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The European Journal of Social & Behavioural Sciences

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What Kind of Leadership Fosters Pedagogically Innovative School Culture?


The implementation of new engaging learning environments also calls for an innovative organizational culture. Still, there is not much knowledge about the leadership practices that foster such culture. The aim of this study was to investigate, what kinds of leadership practices can be detected behind innovative school culture and how such practices are related to the ways of teaching and learning. As a result, a wide variety of new leadership practices in innovative school context were revealed. Particularly practices of shared leadership were present, but also elements of strategic leadership could be identified. Interestingly, the interactive leadership practices seemed to foster new kinds of collaborative knowledge practices in different levels of school activity, for example, varying forms of team work and co-operation. The results indicated that an innovative school culture consists of communal and collaborative practices which are guided by practices of shared leadership. It is important that we take in account the surrounding organization culture when designing future schools. We should also be aware of the possible contradiction between the existing organizational culture and intended new pedagogical settings by arranging a comprehensive and collaborative design process.

Keywords: Organizational culture, leadership, learning environment, school


Current theories see learning as an active, constructive process rather than a passive,

reproductive process (Bruner, 1996; Lonka, Joram, & Bryson, 1996). While such socio-

constructivist approach to learning and knowledge has become dominant in educational

research, the current pedagogical practices in Finnish schools still very much rely on teacher-

centered methods. Classroom learning and teacher education appear to change quite slowly.

There are attempts, for instance, to change the practices of teacher education towards

inquiry-based and student-centered forms of learning (Litmanen et al., 2012; Lipponen &

Kumpulainen, 2011; Lonka, 2012), but such changes still appear to be more of exceptions

than the rule. There are also plenty of innovative schools and projects that aim at bringing

schools into the 21st century (Smeds et al., 2011; http://innoschool.tkk.fi,

http://omnischool.fi/, wiredminds.fi)

Official guidelines by the Finnish National Board of education call for innovative

inquiry-based collaborative methods that makes students participate in developing 21st

century skills: solving problems, posing explanations, and developing their conceptions

through collaborative inquiry (Loyens & Gijbels, 2008; Muukkonen, 2011). This process is

driven by the urge to pose questions and to seek explanations, aiming at working toward

understanding (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2003; Hakkarainen, 2009; Lonka, Hakkarainen, &

Sintonen, 2000). The new technology-mediated blended learning environments allow

extending these inquiry practices across a wide variety of learning environments (Osguthorpe

& Graham, 2003; Graham, 2006). Not enough innovative effort, however, has been put to

integrate architectural and pedagogical design with the new technological tools.

In Finland, student activating and inquiry-based methods have become increasingly

popular during the last two decades (Hakkarainen, Lonka, & Lipponen, 2004; Lonka &

Ahola, 1995; Kumpulainen et al, 2010; Muukkonen, 2011). The burning question during the

last few years has been, however, is it really necessary to carry out major changes in

education: the Finnish education system is already well-known for its quality and equality (Sahlberg, 2011). The common question usually follows: why fix something that isn’t

broken? Especially the top results in the international PISA-test (OECD, 2003; 2006; 2009)

has granted Finland a solid position among the countries which are widely considered as the

most advanced in the field of education. In a situation like this, the need for new kinds of

learning methods and learning environments is difficult to explain for decision makers that

have somewhat lulled into the current quite good and familiar circumstances.

Recently, however, some critical concerns have expressed concerning the current

conventions in Finnish education. First, Finland’s position in the PISA-ranking sank notably

in the latest measurement (OECD, 2013). Then, disquieting results rose also from a

nationwide evaluation research executed by the Centre for Educational Assessment of the

University of Helsinki: the results revealed that the learning results and positive attitude

toward schoolwork of ninth graders in Finland had deteriorated explicitly between the years

2001 – 2012 (Hautamäki et al., 2013). Because these results of both international and

national evaluation were published almost at the same time, it led to a wide public debate

about the state and future of Finnish education. As usual, the discussion was two-sided: some

blamed the traditional teacher-centred approach for too much on one-way knowledge

transmission and therefore alienating the students, while some others saw the increasing use

of ICT and student-activating learning methods as a threat. Furthermore, one of the most

controversial questions was, and actually still is, whether pupils should enjoy school.

