practices.

The theoretical premises of sensegiving as a lens to investigate professional practices of leaders is a growing research field (Anderson, 2020; Wong, 2019). This current research using a constructivist grounded theoretical approach aims to extend the theoretical premises of sensegiving, within an educational context, guided by the theoretical premises developed by Kraft, Sparr, & Peus, 2015.

Can participants withdraw from the study?

Participation in this study is completely voluntary. Participants are not under any obligation to participate. If participants agree to participate, they will be informed that they can withdraw from the study at any time without adverse consequences. Whether you choose to participate or not this will not affect your grade. No information of your participation (or not) will be forwarded to any other lecturer in your course. Participants may withdraw from the questionnaire and/or focus groups before during or after (when data have been de-identified and aggregated).

Will anyone else know the results of the project?

Data will be stored at ACU Canberra Campus, password protected, where data will be unidentifiable, through the use of coding. In any publications that follow it will be impossible to identify individuals, schools or school systems. Any element that will identify individuals and/or schools/systems will be omitted, and as such only aggregated information will be published. Pseudonmyms will employed.

Will ACU Executive be able to find out the results of the project?

Once the findings have been validated a summary report will be forwarded to the Executive Deans. The researcher will provide you with a summary report through email.

Who do you contact if you have questions about the project?

The researcher may be contacted at any time about the project: 0491216657

What if you have a complaint or any concerns?

The study has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee at Australian Catholic University (approval number ID: 2020 – 247E). If you have any complaints or concerns about the conduct of the project, you may write to the Chair of the Human Research Ethics Committee care of the Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research).

Chair, HREC

c/o Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research)

Australian Catholic University

Melbourne Campus

Locked Bag 4115



Any complaint or concern will be treated in confidence and fully investigated. You will be informed of the outcome.

I want to participate! How do I sign up?

Should you wish to participate simply continue in responding to the questions. If at any time through the survey questions you wish to withdraw, simply stop and do not click the submit button. The final question asks whether you would like to participate n a focus group. You may say yes now, knowing that you can withdraw at any time.

A close up of a mans face

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Yours sincerely,

Dr Judith Norris

Professor Lauren Stephenson

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