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

Participant Information Letter

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

Researcher: Dr Judith Norris

My name is Judith Norris and I currently teach and research in the field of educational leadership at Australian Catholic University. I have held various role in schools and school systems, including principal and a senior school system leader. My 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 can we learn insights about leaders themselves which are poignant for others’ learning.

What is the project about?

The research project aims to investigate the professional practices of educational leaders in Catholic 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 Catholic 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 is being conducted by myself, in my role as a researcher in educational leadership studies within the Faculty of Education and Arts, at Australian Catholic University.

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.

I teach in some of these post-graduate programs yet will not be inviting current students to participate. However, these participants will be offered an opportunity once the teaching and assessment period finishes, which will co-incide with my non-teaching period.

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.

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Yours sincerely,

Dr Judith Norris

Predicting leaders’ behaviours – the determinant of perceived behavioural control

Theory of Plannned Behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991)

The third determinant of intention is ‘the degree of perceived behavioural control and refers to the perceived ease or difficulty of performing the behaviour and is assumed to reflect past experiences’ as well as anticipated challenges (Ajzen, 1991, p. 189). However, perceived behavioural control not only influences behaviour indirectly, through intention, but also has been shown to have a direct effect on behaviour (Ajzen & Madden, 1986), as illustrated by the bold black line. Perceived behavioural control is most compatible with Bandura’s (1977) concept of perceived self-efficacy, which concerns the judgements that individuals make in how well they think they can execute courses of action required to deal with future situations (Bandura, 2006).

In the field…

In a leadership context, perceived behavioural control can be described as the leader’s beliefs about whether they can perform the desired action, and how these beliefs influence their behaviour to perform that action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980). This relates to a leader’s self-efficacy. The kinds of considerations that can interfere with a leader’s control can concern their belief in their ability, such as an individual factor, or their beliefs about an opportunity, or their beliefs about an organisational factor (Ajzen & Madden, 1986). Ajzen’s understanding of perceived behavioural control can be applied to the existing research findings on principals’ accountability. For instance, in high-stakes accountability regimes, Shipps (2012) found that ECPs believed that their own lack of ability (individual factor) hindered their enactments of mandated accountabilities. These same principals perceived that factors in the community (organisational factors) were an important influence for not attending to their accountability requirements (Shipps, 2012). Ajzen’s understandings of perceived behavioural control can be directly applied to Shipps’s (2012) study, where the principals’ beliefs about their organisational factors influenced their behaviours by not attending to their accountability requirements.

Predicting leaders’ behaviours – Theory of planned behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1995)

The TPB is one of the most widely used theories. It is useful in shedding light on a school leader’s intentions and the way these might influence their behaviours. The theory is credible because empirical studies have shed light on health (Juraskova et al., 2012; Prestwich et al., 2014), corporate (Kautonen, Van Gelderen, & Tornikoski, 2013) and educational issues over the last 25 years (Bezzina, 1989; Dadaczynski & Paulus, 2015; Zolait, 2014).

The TPB is based on the work of Ajzen (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980; Madden, Ellen, & Ajzen, 1992; Ajzen, 2012). The fundamental proposition of the TPB is that behaviour is influenced by intentions (Ajzen, 2012). The elements of this theory are situated in the Model regarding the likely behaviours in which school leaders may engage when faced with external demands and under certain conditions.

In 1985, social psychologists Icek Ajzen and Martin Fishbein researched the relationship between decision making and action, to understand the key determinants of behaviour (Lunday & Megan, 2004). If behaviour is influenced by intentions (Ajzen, 2012), an individual’s intention is a precursor for their behaviour (Ajzen, 1991b). These intentions are a function of three conceptually independent determinants (Ajzen, 2012): attitude, subjective norm and perceived control (Ajzen, 1991b). These are shown in Figure 1. In varying contexts, these three determinants are the predominant influence on an individual’s intention.

Figure 1: Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980)

For more details about each determinant follow the links here:

Determinant of attitude

Determinant of subjective norms

Determinant of perceived behavioral control

Reference list to come

Predicting leaders’ behaviours – the determinant of attitude

Theory of Planned Behaviour

The first determinant is the attitude towards the behaviour and refers to the degree to which a person has a favourable or unfavourable ‘evaluation or appraisal of the behavior in question’ (Ajzen, 1991b, p. 189). Ajzen calls this appraisal ‘outcome evaluation’ (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980).