As a result many fear, that the reputation of Finnish school system is now at stake.

This concern has made room for alternative approaches to learning and teaching. In this quite

peculiar situation, some recent research results can, however, be seen as hints to figure out

the right direction. It is a fact, for instance, that school exhaustion (Salmela-Aro &

Tynkkynen, 2012) and school-related cynicism and inadequacy has increased among

students on an academic track (Salmela-Aro et al., 2008). Furthermore, in the latest

measurement by OECD (2013) the students’ school engagement in Finland fell exceedingly

beneath the OECD average. In addition to these alarming findings, there are also other

elements of change that have entered the field of Finnish school system: the emphasis of 21st

century skills in education (Binkley et al, 2012) and the introduction of the rapidly

developing information technology in education. The generation of the so called digital

natives (Prensky, 2006) appears to adopt the new skills and technologies more effectively

than the majority of their teachers. Prensky (2006) pointed out that there is a discontinuity

between the digital natives, who have been using socio-digital technologies from very early

on as compared to their teachers and parents, who learned to use such devices during their

adulthood. This development has created an obvious gap between the knowledge practices of

students and teachers (Hakkarainen, 2009; www.wiredminds.fi).

Problem Statement

These somewhat confusing and unpredictable directions of development form the

major challenge for contemporary schools in Finland: how to deal with the changes,

transform them into elements of quality education and still maintain a positive working

atmosphere for both the teachers and their students. The emphasis in the general discussion

lies in pedagogy, which of course is reasonable in the context of education, but how can we

expect to execute crucial pedagogical changes without developing a corresponding and thus

supportive organizational culture? Eventually, a school is just one of the institutions that try

to survive and succeed in our unpredictable and rapidly changing environment. Furthermore,

the educational system should be able to prepare the next generation for future demands

(OECD, 2013). The majority of businesses and companies have already taken into

consideration the global trends and challenges by adapting innovation and collaboration driven practices to respond more quickly and flexible to the markets’ current demands.

Interestingly, this development has brought many companies closer to the field of education:

complex learning, pedagogical expertise and knowledge management are valuated high

(Senge, 1990; Nonaka et al., 2000; Lick, 2006). This progression has led to several new

collaborative and learning centred approaches like learning teams (Lick, 2006), team

leadership (Senge, 1990), shared leadership (Wang et al, 2014) and networked expertise

(Hakkarainen, 2004; 2009). Naturally, it would be reasonable to expect somewhat similar

development in school context. Nevertheless, there is not much research that approaches

school as a comprehensive organizational culture and explores the potential of the inner

dynamics in the context of an ever changing and unpredictable reality.

However, we already know something about innovative schools. For instance, the

model of innovative and progressive school by Ilomäki and Lakkala (2011) displays well the

need for a multilevel approach in developing innovative schools by dividing the school

culture into six significant areas: 1. grate of ambition, 2. leadership, 3. knowledge practices,

4. role of ICT, 5. working practices of the teacher community, and 6. pedagogical practices.

This kind of approaches could indicate, that schools’ organizational structures are expanding and there is a need to examine the schools’ activities from a more comprehensive and

company like point of view. Furthermore, a larger scale approach in school design and

development could also respond to the major challenges in school reality, especially from the

perspective of leadership. For instance, according to a survey made in Finland by Karikoski

(2009) the principles spend only 8% of their working time in pedagogical development work,

mainly because of the swelled administrative responsibilities. Karikoski (2009) states, that

decentralization of leadership, network, constant interaction and mastery of emotional skills

are in key position when it comes to balance school leadership and inner social cohesion.

