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.


Wise Leaders are Boundary Riders


‘Experience is a continuous flow’. When interruption occurs, it is sensible when the school leader can place boundaries on some portion of the flow. The school leader loosens their grasp when they a. have diminished abilities in placing constraints on the ongoing events; b. cannot keep pace with the flow, limiting an update of their actions, interpretations and; c. limit their focus on the interrupting conditions’ (Weick, 1995, p. 462).


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

School Leaders Shore Up Hunches from Tiny Indicators


Salient cues: The individual uses their resourcefulness to elaborate on tiny indicators into full-blown stories, often shoring up an initial hunch. Loosening occurs when the cues become contradictory or unstable, the individual’s preferences change, or because the situation is dynamic (Weick, 1995).

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

School leaders’ sensemaking – social anchors

Others influence the strategies that a school leader employs to make sense of an event. The presence of ‘others’ could be real, implied or even assumed. In a school context, different social groups may influence the school leader, such as parents, students, the school board, their regulators. The sensible meanings that a school leader conjures are likely to be those for which there is “social support, consensual validation, and shared relevance” (Weick, 2001, p. 461). These sensible meanings can also be influenced in ways school leaders enact their role, such as how much consensual validation and shared relevance the school leader seeks. This depends on the school leader’s own beliefs and capabilities about leadership. Weick provides a term for sensible meanings as ‘social anchors’. If the social anchors appear absent, that is the school leader has a diminished sense of being able to gain support from others, where consensus seems nigh or being hindered in being able to shore up any sense of relevance for others, then ‘loosening’ occurs. The leader then may feel isolated or distant from social groups and may lose a grasp of what is happening. When social anchors appear absent or disappear for the individual, the leader may feel isolated from others. The individual’s grasp of what is happening loosens.

When ambiguous and contradictory events occur in the school community, members expect their school leaders to make sense, at least with assistance and oversight of such events. Following Weick’s proposals that sensible meanings are founded on social support, relevance and validation, the school leader needs to know and understand the needs of their community members. Added into this mix is the state of existing relationships. School leaders who hold mutually positive and trusting relationships with their social groups, then sensible meanings are likely to be supportive, directional, and provide a sense of calm and hope to the community through such events.

Weick, K. (2001). Making Sense of the Organization. Maiden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc.

Personal identity, a school leader’s essential sensemaking construct


In a leadership context, this sensemaking strategy describes a school leader’s sense of who they are, recognising their threats or enhancements in their school community. Loosening occurs when their ‘identity is threatened or diffused’ (Weick, 1995, p. 461), such as in the early stages of their leadership position or their position being downgraded without warning (p. 461).

There are numerous research studies regarding a school leader’s identity construction in preformative cultures. You are invited to make comments on those you have found appealing or pertinent to school leadership.

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

Thread: Ethical Responsiveness in Accountability Contexts

In the Norris study (2017) participating principals’ beliefs and practices of their accountability expectations were misaligned with school system expectations. It is not unusual that variations and inconsistencies about the ways messages of the external expectations are received by senior leaders. Studies such as Seashore Louis, Knapp, and Feldman (2012) and Spillane, Reiser, and Reimer (2002) also found that implementers did not necessarily decode the policy message accurately, that is, the intent of the policy makers. A misaligned priority in the Norris study, centred on student learning; most participating principals encouraged diverse learning experiences for students, and discouraged the drive for performance results. Yet School System advisors’ expectations considered that performance results indicated the ‘health’ of the school. Such variations in these leaders’ sensemaking pose an argument that there was no single line of authority or message being conveyed by school systems’ authorities.

However, this argument is not strong. School System authorities in the Norris study were confident that their accountability expectations were clear to their principals. These priority misalignments raise the question about what is happening for educational leaders in not being able to absorb and integrate demands as intended. For system authorities, the misalignment raises the question about what it takes to make the expectations clearer to leaders. One strong possibility is that irrespective of how clear the expectation is made educational leaders will make choices that align with their beliefs. Some would say this is ethical responsiveness!

