26 SES 09 B, Success and the Competencies and Context that Support it
This paper presents the findings from an exploratory study investigating principal succession in Hong Kong schools.
Internationally, principal leadership remains a critical determinant of performance within and across organisations, including schools (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkins, 2020). Given their significant role, school systems have given attention to the development of school leaders through formal leadership programmes, school-based attachments and mentorships and performance standards that guide leader identification and selection, and career pipelines and professional ladders (Bryant, Walker & Lee, in press). Arguably, these strategies create a stronger pool of potential school principals. These developmental strategies serve to address challenges of attrition which have resulted from increasing pressure and accountability measures placed on principals (Caldwell, 2003; MacBeath, 2011; Walker & Kwan, 2010). Extant studies on principal succession mainly focus on national, state or district level programmes. These, however, are challenged on the ground where successful principal succession is contextually sensitive (Avarena, 2020).
Largely absent in the leader development literature are specific school-based measures to support K-12 principal succession that contextualize state-level succession policies. Avarena’s (2020) review of peer-reviewed English language research in leadership journals found only 15 publications from 2003-2019. This is despite consistent findings that ineffective principal succession confounds the sustainability of school improvement practices and policy implementation (Bellei et al, 2020; Giles, 2006), creates uncertainty and erratic improvement trajectories (Hargreaves, 2005), and seed confrontation among staff and leaders (Lee, 2015). Conversely, effective succession can protect improvement-oriented school cultures, practices and processes (Bellei et al., 2020) by supporting new principals in their understanding of school context, facilitating their socialization into the school community, and building their professional capacity. This in turn supports staff morale and trust (Lee, 2015). However, effective succession requires careful planning at the school level and does not happen through quick fixes such as shoulder-tapping (Myong, Leob & Horng, 2011) or headhunting (Bengston et al., 2017).
Careful succession planning allows new principals to both understand the school practices, cultures and organizational structures whilst filtering this through individual perspectives and values to enact their leadership. This calls for succession processes that provide access to information and people, and that accounts for both organizational cultures and system requirements (Bengston et al., 2017; Lee, 2015; Zepeda et al., 2012) In other words, effective succession plans are influenced by the interface of factors at the personal (e.g., professional histories, staff-leader interrelationship), institutional (e.g., organizational cultures, structures and practices; community resources) and system (e.g., policy and succession requirements) levels.
Our research aims to gain insights into school-based succession practices by examining the succession process in four schools in Hong Kong. Hong Kong provides an apt context for such research given its attentiveness to leader development and pipelines that are similar to those found in other jurisdictions internationally (Bryant et al., in press). However, as schools in Hong Kong are managed through a variety of school sponsoring bodies (SSB), school-based succession planning is largely left to the SSBs and individual schools. This suggests a potential for a variety of succession practices to emerge that vary by school context. Our primary focus in this paper is on the interrelationship of process with school context, and the perceived impacts on the succeeding principals’ transitioning experience. Three research questions guide our study:
- What different types or models of principal succession occur in HK schools?
- What influences these various forms of succession?
- What were their respective impacts on the succeeding principal?
Answers to these questions can provide insight to inform improved succession planning.
This study employs a case study approach to investigate the succession process and successors' experiences. We employed a purposive and criterion-referenced sampling (Patton, 2000) approach that aimed for consistency in school type with regard to funding: all were fully government-funded schools, ensuring similar financial resources, following the same curriculum and timetable. However, we sought variation with regard to geographical location (reflecting SES), student achievement, and SSB. Variation in SSB shapes differences in the number of schools under the authority of the respective SSBs and impacts on organizational cultures. Two successors were promoted from within the school and two from outside. Each school engaged in succession activities that involved the departing and succeeding principals. Participants in the study were selected based on positional criteria. Five to six participants were recruited in each school. They included the succeeding principals (n=4), vice-principals (n=6, 1 or 2 in each school) and middle leaders (n=11, 2 – 3 in each school). We utilized semi-structured interviews of 60 – 90 minutes duration that were conducted in Cantonese. All interviews were transcribed into Chinese and then translated into English. The interviewer reviewed the transcripts and translation to ensure accuracy. The interview questions addressed topics related to school context and rationale for the succession, the processes and interactions that occurred during the succession experience, supports and challenges of the process and the impact of succession. The succeeding principals were also asked questions about their professional histories and impressions of the succession experience. The interviews were conducted post-hoc, in the year of succession. We analysed the data by employing a combination of process coding and evaluation coding. The process coding allows us to capture actions and processes that "emerge, change, occur in particular sequences or become strategically implemented through time" (Saldaña, 2013, p. 96). We then employed evaluation coding to capture how the participants value, recognise, and evaluate the events and the succession process (Rallis & Rossman, 2003). Finally, we categorized the coded data into data displays (Miles, Huberman & Saldaña, 2014): represented on continua that reflected the relationship of the succession experience to coded attributes related to initiation, structure, processes, experience and impact. We sorted data from each case into the appropriate place on the continua. The data displays served as a reference point to prepare comparative matrixes and write up case reports.
