26 SES 01 A, Research On Novice Educational Leaders
Being a school principal entails enormous responsibilities and pressures from different fronts, and if the role of an established school principal is already intricate, it can only be assumed that the challenges faced by a newly-appointed principal will only be even greater. A change in leadership is possibly the most significant event in a school’s life, and more often than not, the least successful. (Hargreaves, 2005, p. 163). Studies on principal succession suggest that a change of principal can have a negative impact on student achievement (Béteille, Kalogrides, & Loeb, 2012; Burkhauser, Gates, Hamilton, & Ikemoto, 2012; Daresh & Male, 2000; Hargreaves, 2005, 2009; Hargreaves & Goodson, 2006; Hargreaves, Moore, Fink, Brayman, & White, 2003; Miller, 2013)and equally, impact on social relationships (Spillane & Anderson, 2014). Other studies, on the other hand, add a different dimension to the principal succession discourse by contributing new knowledge specifically on the new principals themselves; preparation, personal and leadership qualities and behaviours, adaptation and socialisation and sense-making of the role, to name a few (Spillane & Anderson, 2014; Spillane, Harris, Jones, & Mertz, 2015; Spillane & Lee, 2014). We know that new principals must understand and adapt to their new context if they are to be successful school leaders. This means newly-appointed principals must recognise and negotiate their way through varying degrees of incoming, outgoing, insider and outsider knowledge (Meyer, Macmillan, & Northfield, 2009; White & Cooper, 2011). A smaller number of equally significant studies have examined more closely the impact of new leadership on school culture and school morale, although the majority of these in school settings which had experienced high principal turnover (Meyer et al., 2009; Meyer, Macmillan, & Northfield, 2011; Meyer, Macmillan, Northfield, & Foley, 2011). These studies confirmed that a new principal has the potential to change school culture and either, positively or negatively, affect teacher and school morale, particularly if the newcomer makes changes to structures and policies that teachers have perceived as successful, which can result in high teacher turnover (Béteille et al., 2012; Meyer et al., 2009). What is clear is that more research needs to address how teachers live, experience and receive new leadership.
This study of three schools in Melbourne, Australia, aimed to answer the following research questions:
- How do teachers perceive their new principal?
- How does this perception impact on teachers’ work, wellbeing and overall school environment?
- How can teachers be better supported during and after a change in leadership?
This study used a qualitative approach for its design and methodology through the use of three case studies within Metropolitan Melbourne. Purposeful sampling was used to identify schools that had experienced a change of principal in the last 24 months and 12 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 was 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 behaviours and whether these perceptions impacted on teacher’s wellbeing, work and environment. At the same time, this research investigated the perceptions that new principals have of themselves and how these perceptions play out 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.
This study confirmed that a change of leadership has the potential to unsettle the life and culture of the school regardless of the context in which the change is taking place and irrespective of the characteristics of the incoming principal. This provides further opportunities for comparative studies on principal succession from diverse cultural contexts. The findings also revealed that whilst the majority of teachers described their new principal as successful, they also experienced a complex period of familiarisation as they became acquainted and comfortable with the new leadership style, particularly if the predecessor had been deemed as unsuccessful. The study indicates that the perception that teachers formulated on the new principal impacted, both positively and negatively, in certain aspects of their working environment, such as their sense of belonging and pride towards the school, their motivation towards professional development and their responses in the face of initiatives and changes brought in by the new leader. The arrival of the new principal, however, did not seem to impact teachers’ pedagogy, although many teachers alluded to students being happier and, therefore, more willing to learn. In the case of the internal appointment, a significant percentage of teachers struggled with the new principal no longer being in his previous role, resulting in a sense of loss that impacted on their morale and overall wellbeing. This study suggests that teachers need to be supported during and after a change of leadership in order to maintain high levels of engagement and commitment from all teaching staff, thus enabling a smooth and positively transformative transition, one from which all members of the school community can benefit.
Béteille, T., Kalogrides, D., & Loeb, S. (2012). Stepping stones: Principal career paths and school outcomes. Social Science Research, 41(4), 904-919. . Burkhauser, S., Gates, S. M., Hamilton, L. S., & Ikemoto, G. S. (2012). First-year principals in urban school districts: How actions and working conditions relate to outcomes (Technical Report). Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. 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. Hargreaves, A. (2005). Leadership Succession. The Educational Forum, 69(2), 163-173. Hargreaves, A. (2009). Leadership Succession and Sustainable Improvement. School Administrator, 66(11), 10-15. Hargreaves, A., & Goodson, I. (2006). Educational Change Over Time? The Sustainability and Nonsustainability of Three Decades of Secondary School Change and Continuity. Educational administration quarterly, 42(1), 3-41. Hargreaves, A., Moore, S., Fink, D., Brayman, C., & White, R. (2003). Succeeding leaders? A study of principal succession and sustainability. Toronto, Ontario: Ontario Principals' Council. Meyer, M. J., Macmillan, R., & Northfield, S. (2009). Principal succession and its impact on teacher morale. International Journal of Leadership in Education: Theory and Practice, 12(2), 171-185. Meyer, M. J., Macmillan, R., & Northfield, S. (2011). Principal Succession and the Micropolitics of Educators in Schools: Some Incidental Results from a Larger Study. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy(117), 1-26. Meyer, M. J., Macmillan, R., Northfield, S., & Foley, M. (2011). Principal Turnover and the Impact on Teacher–Principal Relationships: Mitigating Emerging Values Issues. In R. White & K. Cooper (Eds.), Principals in Succession (Vol. 13). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. Miller, A. (2013). Principal turnover and student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 36, 60-72. Spillane, J. P., & Anderson, L. (2014). The Architecture of Anticipation and Novices’ Emerging Understandings of the Principal Position: Occupational Sense Making at the Intersection of Individual, Organization, and Institution. Teachers College Record, 116(7), 1-42. Spillane, J. P., Harris, A., Jones, M., & Mertz, K. (2015). Opportunities and Challenges for Taking a Distributed Perspective: Novice School Principals' Emerging Sense of Their New Position. British Educational Research Journal, 41(6), 1068-1085. Spillane, J. P., & Lee, L. C. (2014). Novice School Principals’ Sense of Ultimate Responsibility: Problems of Practice in Transitioning to the Principal’s Office. Educational administration quarterly, 50(3), 431–465. White, R. E., & Cooper, K. (Eds.). (2011). Principals in Succession: Transfer and Rotation in Educational Administration. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.
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