References

Norris, J. (2017). From metaphors to mantras – Principals making sense of and integrating accountability expectations: A grounded theoretical model. (Doctor of Education). Australian Catholic University, Sydney. Retrieved from https://researchbank.acu.edu.au/theses/661

Seashore Louis, K., Knapp, M. S., & Feldman, S. B. (2012). Managing the intersection of internal and external accountability: Challenge for urban school leadership in the United States. Journal of Educational Administration, 50(5), 666-694.

Spillane, J. P., Reiser, B. J., & Reimer, T. (2002). Policy Implementation and Cognition: Reframing and Refocusing Implementation Research. Review of Educational Research, 72(3), 387-431. doi:10.3102/00346543072003387

Leaders’ sensemaking

Sensemaking is a cognitive activity. It ‘is an everyday occurrence that happens inside an individual’s head when s/he ‘makes sense’ of something’ (Giuliani, 2016, p.4)

As an act of cognition sensemaking is a common event, yet from a theoretical perspective sensemaking, according to Weick, Sutcliffe, and Obstfeld (2005) it is more complex. It includes sensemaking at the relational group and societal levels of meaning. Some of the popularity of the literature about sensemaking is because its application makes sense! Weick’s (1995) theoretical proposition of sensemaking has given scholars the opportunity to examine groups of sensemaking practices within a range of contexts, from organisations (Johnson et al., 2013) to literary texts (Hunt, 2020). This includes the ways that leaders (and particularly educational leaders) make meaning of imposed policies or external stimuli (Spillane, Diamond, et al., 2002; Spillane, Reiser, & Reimer, 2002; Werts & Brewer, 2014) and integrate, in various adaptations, such impositions within their school environments and organisations (Thiel, Bagdasarov, Harkrider, Johnson, & Mumford, 2012; Werts et al., 2013). Combining sensemaking literature with ethical decision-making frameworks demonstrates the importance of sensemaking strategies in the daily work of educational leaders, especially when making ethical decisions (Bagdasarov et al., 2015; Thiel et al., 2012).

The process of sensemaking enables individuals to work out the possible causes of the situation, the likely outcome of the situation and how they as individuals may influence the progression of the situation (Weick, 1995). Weick et al. (2005) explain that sensemaking starts when an individual realises that a foreign experience/event is happening and the sensemaking finishes when the individual comprehends the experience enough to allow them to make a decision to ‘act, monitor, or ignore’ the situation (Caughron et al., 2011, p. 353). In an organisational setting, when people are talking about sensemaking they discuss at least seven properties that have an effect on their efforts to ‘size up what they face’ (Weick, 2001, p. 461).

Notably, part of the active sensemaking process is that the individual places constraints around the external stimuli (Weick, 1995, 2001). Weick presents a minimalist form in his development of his ideas about sensemaking, calling on the reader to rely on their ‘common-sense understanding of the terms employed’ (Weick, 2001, p. 461). Weick explains his ideas about sensemaking through a scaffold of seven properties. Each of the properties of sensemaking is defined briefly below, followed by the implications when the strategy ‘loosens’. Loosening occurs when the sensemaking is threatened or weakened, such as contradictory stimuli (Weick, 2001). The properties are drawn from Weick’s 2001 publication Making Sense of the Organization, rather than Weick’s landmark volume (Weick, 1995), because of the 2001 refinements and being cited more often in the sensemaking literatures (Allen & Penuel, 2015; Thiel et al., 2012).

