26 SES 01 A, New Insights into Leadership Practices
- Introduction. Our research examines novice school principals on-the-job socialization using a sense-making framework. We situate novices’ sense making in their school organizations across their first five years in the position. Rrecognizing that schools are ‘open systems’ that depend on their environments for their legitimacy, we attend to how schools are situated differently in a “pluralistic” institutional sector (Kraatz, 2009).
Theoretical Framing: To examine school principals’ on-the-job socialization over their first five years on the job, we use a sense-making framework (Louis, 1980). Sense-making centers on making meaning including noticing, bracketing, and interpreting environmental cues (Weick, 1995). Sense-making is triggered when ongoing flows of experience are interrupted and/or automatic processing fails because existing scripts or schemas no longer work (Louis, 1980; Louis & Sutton, 1991; Mandler, 1984). Change, surprise, ambiguity, and uncertainty prompt people to notice and extract environmental cues in order to reconstruct their understanding of their situation and their position in that situation (Starbuck & Milliken, 1988). At the same time, sense-making is also influenced by situations—not only the cues extracted from these situations but also the sense that others communicate through their expectations (Louis, 1980).
New principals can have their expectations dashed, encounter unanticipated job aspects, find that their assumptions do not match their new occupation, and that their expectations for the job differ from the expectations of others (e.g., parents, teachers, students) in the new work situation. Various studies, from several countries, document the challenges and surprises that new principals encounter on the job (Bolam et al., 2000; Bush, 2011; Cheung & Walker, 2006; Dunning, 1996; Earley & Weindling, 2004; Daresh & Male, 2000; Nelson et al., 2008; Walker et al., 2003; Weindling & Dimmock, 2006). This work suggests that new principals, despite an extended apprenticeship of observation to the principalship, are not immunized to the surprises that accompany a shift to a new occupation and, by extension, to on-the-job socialization (Becker, Geer, Hughes, & Strauss, 1961; Hughes, 1958).
A core aspect of sense-making involves new principals constructing or defining challenges, both for themselves as the principal and for their schools. Some of these challenges are best understood as problems of practice or schooling that practitioners identify, frame, and work at solving. Still, several scholars argue that teachers, along with school and system leaders, do not just encounter problems in their work but also dilemmas (Berlak & Berlak, 1981; Cuban, 2001; Lampert, 1985; Wilson, 1962). In contrast to a problem, a dilemma denotes a situation offering two (sometimes more) possibilities, neither of which is unambiguously acceptable or preferable. Dilemmas typically involve competing and prized values that cannot be simultaneously and fully satisfied (Cuban, 2001). Dilemmas are insoluble so practitioners have to cope or manage them. Managing dilemmas, as distinct from solving problems, typically involves compromise as practitioners grapple with unattractive alternatives as they struggle to maintain competing cherished values (Lampert, 1985).
Research Questions: Our over-arching research question is this: What challenges do novice principals identify and construct over their first several years on the job and how, if at all, do their sense of challenges change over time? In order to answer this overarching research question, we ask three other questions: 1) What problems of practice do principals identify as they assume the principalship and how do these constructions evolve over their first five years on the job? 2) What dilemmas of practice do principals identify as they assume the principalship and how do these evolve over their first five years on the job? 3) How, if at all, do principals cope or manage core dilemmas of practice over their first five years on the job?
Design and Sampling. Using a longitudinal, mixed-methods design, we studied new principals in a large city over their first five years of their principalship. We used a theoretical sampling approach to select 35 new principals in order to maximize diversity by gender, race/ethnicity, and school characteristics (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Data Collection. Using a combination of surveys, semi-structured interviews, observations, and administrative data we studied new school principals’ sense-making about the principalship. To ensure comparable data were collected across principals, we developed interview protocols intended to elicit occupational and organizational expectations while allowing for flexible probing in relation to participants’ unique experiences. Interviews ranged from 45–100 minutes and took place at locations of participants’ choosing, always in a private space. Principals were interviewed prior to the start of their first year on the job, after their first three months, at the end of their first year and again at the end of years two and years five. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and then double-checked for accuracy and cleaned of identifying information. Interviews were then compiled into an NVivo project file to facilitate collaborative coding along with other data sources (e.g., survey data, observation data). Data Analysis. Using NVivo 8, we coded the data in four phases. In Phase 1, for data reduction purposes we identified all excerpts in which the principal described experiencing challenges, conflicts, tensions, and difficulties coding these under “challenges” (Miles & Huberman, 1994). In Phase 2, we “open coded” all the data coded under challenges for all principals (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Our main analytical strategy here was inductive, informed by our reading of the literature, noting themes and paying attention to work or practice challenges. We used “analytical memos” to identify patterns and group similar themes together in order to create codes relevant to principals’ sense-making about their new position. In Phase 3, we applied these codes using “closed coding.” For the purpose of this analysis, we focus on two codes – problems and dilemmas. Using the reporting feature of NVivo, we examined patterns overtime and among principals and developed assertions using analytical memos. We worked in several ways to check on validity - “the trustworthiness of inferences drawn” (Eisenhart & Howe, 1992, p. 644). We checked, for example, for differences in findings based on the interviewer and also used three triangulation methods—investigator triangulation, theory triangulation, and data source triangulation (Denzin, 1984; Stake, 1995).
