ERG SES H 04, Management and Education
Leadership is important to the success of any school. Research during the last 20 years has provided insight into the complex reality of school leaders, their accountability and the public scrutiny to which they are subject. Given that the role of the established school principal is already intricate, then the challenges faced by an incoming principal can only be even more complex irrespective of its demographic and cultural context. A change in leadership has a ripple effect on everyone in the school community, yet few people are more aware of this change than the teaching staff. For teachers to be able to fulfil their role as inspiring educators who motivate students to learn, they themselves also need to be motivated. This case study is one of a three-case doctoral study (in progress) entitled: “Teacher perceptions of newly-appointed principals in Victoria, Australia”.
The purpose of this particular qualitative case study was to seek an understanding of how teachers make sense of a change of leadership in their school when the new leader is an internal appointee. It explores how teachers perceive the identity of the new leader and the extent to which these perceptions impact on teacher wellbeing, morale, principal-teacher relationships and their instruction in the classroom. This study aims to contribute theoretically and practically to the field of educational leadership, specifically to principal succession, through the analysis of data collected with regards to enhancing the process of principal succession, and promoting positive organisational outcomes that benefit the entire school community.
The study aimed to answer the following research questions:
- How do teachers and principals make sense of the principal succession process and adapt to a change in leadership when the new leader is an internal appointee?
- How do new leaders define, shape and develop their identity as a principal, particularly when their appointment was made from within the organisation?
- How do teachers perceive their new leader?
- How do teachers adapt to the change of identity of an internally-appointed leader and assimilate this role change?
- To what extent do these perceptions impact on teacher wellbeing, morale and pedagogy?
- In what way do teacher perceptions of new leaders differ from the perceptions that new leaders have of themselves?
- How can the process of principal succession be enhanced to promote, develop and sustain positive organisational outcomes that benefit everyone in the school community?
- How can teachers be supported during the first year of a new principal’s appointment?
The theoretical framework for this study in underpinned by three main premises: (1) that leadership is fundamental for school success and second only to teaching from school factors that impact on student learning, (2) that principal succession is possibly the most significant event in a school’s life and more often than not, the least successful. A new principal “changes the line of communication, realigns relationships of power, affects decision making and generally disturbs the equilibrium of normal activities” (Miskel & Cosgrove, 1985, p. 88), (3) that school principals, new or established, play a central role in the creation and sustainability of social capital amongst all staff, thus highlighting the importance for newly-appointed principals to manage effectively their relationships with the teaching staff so that teachers may continue to feel supported and motivated as they continue to fulfil their roles. Although principal succession has been studied from diverse angles, this study focuses on teachers and their perceptions rather than any other group of stakeholders; a group that, according to the literature review, has not been explored extensively.
This study used a qualitative case-study approach for its design and methodology through the use of 3 case studies within metropolitan Melbourne, Australia out of which one case study will be discussed in this paper. Purposeful sampling was used to identify schools that had experienced a change of principal in the last 24 months and 10 teachers from each school were invited to participate based on a broad representation of the population based on age, gender, role in the school, years in the profession and years employed at the school. This design was chosen based on the research questions and the nature of the data desired. A qualitative methodology best suits this type of study given the interpretative nature of qualitative inquiry where the concern is with how people make sense of experiences, how they construct their worlds and what values they assign to those experiences. The aim is to observe, describe and interpret the nature of this experience through an understanding of how teachers perceive their new leader, respond to his/her practices and whether these perceptions impact on teacher wellbeing, morale, principal-teacher relationships and their instruction in the classroom. At the same time, this research will investigate the perceptions that new principals have of themselves and how these perceptions appear when compared to those expressed by teachers. Data were collected using three tools: individual semi-structured interviews of principals and teachers, non-participant observations (staff meetings, professional development sessions, assemblies, etc.) and some document analysis mainly to support the findings from the interviews. Data were analysed using Patton’s (2002) cross-case inductive analysis approach using content thematic analysis for identifying, coding, categorising and labelling the patterns emerging from the data. The data will be reported/presented by individual cases as well as a cross-case discussion.
This case study reveals that whilst the majority of teachers welcomed the appointment of someone known to them, they also experienced a challenging period of adaptation as they came to terms with the new principal. These affected aspects of their wellbeing and overall job satisfaction. The most significant finding pertains to the difficulty that teachers found in adapting to having the same person in a new role. Despite the new principal being a familiar face, the overall challenge to teachers was to adapt to the new leader no longer being in his/her previous role, especially after having previously been regarded as very successful in that role. The biggest challenge and transition for teachers, therefore was not the coming to terms with the new principal, but rather learning to accept and adapt to the person who has been chosen to take over the role left by the new principal. Teachers missed the presence of the new principal in his/her previous role, and this sense of loss impacted on their overall wellbeing and connection to the school. With regard to the new principal, the majority of teachers affirmed that the impact the new principal would have on their professional development would be indirect. To those striving to develop their own leadership skills and who aspire to hold leadership roles in the future, the impact from the new principal is direct, and therefore significant in the development of their future leadership ambitions. The study of the principal also demonstrated that a change of identity was a complex process, particularly regarding the management of staff and supporting teachers. This is especially relevant for internal appointees whose professional identities and relationships evolve significantly during this time.
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