Progress like that will eventually lead to a more flat, team and networked-based organization

where the basic mode of operations is usually based on boundary crossing (e.g. Lipnack &

Stamps, 1993). The idea behind boundary crossing is quite simple and long known: redeem

the potential embedded in transporting ideas, concepts and instruments from seemingly

different domains in to the domain of focal inquiry (e.g. Bartlett, 1958; Margolis, 1993).

Still, the enforcement of such approach can be quite demanding (Engeström, 1995).

However, as mentioned earlier, there is strong need to bring boundary crossing like

and inquiry based approach into education, but little is known about the practices that

enables the execution of such approach at a concrete level. Furthermore, what is eventually

the difference between pedagogical practices and leadership practices in a reality, where

learning is widely considered to be a key element of leadership?For instance, Nonaka et al

(2000) states out that, an enterprise shouldn’t be an information processing machine but an

entirety, which creates new information through action and collaboration. Moreover, Nonaka

& Konno (1998) call this platform of collaborative knowledge building, which is

according to them a physical, virtual or mental place, where individuals are able to exploit all

the collective information while building new knowledge in collaboration with others.

Hence, joining theenables the individuals to stretch the limits of their own knowledge

(Nonaka & Konno, 1998). This adheres also to Vygotsky’s (e.g. 1978) idea of

, which refers to the distance between the learner’s ability to perform a task under guidance or peer collaboration and the learner’s ability solving the problem


In this study the aim is to close up the pedagogical and organizational dimensions by

examining the relation of those dimension from a socio-constructive approach and by adding

to the examination concepts of leadership that are in line with the socio-constructive

approach. The emphasis of this study lies in the varied practices of an innovative school

culture. According to Schatzkin (2001) the origin of practices lies in individual or collective

selection of activities that includes attitudes, beliefs and tacit knowledge. Those practices are

applied into reality through material or conceptual artefacts (Schatzkin, 2001). However,

there are different kinds of practices. For instance, social practices define the nature of social

interaction (Schatzkin, 1996), while knowledge practices are used for obtaining and

managing information (Hakkarainen, 2009). In addition, the introduction of contemporary

ICT applications has brought almost infinite possibilities to create new tool to support especially knowledge practices (Hakkarainen, 2009). However, we still don’t know exactly

how schools are developing and utilizing practices for different purposes.

Research Questions

The premise of this research formed the practical challenges in design of new learning

environment and this study is part of a larger nationwide research programme that focuses on

a comprehensive design of future indoor environments (RYM SHOK Indoor Environment,

http://rym.fi/program/indoor-environment/). The present study shall explore, what kinds of

contemporary leadership practices can be found behind innovative school culture and how

such practices are related to the ways of teaching and learning in some innovative Finnish


Purpose of the Study

In order to produce functionality in learning environments, we have to acknowledge

the role of organizational culture and leadership already in the construction process.

Innovative design calls for innovative leadership. This principle guided our study, leading us

to investigate the practices of innovative school culture in a real life context. This study

underlines the important role of the school’s organizational culture when it comes to shifting

the school’s pedagogical emphasis and building new learning environments to support them.

Successful changes require the support and justification of the surrounding culture. Although

the context of the study is Finland, the study’s quite general results can be utilized in many

countries with a similar situation in education as in Finland. Furthermore, the overall aim of

this research is to form a comprehensive understanding about the vital sections of

contemporary school activity for designing future learning environments.

Research Methods

The data were gathered by interviewing nine principles or teachers who were in

different leading positions from primary to high school. The chosen schools were generally

known as future-oriented educational institutes, whose staff had been engaged in varying

development projects, for instance InnoSchool (Smeds et al., 2011; http://innoschool.tkk.fi)

and the national Dream School Project (http://dreamschool.eu/). The schools were located in

metropolitan area of Helsinki, Finland. The participants had been involved in various

development processes or had other experience or insight about developing school culture

and leadership. They were suggested by the schools’ principals, when asked about innovative


The methodological approach a qualitative case study method (Stake, 1995; Creswell,

2009). The cases consisted of three schools that were generally known for their innovative

and progressive practices. Semi-structured interview (Hillary & Knight, 2009) were then

analyzed by using qualitative content analysis (Patton, 1990; Tuomi & Sarajärvi, 2002),

abductive strategy (Coffey & Atkinson, 1996; Paavola et al., 2006; Morgan, 2007) and

phenomenological approach (Willis, 2007; Laine, 2010).