There was variation across the four schools. These variations informed four distinct succession process models. The findings indicate clear patterns influencing favourable perceptions of the succession processes. The extent to which the process met principals’ developmental needs was impacted by school context and personal background. We found variations across schools : • Initiation: no formal initiator, by predecessor, by SSB. • Extent of engagement: brief, short-term with predecessor, long-term with predecessor, long-term with predecessor and core leadership team. • Planning: ad hoc, purposely planned • Structure/Design: unstructured, moderately structured, highly structured None of the cases had formally articulated objectives, or sequence/timeline Although all succeeding principals reported that the process facilitated socialization, they reported greater satisfaction when it was (a) principal-led and SSB-driven; (b) purposely to systematically planned; (c) moderately to highly structured (with events, people and documents integrated); and (d) when it involved interactions with the long-term predecessor and core leadership team, included mentoring. All were impacted by the degree of predictability. We found three major areas of impact. 1. On relationships. Two of the four succeeding principals felt they could communicate with and had some understanding of specific colleagues. 2. On administration. Most succeeding principals felt they had an initial understanding of the most important areas of administration. The two more challenging areas were school finance and personnel management. 3. On leadership. Two succeeding principals felt they had begun to establish their professional identity and had a clearer sense of school priorities. The other two had a less clear picture and continued to explore their role in context. All four succeeding principals agreed relationships, administration and leadership were highly inter-related and that the first two paved the foundation for better leadership in the real context of the school. Principals who could manage relationship and administration found it easier to lead more effectively.
Aravena, F. (2020). Principal succession in schools: A literature review (2003–2019). Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 1-17. DOI: 10.1177/1741143220940331 Bengtson, E., Zepeda, S., & Parylo, O. (2013). School systems’ practices of controlling socialization during principal succession: Looking through the lens of an organizational socialization theory. Educational Management Administration and Leadership, 41(2), 143–164. Bellei, C., Morawietz, L., Valenzuela, J.P. & Vanni, X. (2020). Effective schools 10 years on: Factors and processes enabling the sustainability of school effectiveness. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 31(2), 266-288. Bryant, D., Walker, A., & Lee, M. (in press). International patterns in principal preparation: Commonalities, variations and trajectories in pre-service programmes. Tierney, R., Rizvi, F., Ercikan, K., and Smit, G., International Encyclopaedia of Education (xx-xx). Amsterdam: Elsevier. Giles, C. (2006). Sustaining secondary school visions over time: Resistance, resilience and educational reform. Journal of Educational Change, 7, 179-208. Hargreaves, A. (2005). Leadership succession. The Educational Forum, 69(2), 163-173. Lee, L. (2015). School performance trajectories and the challenges for principal succession. Journal of Educational Administration, 53(2), 262–286. Leithwood, K., Harris, A. and Hopkins, D. (2020). Seven strong claims about successful school leadership revisited. School Leadership and Management. 1-18. Miles, M.B., Huberman, A.M. & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook, 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. MacBeath, J. (2011). No lack of principles: leadership development in England and Scotland. School Leadership and Management 31(2), 105–121. Myong, J., Leob, S. & Horng, E. (2011). Tapping the principal pipeline: Identifying talent for future school leadership in the absence of formal succession management programs. Educational Administration Quarterly, 47(5), 695-727. Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Rallis, S.F., & Rossman, G.B., (2003). Mixed methods in evaluation contexts: A pragmatic framework. In A. Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook Of Mixed Methods In Social & Behavioural Research (pp. 491-512). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Saldaña, J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. London: Sage Walker A and Kwan P (2010) Leadership in diverse cultures. In: Peterson P, Baker E and McGraw B (eds), International Encyclopaedia of Education 3rd Ed. (pp. 824-831), Oxford: Elsevier. Zepeda, S., Bengtson, E., & Parylo, O. (2012). Examining the planning and management of principal succession. Journal of Educational Administration, 50(2), 136-158.
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