  1. Social context: Strategies in making sense of an event are influenced by the ‘actual, implied, or imagined presence of others. Sensible meanings tend to be those for which there is social support, consensual validation, and shared relevance’ (Weick, 2001, p. 461).Weick names these sensible meanings as ‘social anchors. When social anchors seem to be absent or disappear for the individual, who then starts to feel isolated from others, the individual’s grasp of what is happening loosens.
  2. Personal identity: This sensemaking property describes an individual’s sense of who they are, recognising their threats or enhancements in a setting. Loosening occurs when the ‘identity is threatened or diffused’ (p. 461), such as in the early stages of a position within the group or losing ‘a job without warning’ (p. 461).
  3. Retrospect: An individual is influenced by what they have noticed ‘in elapsed events, how far back they look, and how well they remember what they were doing’ (p. 462). Loosening occurs when individuals do not appreciate or recall the past or ‘use it casually, where they put their faith in anticipation’ (p. 462).
  4. Salient cues: The individual uses their resourcefulness to elaborate on tiny indicators into full-blown stories, often shoring up an initial hunch. Loosening occurs when the cues become contradictory or unstable, the individual’s preferences change, or because the situation is dynamic.
  5. Ongoing projects: ‘Experience is a continuous flow’. It is made a sensible event when the individual can place boundaries on some portion of the flow or when some interruption occurs. The individual loosens their grasp when they ‘lose their ability to bound ongoing events, to keep pace with them by means of continuous updating actions and interpretations, or to focus on interrupting conditions’ (p. 462).
  6. Plausibility: Thissensemaking property is about individuals developing coherent stories, ‘how events hang together’, a sense of reasoning and credibility to explain the event. This property is influenced by the other six properties. Plausible sense ‘is constrained by agreements with others, consistency with one’s own stake in events, the recent past, visible cues, projects that are demonstrably under way, scenarios that are familiar, and actions that have tangible effects. Loosening occurs when ‘one of more of these sources of grounding disappears’ (p. 462).
  7. Enactment: The individual sees what they are ‘up against, tries a negotiating gambit, makes a declaration to see what response it pulls or probes something to see how it reacts’ (p. 463). The old adages of ‘testing the waters’ or ‘dipping one’s toes in’ possibly describe this property. Loosening the grasp occurs when no probing actions occur, or no declarations are made.

References

Allen, C. D., & Penuel, W. R. (2015). Studying teachers’ sensemaking to investigate teachers’ responses to professional development focused on new standards. Journal of Teacher Education, 66(2), 136-149.

Bagdasarov, Z., Johnson, J. F., MacDougall, A. E., Steele, L. M., Connelly, S., & Mumford, M. D. (2015). Mental models and ethical decision making: The mediating role of sensemaking. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-12.

Caughron, J. J., Antes, A. L., Stenmark, C. K., Thiel, C. E., Wang, X., & Mumford, M. D. (2011). Sensemaking strategies for ethical decision making. Ethics & Behavior, 21(5), 351-366.

Giuliani, M. (2016). Sensemaking, sensegiving and sensebreaking. Journal of Intellectual Capital, 17(2), 218-237. doi:10.1108/jic-04-2015-0039

Hunt, E. K. (2020). The Last Discourse: Jesus and Sensegiving in the Gospel of John. Regent University,

Johnson, J. F., Bagdasarov, Z., Harkrider, L. N., MacDougall, A. E., Connelly, S., Devenport, L. D., & Mumford, M. D. (2013). The Effects of Note-Taking and Review on Sensemaking and Ethical Decision Making. Ethics & Behavior, 23(4), 299-323. doi:10.1080/10508422.2013.774275

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

Spillane, J. P., Reiser, B. J., & Reimer, T. (2002). Policy Implementation and Cognition: Reframing and Refocusing Implementation Research. Review of Educational Research, 72(3), 387-431. doi:10.3102/00346543072003387

Thiel, C., Bagdasarov, Z., Harkrider, L., Johnson, J. F., & Mumford, M. (2012). Leader Ethical Decision-Making in Organizations: Strategies for Sensemaking. Journal of Business Ethics, 107, 49-64. doi:10.1007/s10551-012-1299-1

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

Weick, K. (2001). Making Sense of the Organization. Maiden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc.

Weick, K., Sutcliffe, K., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409-421.

Werts, A. B., & Brewer, C. A. (2014). Reframing the Study of Policy Implementation: Lived Experience as Politics. Educational Policy. doi:10.1177/0895904814559247

Werts, A. B., Della Sala, M., Lindle, J., Horace, J. M., Brewer, C., & Knoeppel, R. (2013). Education Stakeholders’ Translation and Sense-Making of Accountability Policies. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 12(4), 397-419.