The results of this study indicate that the organizational culture of an innovative

school consists of various social practices that fosters collaborative knowledge creation and

shared leadership. Interestingly, the majority of the practices seem to occur at an interface

between the traditional domains of classroom activities and formal administration. This led

to a classification where the school’s activities are categorized in three zones:

classroom activities, zone of communal activities and zone of administrative activities (see


The zone of communal activities includes many social practices that fosters boundary

crossing (Engeström, 1995) between different grades and subjects. For instance, the practice

enables a forum for different subjects at the same grade and pedagogical

cafes gathers together employees from all over the school community. From the perspective

of networked expertise (Hakkarainen et al., 2004) the configuration at the interface level is

promising, although veritable technology-mediated knowledge practices (e.g. Hakkarainen.,

2009) could not be identified. However, practices like, where experts from

various school related domain work together to cover a certain area of responsibility, can be

seen as a potential platform for networked expertise.

Another interesting finding of this study are the different functions of practices. Some

practices were very concrete, while some were quite general and suggestive. Furthermore,

there were supportive practices that were developed just to enable the execution of other

practices. This finding could indicate that there is a need for different kind of practices: the

general practices suggest to carry out certain kind of activities, for instance

. Then the community needs a selection of concrete practices to apply

the general practices, like. However, to enable the teachers’

participation also supportive practices are needed, for instance.

Figure 1: Zones of school activities and types of practices
Zones of school activities and types of practices
See Full Size >

6.1.Various practices – examples of analysis

The activities that the teachers described varied notably in specificity. Some practices

were very concreate and detailed while others were more principled and general. The

difference appears explicitly in the following two practices:

Temporary workgroups

We have this party and therefore we have arranged a workgroup with a person in

charge, who's responsible for the workgroup's actions. (T4)

Interaction agreements

And we need those interaction agreements, so that we all know how we're working

here and under which rules, so we wrote these interaction rules, and there is for

example this one very important rule, that don't shoot another's enthusiasm down.


Like described above, the schools had developed various practices to enable their

contemporary key practices. The functionality of the for instance were ensured

by more than one supporting practices. Below described four of them. The last one is an

example on how teachers’ participation in remit teams is enabled during a usual workday.

Rotation of team members

If the chemistry isn't working (in a team) then the team isn't workin either. And then

the principle has to be very wise, because he can do the decision to change team

members. And he has to know who could balance the team or bring some more

energy. (T9)

Collaboration between teams

I just thought that because the sense of belonging is based quite much on the teams

and the teams are working pretty much on their own. So we have these practices to

bring teams together so the feeling of community could also be formed on a larges

(between teams). (T9)

Team reward and achievement system

And there is this small thing, that has supported this (team) action, and that is the

team reward that the team can share between the team members. And this makes

possible that not everyone has to participate as much as the others and no one

blames the one isn't doing as much as the others. However, we have all different

circumstances in life and I think that this reward system is a very cruzial thing

behind this (team work). (T5)

Crossing classes (Teachers freed from study for few hours with the help of substitutes).

For the teachers we have reserved 1-2 team planning days, when the subtitutes do

the work. In matter of fact, we watch a video and then discuss about it. And in the

time being, the teachers might have a training or something elsewhere. (T2)

6.2.Remarks on the results

Table 1 shows that only few pedagogical practices could be found. This is mainly

because this study focused in activities of leadership and organizational culture. If the

emphasis of the interview would have been more classroom centered, perhaps more

pedagogical practices were identified. However, also question about inquiry-based and

student-activating learning methods were asked. In this case the results could indicate, that

the schools had thought of general practices to support student-activating learning results, but

the concrete practices were still under consideration.

