26 SES 04 B, Finding Them and Getting Them Ready – Assessing and Preparing Prospective Principals
Alternative schools are becoming prevalent in the world and defining alternative schools seem to be getting difficult. Even though historically alternative schools were seen as schools for at-risk students, and a way to reduce the dropout rate, today they can be such schools and schools where administration and teachers refuse to teach in a traditional manner, and often times go beyond the mandated curriculum. Gold and Mann (1984) offered a list of characteristics of alternative schools: 1) alternative schools tailor the educational process to the individual student; 2) alternative schools usually suspend the conventional social norms governing the relationships between student and teacher; 3) alternative schools value individual differences rather than an impersonal neutrality; 4) alternative schools use personal relationships as a means of achieving student growth and development.
Basically, alternative school is a school with any educational activity that falls outside the traditional K-12 curriculum (Aron, 2006). The term alternative school is commonly used for schools designed for at-risk students, but they are also schools where independence, creativity and the child's needs are stressed, and the educators adopt a non-traditional curriculum and instruction such as Montessori or Waldorf schools. This is also the scope of this research study. However, almost no studies were found that examined leadership through the lens of alternative schooling (Price, Martin, & Robertson, 2010).
Leadership in alternative schools require a different set of skills and different training, competencies, and mindsets to provide what it takes to be successful alternative school leaders since the nature of alternative schools and alternative students is unique (Price, 2009). Educating leaders special for alternative learners can bring success for staff and students in correctional and alternative schools (Price et al., 2010). Therefore, this study responds to alternative school leaders’ needs about professional development, curriculum and other issues, in general.
This study was guided by these research questions: 1) What do alternative school leaders need to know about running an alternative school? 2) Does the traditional leadership literature provide enough information on their professional development?
Professional development is a must for all school leaders. Researchers give importance to professional development goals (Marshall, Pritchard, & Gunderson, 2001; Assor & Oplatka, 2003; Cardno & Fitzgerald, 2005; Zepeda, Parylo, & Bengtson, 2014), and the characteristics of effective professional development (Fenwick & Pierce, 2002; Cardno & Fitzgerald, 2005). Most of the studies in this field mainly focus on mentoring (Zepeda et al., 2014; Lashway 2003). However, it is a common practice for traditional schools, but not for alternative ones.
In this study, we followed Charmaz’ (2006) constructivist version of grounded theory. Charmaz (2006) suggested that the researcher should explore the participants’ concerns related to the area. Constructivist version of grounded theory has been chosen since it acknowledges subjectivity, researcher’s involvement and interpretation of data (Charmaz, 2006). Moreover, constructivist approach sees both data and analysis as created from shared experiences and relationships with participants and other sources of data (Charmaz, 2014, p.239). For this study, individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten alternative school leaders. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using qualitative methods for themes about alternative school leadership. Participant Selection We decided to choose our interviewees from among the people who are currently leaders of alternative schools. For this study, purposeful sampling was used to select participants (Creswell, 1998); and we used the following selection criteria for the research participants: (a) they are alternative school leaders (b) they all had an MA in leadership. Pseudonyms were used both for the participants and the names of their schools.
More educators today are revisiting Dewey’s educational philosophy (Reimer & Cash, 2003). Until recently, most alternative schools were established as ‘alternative’ to students who dropped out from regular schools, and to reduce school dropout rate; however, recent educational policies and standardization in school systems have caused many parents to consider non-traditional education route for their children. Leaders at alternative schools need support from both researchers and educational authorities especially in supervision and curriculum. More and more alternative schools are being established, but leaders at these schools can only look to traditional schools for scientific resources and for professional development and other best practices. A full, comprehensive model will be offered after the analysis is finalized, but here is a snapshot of the model: Alternative School Leader Preparation Model (ASLPM) Based on research, the Alternative School Leader Preparation Model (ASLPM) was designed to meet the needs of the leaders working for alternative schools. The main goal of the model is to implement a systematic method of preparing alternative school leaders. Another goal of the model is to facilitate the communication among the alternative school stakeholders. Conceptual framework for the ASLPM is based on three basic findings of the study: a) parent-school interaction b) curriculum design c) teacher supervision. Parent-school interaction serves as a key point to maintain an efficient leadership. Expectations of the parents can vary outside of the school range. According to the framework of the model, school and parent interaction must be provided according to the developmental timelines of children and their social status. Leaders who approach schooling in a holistic manner should be supported in attempts to make school curriculum rich. Educators need constant evaluation and feedback for growth opportunities. Giving feedback on teachers’ approach to schooling and creating teacher collaboration opportunities are vital especially in alternative schools.
Albernaz, A. (2015). Sparing chores spoils children and their future selves. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://hms.harvard.edu/news/sparing-chores-spoils-children-and-their-future-selves-study-says Aron, L. Y. (2006). An Overview of Alternative Education. Washington, DC: Urban Institute. Assor, A. and Oplatka, I., 2003. Towards a comprehensive conceptual framework for understanding principals’ personal-professional growth. Journal of educational administration, 41(5), 471–497. Burton, L. H. (2001). Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Retrospect and Prospect: New research in interdisciplinary studies provides fresh insights into ways of fostering constructive communication and fruitful exchange among the disciplines. Music Educators Journal, 87(5), 17-66. Cardno, C. and Fitzgerald, T., 2005. Leadership learning: a development initiative for experienced New Zealand principals. Journal of educational administration, 43(3), 316–329. Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage Publications Limited. Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing Grounded Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five designs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Crow, G.M. (2006). Complexity and the beginning principal in the United States: perspectives on socialization. Journal of educational administration, 44(4), 310–325. Ellison, J. and Hayes, C., (2006). Effective school leadership: Developing principals through cognitive coaching. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Fenwick, L.T. and Pierce, M.C. (2002). Professional development of principals. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education. Gold, M., & Mann, D. (1984). Expelled to a Friendlier Place. Ann Arbor, Ml: Univ. of Michigan Press. Lashway, L., 2003. Transforming principal preparation. ERIC digest (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED473360). Marshall, J.C., Pritchard, R.J., and Gunderson, B.H., 2001. Professional development: what works and what doesn’t. Principal leadership, 1(6), 64–68. Price, T. (2009). We can do it: Preparing leaders to lead in alternative education schools. National Forum of Educational Administration and Supervision Journal, 26(4), pp. 1-13. Price, T., Martin, R., & Robertson, L. (2010). Wanted/needed: Leadership preparation for leaders of correctional education and alternative schools. Journal of Correctional Education, 299-313. Reimer, M.S., & Cash, T. (2003). Alternative schools: Best practices for development and evaluation. Clemson, SC: National Dropout Prevention Center. Zepeda, S. J., Parylo, O., & Bengtson, E. (2014). Analyzing principal professional development practices through the lens of adult learning theory. Professional Development in Education, 40(2), 295-315.
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