A grounded theory study of how teachers and administrators use school improvement plans to make change in their schools

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University of New Brunswick


School improvement plans (SIPs) are used in most schools as a means to organize and implement efforts to make schools better. In general, most principals and staff see the development of an SIP as an essential part of every improvement effort within the school (Doud, 1995) and accept the SIP and its required processes as a best practice (Dunaway, Kim, & Szad, 2012). Alternatively, there is a plethora of literature that claims otherwise. Some research contends that SIPs fail to achieve what they intend to do (Anfara, Patterson, & Buehler, 2006). Other research is concerned about the research design of studies that attempt to determine the effectiveness of SIPs (Fernandez, 2011) by linking the quality of the SIP to student performance. Still other research calls for the need for more inquiry about the context of SIPs (Reezigt, 2001; Wikely & Murillo, 2005). Using Crotty’s (1998) knowledge framework, this study was positioned with constructionism as its epistemology, interpretivism and symbolic interaction (Bryant & Charmaz, 2010) as its theoretical perspective, constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2002) as its methodology, and intensive interviews, elicited responses, and content text analysis as its data collection methods that addressed the research question: How do teachers and administrators utilize SIPs to make change in their schools? A constant comparative analysis approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) embedded across a four-phase data analysis framework was employed to make sense of the data. Numerous categories emerged from the data that were used to develop a substantive grounded theory about how teachers and administrators use SIPs to make change in their schools. The verisimilitude of the theory is then analyzed using several criteria (Piantanida, Tananis, & Grubs, 2004). Overall, the findings from this research support the adoption of SIPs as a best practice and disrupt the discourse of the failure of SIPs prevalent in the literature. Its findings can be used as an alternative means to comment on the effectiveness of the SIP. Other key findings, implications and recommendations are made explicit as well as considerations for future research.