The multilevel nature of many practices formed quite a challenge for a strict

categorization. For instance the practice of can be seen also as

pedagogical practice.

Principal’s classes

..so I free all the teachers of a specific grade from teaching for two ours and take

all their pupils to me and discuss with them about various important issues from the

perspective of a principals, like bullying and making inventions and we talk about

friendship and things like that. (T2)

Nevertheless, the main reason for the school to have developed a practice like that

was to free the teachers for a while from their teaching responsibilities to enable their

participation in different team related work, and that’s why it is labeled as a

. Also, the most of the general practices can be utilized in all of the zones of

activities. For instance, practices of participation and interaction agreements can be used

almost on every occasion.

In contrast to the traditional arrangement, where different activities are put into

practice in a classroom or at the administrative level, the employee in an innovative school

seems to operate surprisingly much at an interface where the pedagogical everyday

challenges encounters the guidance and ambitions of the administrative level. This could also

be seen as knotworking between administration and pedagogical practices or as a platform

for reflection and building mutual trust. Furthermore, the teachers thought that those

interface activities really helped them in their work by providing collegial aid and guidance.

From the perspective of leadership, the results reveal something that can be described

as a communal extension of leadership. This extension on the interface between classroom

reality and administrative level enables a platform for collaborative knowledge building, professional development and the applying of new emphasizes from the school’s strategy or

other official guidelines. Furthermore, it gives the head of the school a natural possibility to

participate and commit the employees to the organizations vision and aim. This definition is

somewhat similar to the concept of(Nonaka & Konno, 1997) and therefore the zone of

communal activities could be considered as a starting point for creating a like

environment for collaborative knowledge creation and learning.


In this article I have observed the nature of an innovative and progressive school’s

community from the view of leadership and organization culture by introducing several

practices which describes how the community works and on which emphasis. The results

shows that there is a strong need to take into consideration the multilevel structure of an

innovative school culture when designing new innovative learning environments. According

to the results, innovative schools have developed various supporting practices between the

official administration and classroom teaching to provide a for

binding together the pedagogical and administrative aspects of a school culture. Furthermore,

this level can be used by the leaders to stretch the eligible pedagogical philosophy from

vision to practice and to form a more consistent and involved school culture. It also can

provide natural possibilities for sharing liabilities and expertise in the manner of shared

leadership. For teacher the practices in this level enable a possibility for professional

development and collective support. We can see the collective level of actions as a flexible

extension of both classroom teaching and official administration. A channel for information

stream and an environment for collaborative knowledge building.

Nevertheless, the reality seems to be quite obscure: some schools have developed

remarkable new practices when it comes to collaboration, knowledge management and

leadership, while some are still sticking with more inflexible and hierarchical conventions at

the organizational level. However, updating the practices of the organizational culture in a

way that they fit better to the current needs should be a collective concern. The key to this

update is leadership: how we see it and how we put it into practise. This is why it is very

reasonable to observe not only the relation between teaching and learning but also between

teaching and. Furthermore, in an innovative school the practices of teaching and

learning should be in line with the organizations leadership philosophy and vice versa. How

reasonable is it to assume that pedagogical updates can be made without a congruent

progression at the level of leadership? Regardless, this study strongly indicates that

innovative design calls for innovative leadership. Furthermore, the critical question is, how

to create an innovative and collaborative organizational culture and learning environment in

a school to support a visionary and flexible pedagogical grasp. A grasp that could also be

called, which I will focus on my following research.


The author(s) declare that there is no conflict of interest.


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About this article

Published online: 20.11.2014
Pages: 455-468
Publisher: Future Academy
In: Volume 11, Issue 4
DOI: 10.15405/ejsbs.145
Online ISSN: 2301-2218
Article Type: Original Research
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