Ajzen & Fishbein (1980) outlined a process for the measurement of attitude using the three determinants. The first step was the identification of the person’s beliefs about the behaviour in question, with beliefs representing the information individuals have about objects. The second step was determining the judgement that the individual makes as to whether or not the behaviour is favourable (Ajzen, 1991b).

In the field: Applying the determinant of attitude to leaders’ managing accountability…

Ajzen’s understanding of attitude as a determinant of intention is reflected in Shipps’ (2012) research, whereby principals needed to make decisions whether to rely on external political resources in carrying out their accountability requirements. Principals in Shipps’ research identified that one of the possible consequences of relying on political resources in meeting the accountability expectations may generate conflict among stakeholders. Although the principals may have seen this as being a negative outcome (outcome evaluation), they did not see it as likely to happen (likelihood of outcome). Thus, based on their evaluation and all other things being equal, principals would be likely to rely on external political resources. In this current research, some principals utilised these resources to the advantage of the school.

Conversely, applying the same determinant to the research study by Spillane, Diamond, et al. (2002) could lead to the opposite result. Their research found that principals need to decide whether to adopt a mandated accountability policy. Some principals considered that a possible consequence of adopting mandated policy would be resentment by educators, which they perceived as negative (outcome evaluation) and likely (likelihood of outcome). In this case, it is predicted that the attitude developed would predispose principals to reject the policy as expected by the authority. This is precisely what happened in Spillane’s study, with principals not adopting policies as expected. This application of behavioural beliefs to these two research studies demonstrates the usefulness of Ajzen’s theory in understanding a leader’s evaluation outcomes about accountability and their influence on a leader’s behaviours.


Ajzen, I. (1991). The Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211.

Ajzen, I. (Ed.) (2012). The Theory of Planned Behavior (Vol. 1). London: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980). Prediction of goal-directed behavior: Attitudes, intentions, and perceived behavioral control. Englewood Cliffs: NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Shipps, D. (2012). Empowered Or Beleaguered? Principals’ Accountability Under New York City’s Diverse Provider Regime. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 20(1), 1- 40.

Spillane, J. P., Diamond, J. B., Burch, P., Hallett, T., Jita, L., & Zoltners, J. (2002). Managing in the middle: School leaders and the enactment of accountability policy. Educational Policy, 16(5), 731-762. doi:10.1177/089590402237311

Predicting leaders’ behaviours – the determinant of subjective norms

Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991)

The second determinant in the TPB is a social factor, termed a ‘subjective norm’ and ‘refers to the perceived social pressure to perform or not to perform the behavior’ (Ajzen, 1991, p. 189). Often, the social pressure is an individual and Ajzen calls these individuals ‘social referents’ (Ajzen, 2012).

In context of leadership, subjective norms relate to a leader’s perceptions of what they should and should not do in terms of the perceived expectations of others (social referents) (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980). Subjective norms as a determinant of intention can be demonstrated in Shipps and White’s (2009) study, in which the principals identified their stakeholders as state and district authorities (external) and teachers, students and parents (internal). Ajzen would call the external and internal individuals social referents (Ajzen, 2012). In Shipps and White’s first wave of research (2004–2005), the principals were more likely to comply with the opinions of their internal social referents. In their second wave of research (2007–2008), the same principals were more likely to comply with the opinions of their external social referents. In these two studies, the principals’ perceptions of the expectations of the social referents changed along with their intentions. These changes may have been attributed to the reported stakes at a higher level. School closures and staff deployments were some of the consequences in the jurisdictions where the later study occurred. These changes point to the possibility that principals are more likely to be influenced in their priorities (complying or not complying with particular social referents) according to the level of consequence. Ajzen’s approach to subjective norms helps to clarify the dynamic that may have been at work in these principals’ perceptions of their social referents and the value that they attached to different referents over time. In this way, the value they put on complying with the referent influenced the behaviour of these principals.

Ajzen, I. (1991). The Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211.

