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Sustaining school-based improvement: considering emotional responses to change

Rima Karami-Akkary (American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon)
Julia Mahfouz (University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, USA)
Samaya Mansour (American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 4 January 2019




Emotions of school leaders influence school culture and structure. Understanding emotions is under-researched and under-theorized in non-western contexts, especially during educational change. The purpose of this paper is to understand the nature of the leadership team’s (LT’s) emotional responses to change, their coping strategies and conditions that maintain their commitment to change.


The study used intrinsic case study research, drawing on data from interviews and a focus group that illuminated perceptions of the LT in a school. The data set was analyzed following the general inductive approach.


The LT’s experienced three critical incidents (CI) of educational change that provoked a range of intense negative and positive emotions, a national curriculum reform. Despite the team’s attempt to cope with the national curriculum reform (i.e. CI1), negative emotions and unsupportive conditions challenged their commitment to change. In CI2, supportive conditions and effective personal coping strategies helped elicit positive emotions, which led to sustained commitment to change. Emotions experienced during the capacity-building program (i.e. CI3) were predominantly positive due to support from the school principal and coaches, resulting in sustained commitment to change.

Research limitations/implications

Findings from this small-scale case study in Lebanon are not generalizable to other contexts. The time lag could have affected the recollection of experiences. All participants were female, and their experiences might not reflect those of other school members affected by the changes.

Practical implications

Examining emotions during change uncovers insight into school leaders’ subjective experience, facilitates a more nuanced understanding of change, and supports change implementation. Considering emotions during change informs the development of tailored interventions that provide effective support.


This study examines how emotions affect the success of educational change. Contrary to common understanding, change does not always generate negative emotions that impede implementation. School-based improvement creates structural and cultural conditions for effective change as it considers practitioners’ socio-emotional needs, eliciting positive emotions.



Karami-Akkary, R., Mahfouz, J. and Mansour, S. (2019), "Sustaining school-based improvement: considering emotional responses to change", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 57 No. 1, pp. 50-67.



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