26 SES 09 B, Success and the Competencies and Context that Support it
Principals new to a school face many challenges in their new role (Crow, 2007; Daresh & Male, 2000; Daresh & Playko, 1994; Draper & McMichael, 2000; Oplatka, 2012; Spillane & Anderson, 2014; Spillane & Lowenhaupt, 2019; Walker & Qian, 2006; Weindling & Earley, 1987). New principals are expected to “learn basic practical managerial skills, diagnose the school culture and environment, develop leadership capabilities and devise a new school vision” (Oplatka, 2012, p. 129), and in doing so, acknowledge and respond to the school context they have just inherited (Bengtson et al., 2013; Draper & McMichael, 2000; Reeves et al., 1998). This paper explores how the inherited school context as perceived by new principals and teachers impacted on new principals’ school improvement plans.
School leadership is not only contextual in its description, but also constructed and exercised for and by that context. During principal succession, in particular, the inherited school context that is passed on to the new principal includes less-tangible factors than those associated merely by its demographics. These may indeed include the expectations and aspirations of different members of the school community as the school embarks on a new trajectory. This inherited context coupled with the expectations placed upon the new leader has the potential to become a powerful catalyst for new principals’ school improvement plans.
This study sits within a conceptual framework of early career principalship suggested by Oplatka (2012), which provides a lens for understanding the first years of new principals that focusses on two aspects: experiences and tasks of new principals. A variety of tasks has been associated with principals new to a school, such as managerial tasks (Crow, 2007), leading others through the establishment of healthy relationships (Crow & Weindling, 2010) and the design of a school vision that is developed in collaboration with teachers and that represents school improvement plans (Holligan et al., 2006). Impacting on the above aspects are a number of contextual factors. Oplatka (2012) signals three of greater importance: the ‘ghost’ of the former principal, the influence of the assistant principal and the existence of mentoring relationships. Less is known, however, about which of these contextual factors impact specifically on new principals’ school improvement plans and how these factors may relate to one another, particularly in schools where high levels of autonomy are exercised, offering principals greater liberty in shaping a new vision for their school. This study focusses on school improvement plans as one of these tasks and is guided by the following three questions: Which contextual factors influence new principals’ school improvement plans? How do these contextual factors relate to one another and with what consequences for the school moving forward?
The data for this paper is drawn from research examining principal and teacher perceptions of new principals in Melbourne, Australia. A qualitative methodology was used in which purposeful sampling served to identify principals new to a school and who had not been in the role for more than two years. One of the three principals had been an internal appointment, two were novice principals, and one was an experienced principal having held a principal role for seven years in a previous school. Data collection tools included semi-structured interviews of teachers and principals, non-participant observations, and archival school documents. Interviews ranged from 45-90 minutes. Principals were interviewed twice, at the start and towards the end of their second year, allowing questions to be constructed retrospectively. 12 teachers per school were interviewed once during the same year. 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 (Merriam, 2014). Each case study was analysed independently followed by cross-case analysis adopting a methodology outlined by Miles and Huberman (1994). Trustworthiness and authenticity were checked using the strategies suggested by Guba and Lincoln (1989). Nvivo software was used for content thematic analysis for identifying, coding, categorising and labelling the patterns emerging from the data.
The data revealed that the origin of the new principal, that is, whether the appointment had been internal or external, determined to an extent the nature of each school contextual factors and the way in which these factors impinged on the principals’ school improvement plans. For example, in the two schools where the new principal had been externally appointed, the leadership practices (or lack of) of the predecessor as well as the leadership history of the school played a significant role. In contrast, in the case of the internally-appointed principal, neither of the factors mentioned above stood out as very significant. In another case, a less obvious inherited contextual factor, such as the level of school morale during a change of principal as described by teachers, proved to be a decisive factor for one of these principals in shaping school improvement plans. These school contextual factors became influential in the manner in which these principals established and shaped school improvement plans as part of the new school vision. In analysing each case study, it appears that when school contextual factors intersect, they have the capacity to exert greater impact on principals’ school improvement plans, suggesting that school contextual factors do not operate in a linear manner, but rather in a more organic mode. The findings of this study reveal opportunities for and offer recommendations to newly-appointed principals, irrespective of national and cultural boundaries, in shaping school improvement plans that are context-sensitive as well as indicative of effective planning.
Bengtson, E., Zepeda, S. J., & 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. Crow, G. M. (2007). The professional and organisational socialization of new English headteachers in school reform contexts. Educational Management Administration and Leadership, 35(1), 51–71. Crow, G. M., & Weindling, D. (2010). Learning to be political: new English headteachers’ role. Educational Policy, 24(1), 137–158. Daresh, J. C., & Male, T. (2000). Crossing the border into leadership: experiences of newly appointed British headteachers and American principals. Educational Management Administration and Leadership, 28(1), 89-101. Daresh, J. C., & Playko, M. (1994). Aspiring and practising principals’ perceptions of critical skills for beginning leaders. Journal of Educational Administration, 32(3), 35-45. Draper, J., & McMichael, P. (2000). Contextualising New Headship. School Leadership and Management, 20(4), 459–473. Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1989). Fourth generation evaluation. Sage Publication Inc. Holligan, C., Menter, I., Hutchings, M., & Walker, M. (2006). Becoming a head teacher: the perspectives of new head teachers in twenty-first century England. Journal of In-Service Education, 32(1), 103–122. Merriam, S. B. (2014). Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation (3rd ed.). Jossey-Bass. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: an expanded sourcebook (2nd ed.). Sage. Moreno, B. (2020). Teacher perceptions of new principals in Melbourne, Victoria. Doctoral thesis, The University of Melbourne. Oplatka, I. (2012). Towards a conceptualization of the early career stage of principalship: current research, idiosyncrasies and future directions. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 15(2), 129–151. Reeves, J., Moos, L., & Forrest, J. (1998). The school leader’s view. In J. Macbeath (Ed.), Effective school leadership: Responding to change (pp. 32-59). Paul Chapman. 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., & Lowenhaupt, R. (2019). Navigating the Principalship: Key insights for new and aspiring school leaders. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Walker, A., & Qian, H. (2006). Beginning principals: balancing at the top of the greasy pole. Journal of Educational Administration, 44(4), 297 - 309. Weindling, D., & Earley, P. (1987). The first years of headship - towards better practice. Educational Research, 29(3), 202-212.
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