Ajzen, I. (Ed.) (2012). The Theory of Planned Behavior (Vol. 1). London: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980). Prediction of goal-directed behavior: Attitudes, intentions, and perceived behavioral control. Englewood Cliffs: NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Shipps, D., & White, M. (2009). A New Politics of the Principalship? Accountability-Driven Change in New York City. Peabody Journal of Education, 84(3), 350-373. doi:10.1080/01619560902973563

Authentic and collaborative leadership: Sensegiving – Revisioning and Energising (Phases 3 and 4)

The Signalling phase may have characteristics such as ambiguity or confusion. In a school context, such characteristics require teaching teams to make sense of what change is being promoted. This third phase of Re-Visioning may hold many sensemaking strategies, from plausible stories to identity fusion. These enacted sensemaking responses are fodder for further sensegiving, where the leader moves to the fourth phase of Energising, and like Signalling, it is an influencing action. However, this Energising phase has more sway or vigour than the first Signalling, because it includes modifications, adjustments to include the target audience’s own sensemaking—or in the school context to include the teaching team’s own sensemaking of the change or event. It is at this stage where the leader demonstrates in their “re-sensegiving” that authentic and collaborative leaders are “at their best”.

Interested in the phases of sensegiving? Check out: Phase 2 Signalling and more detail about the sensegiving phases. I anticipate the sensegiving phases are pertinent for those seeking to be authentic and empowering leaders.

Leaders’ Sensegiving through Signalling

While sense-giving strategies are cognitive acts of the individual, sense-giving phases are acts of translation made between individuals (Maitlis & Lawrence, 2007). The intentionality of a sensegiving act is to influence another individual’s thinking to accept it as their own, or collective (Gioia and Chittpedi, 1991). the Phase 1 of sensegiving proposed by Gioia and Chittpedi (1991) is Envisioning. This phase resembles the leader making sense of the events for themselves. Phase two, termed Signalling, is where the leader’s schema is formed into communicative acts of sensegiving. Such acts are diverse; they could range from storytelling to analogies of past events. These sensegiving acts may inject ambiguity or ‘stir the setting’ in stable environments (Neumann, 1995). It is viewed as a translation act. The leader reminds (signals) the community about their sensemaking.

Metaphorically speaking

Metaphorically speaking

Metaphors are powerful conductors for internal change. Even though and expected, sensemaking is different among educational leaders, their ‘giving sense’ to others is witnessed as though they are ‘becoming’ their metaphors (Grove & Panzer, 1989). It is argued that if a leader becomes their metaphor their oral and written narratives will reflect that metaphor. In other words, ‘language itself leads us. Not words as such, but the meaning we have come to attribute to them, the concepts they embody, the mental artefacts they invoke or conjure’ (Thayer, 1988, p. 259). Barry, a school leader, embodies his metaphor in the concept of ‘buffer’. The mental artefacts aim to appeal to the staff: ‘I am the human shield between the [School System and the teachers]—the buffer. . My job is to be the human shield that protects teachers from the excesses of regulators’ [Principal]. If a school leader’s metaphor illuminates who they are, the leader’s narrative explaining their metaphor may provide a window to understand more fully their ‘leader self’, or others.

‘Dipping One’s Toes In’ – the Gambit

The leader considers what they are “up against, tries a negotiating gambit, makes a declaration to determine what reaction’ they pull, or examines the factors to observe reactions (Weick, 1995, p. 463). The old adages of “testing the waters” or “dipping one’s toes in” might describe this strategy. Loosening the grasp occurs when the leader does not probe or no declarations are made.

Weick, K. (1995). Sense-making in Organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

School Leaders Need Plausible Stories

This sensemaking strategy is about school leaders developing coherent stories for the school community to understand. The leader articulates ‘how events hang together’. Leaders give a sense of reason and credibility in explaining the event. The other six properties influence this property. Plausible sense takes place through agreements with others, consistency with one’s own stake in events, the recent past, visible clues, projects that are demonstrably underway, familiar scenarios, and measures that have tangible effects. Loosening happens when “one of these sources of grounding disappears” (Weick, 1995, p. 462).

Weick, K. (1995). Sense-making in Organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.