26 SES 04 B, Finding Them and Getting Them Ready – Assessing and Preparing Prospective Principals
Objectives: The aim of the present study is to better understand the relationship between candidates' social background and expectations from a principal preparation program.
Theoretical framework: The research on effective leadership preparation programs usually focuses on the program’s features, but only rarely deals with the candidates, their social background and preexisting expectations (Crow & Whiteman, 2016). Previous studies have found that effective leadership programs provide learners with a coherent curriculum, student-centered instruction, knowledgeable faculty, cohort structure, personal mentoring, and collaboration between the program and schools to enable a rich learning environment that increases the opportunity for meaningful learning (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; Davis et al., 2005).
Meaningful learning happens when people learn what is personally meaningful for them and when they accept challenging but achievable goals. Such learning is self-initiated, represents personal involvement, leads to a deeper understanding of the structure of the problem and solution strategies, and leads to transferable knowledge (Brandt, 1998; Guerriero, 2017). The emphasis on meaningful learning and the importance of the learner’s interest and background call for personalized learning and tailored instruction fitted to each learner's individual needs, skills, and interests, which have been found to have positive effects on student performance (Pane et al., 2015). Two factors can facilitate personalized learning: a rich program that answers various kinds of needs and a careful and systematic recruitment process to find the fittest (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009). But what makes a teacher a good candidate for a principal’s position?
Assuming that part of the answer lies in the candidate’s expectations from the preparation programs, researchers found diverse expectations. Some strive to learn new abilities and skills such as systemic thinking, resource management, decision-making, and reflection (Crow, 2007), while others look for monitored internship experiences (Milstein, Bobroff & Restine, 1991). Expectations were found to be different based on the candidates' previous experience and clear purposes, with those entering the program with specific career goals committing more time and energy to their learning (Browne-Ferrigno, 2003). Another way of understanding suitability with the leadership position depends not only on the candidate’s ideas about the aspired-to principal’s role, but also on the candidate’s social background.
According to Bourdieu (1990), professional identity develops based on the habitus, a generative scheme of binary oppositions which help to construct the world and produce the right behavior in different situations (Jenkins, 1992). The sources of such a scheme lie within the social environments in which the candidates grew up and collected their life experiences (Bourdieu, 1998). In this way people learn ‘to refuse what is anyway denied and to will the inevitable’ (Bourdieu, 1990:59). This, along with social structure might explain the results of different placement rates where within five years of certification, men, Latinos, and middle-aged graduates had greater odds of employment as a school leader than women, Whites, and younger and older graduates, respectively (Fuller, Hollingworth & An, 2016).
Based on Bourdieu's reproduction theory, when teachers move to a principal’s position, they carried with them their habitus scheme which reflects family and personal experience as dominant or dominated, which creates different challenges. For example, candidates from an underprivileged social background have to adopt a less familiar dominant position, while candidates from a privileged social space simply have to fill their 'natural' position. We then assume that candidates' background affects their expectations from the leadership program, and in the present study we seek to examine this assumption.
Methods: This is a qualitative study using the narrative method for exploring the candidates' expectations and social background. A cohort of 24 candidates in the Ben-Gurion University one-year leadership preparation program participated in the study. All of them underwent the same rigorous recruitment and selection process, and they differ by gender (6 males, 18 females), social background (8 upper class, 16 middle class), and leadership experience (9 assistant principals or novice principals, and 15 have diverse experience with middle leadership positions). Semi-structured interviews were conducted two weeks before the beginning of the program (June 2017) with all the candidates, dealing with their life story, attitudes, and expectations from the program. Each interview lasted for at least one hour, and all the interviews were recorded and transcribed. Data were analyzed and categorized by several steps. First, each candidate’s social class was identified by their parents' education, occupation and place of residence. In addition, cultural capital was identified by the family of origin’s preference for music, books, food, and leisure time habits. Second, we analyzed each candidate's expectations from the preparation program. It was found that all the candidates were excited by their acceptance into the prestigious program (which has a one out of five acceptance rate), and shared a common anticipation to develop a leadership identity and educational vision. We also found two different groups of expectations: to acquire management tools and to obtain new knowledge. Finally, the results were organized according to the criteria of class and expectations, as detailed below.
Results: In general, the upper class candidates hope for new knowledge, and the middle class candidates wish for management tools. The upper class candidates see principalship as another way to develop and the leadership program as a fun and interesting place to learn. They express self-confidence in their ability to exploit learning opportunities and become a good principal. Rachel, for example, the daughter of a dominant family where there was great emphasis on education, expressed her wish to enjoy learning: "I have always loved studying, and I miss it. I said that if I wasn’t accepted for the leadership program I would start studying for a Ph.D.". Another candidate related: "I want them to show me things that I have never thought about, that they will teach me things that I don't know." Middle class candidates relate about the importance of education in their life as a way to advance and progress, they feel very proud of being accepted for the leadership program, and hope to acquire managerial tools that will help them become good principals. Karen, the daughter of immigrants from Russia that were preoccupied with survival, related: "When I was accepted to the program I said Wow, it seems that I’m good. I want to lead a school of underprivileged students – these are my origins; this is where I came from… I want them [in the program] to teach me how to do it". Our conclusion is that as rich as the preparation program might be, it still means different things for different candidates. One way to deal with this is to construct a program that has it all. An additional way based on our results is to deepen the candidates' awareness of their social background, its implications on their expectations, and their use of the program as a site for meaningful learning.
References Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bourdieu, P. (1998) Practical Reason - On the Theory of Action. Cambridge: Polity Press. Brandt, R. (1998). Powerful Learning. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, pp. 3-56 ASCD Express. Browne-Ferrigno, T. (2003). Becoming a principal: Role conception, initial socialization, role-identity transformation, purposeful engagement. Educational Administration Quarterly, 39(4), 468-503. Crow, G. M. (2007). The professional and organizational socialization of new English headteachers in school reform contexts. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 35(1):51-71. Crow, G.M. & Whiteman, R.S. (2016). Effective Preparation Program Features: A Literature Review, Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 11(1):120–148. Darling-Hammond, L., Meyerson, D., LaPointe, M., & Orr, M. T. (2009). Preparing principals for a changing world: Lessons from effective school leadership programs. John Wiley & Sons. Davis, S., Darling-Hammond, L., LaPointe, M., & Meyerson, D. (2005). Developing successful principals. Stanford Educational Leadership Institute, Ed.). Retrieved February, 20, 2009 Drago-Severson, E & Blum- DeStefano, J. (2016). Tell me so I can hear you. Cambridge MA: Harvard Education Press. Fuller, E. J., Hollingworth, L., & An, B. P. (2016). The impact of personal and program characteristics on the placement of school leadership preparation program graduates in school leader positions. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(4), 643-674. Guerriero, S. (Ed.) (2017) Educational Research and Innovation: Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession, OECD Publishing, Paris Jenkins, R (1992). Pierre Bourdieu. London: Routledge. Milstein, M. M., Bobroff, B. M., & Restine, L. N. (1991). Internship programs in educational administration: A guide to preparing educational leaders. New York: Teachers College Press. Pane, J. F., Steiner, E. D., Baird, M. D., & Hamilton, L. S. (2015). Continued Progress: Promises Evidence on Personalized Learning. RAND Corporation.
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