Based on our analysis, we support and develop several interrelated assertions. We argue, using our analysis, that through their socialization on the job as they make sense of their new position, principals not only engage in identifying, framing, and solving problems of practice but they also come to recognize dilemmas of practice and learn to appreciate the importance of managing these dilemmas. We identify three types of dilemmas that principals identify and examine the coping strategies that they employ as they attempt to manage these dilemmas. Further, we argue that for principals, some more than others depending on their circumstance, the ongoing management of these dilemmas adds tremendous stress to their work. Our analysis offers an important antidote to the rise of ‘decisonism’ (Majone, 1989) with the ever-increasing popularity of new public management - marketization, managerialism, privatization, performance measurement, and accountability - as the mechanisms for improving the performance and efficiency of public institutions such as schools. In the new public management mindset, problem definition, problem framing, and problem solving using data has become the coin of the realm. Our analysis urges caution by documenting how principals have not only to solve problems, but equally important, they have to manage dilemmas of practice that ‘decisionism’ is ill-equipped to deal with. We make no claims for statistical generalizability of our findings (Yin, 2005). Still, our findings have relevance beyond our study site, and we generalize our findings in terms of ‘‘theoretical’’ or ‘‘analytical’’ generalizability, which centers on making claims about processes (rather than characteristics of a site or study participants) that may be generalizable outside of a particular study site and contribute to refining existing theories on a process (Becker, 1990; Eisenhart, 2009; Small, 2009; Yin, 2005) – in our case new principals on the job socialization.
Becker, H. S., Geer, B., Hughes, E. C., & Strauss, A. L. (1961). Boys in white: Student culture in medical school. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Bolam, R., Dunning, G., & Karstanje, P. (Eds.). (2000). New heads in the new Europe. Munster, Germany: Waxmann. Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Pocklington, K., & Weindling, D. (1993). National evalu-ation of the headteacher mentoring pilot schemes. London, England: Department for Education. Bush, T. (2011). Succession planning in England: New leaders and new forms of leadership. School Leadership and Management, 31, 181-198. Cheung, R. M.-B., & Walker, A. (2006). Inner worlds and outer limits: The for-mation of beginning school principals in Hong Kong. Journal of Educational Administration, 44, 389-407. Cuban, L. (2001). How Can I Fix It: Finding Solutions and Managing Dilemmas. New York: Teachers College Press. Daresh, J., & Male, T. (2000). Crossing the border into leadership: Experiences of newly appointed British headteachers and American principals. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 28(1), 89-101. Hughes, E. C. (1958). Men and their work. Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Dunning, G. (1996). Management problems of new primary headteachers. School Organisation, 16, 111-128.Dunning, G. (2000). New heads in Wales. In R. Bolam, G. Dunning, & P. Karstanje (Eds.), New heads in the new Europe (pp. 129-152). Munster, Germany: Waxmann. Eisenhart, M., & Howe, K. R. (1992). Validity in educational research. In M. D. LeCompte, W. L. Millroy, & J. Preissle (Eds.), The handbook of qualitative research in education (pp. 643-680). San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Kraatz, M. S. (2009). Leadership as institutional work: A bridge to the other side. In T. B. Lawrence, R.Suddaby, & B. Leca (Eds.), Institutional work: Actors and agency in institutional studies of organizations (pp. 59–91). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Lampert, M. (1985). How do teachers manage to teach? Perspectives on problems in practice. Harvard Educational Review, 55(2), 178–194. Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Weindling, D., & Dimmock, C. (2006). Sitting in the “hot seat”: New headteachers in the UK. Journal of Educational Administration, 44, 326-340.Weindling, D., & Earley, P. (1987). Secondary headership: The first years. Windsor, England: NFER-Nelson.
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