26 SES 01 B, Principal Development
Principals play a vital role in driving improvement in student learning outcomes (Louise et al. 2010; Bolam et al, 2004; Sigurðardóttir & Sigþórsson, 2012). Indeed, principals' role in improving student learning is second only to that of classroom teachers (Gentilluci & Muto, 2007; Mulford & Silins, 2011; Louise et al, 2010). In their review of research on links between school factors and student learning outcomes, Nordenbo and colleagues (2010) found that longer principal experience and longer time spent on the principal job resulted in better student learning outcomes. The more the principal was available for teachers and attended to teachers' prosperity and professional growth, showed firm leadership, involved teachers, parents and students in school decisions and staff in leadership actions and positions, and was supportive and practised equality, the better the students achieved. The more instructional and curriculum knowledge the principal had, and showed leadership of the curriculum, while also giving autonomy to teachers in forming educational programs, the better students achieved.
Our work with principals of small rural schools (Wildy, Sigurðardóttir & Faulkner, 2012; Wildy & Clarke, 2009, 2012) indicates that these principals have a dual opportunity to influence student learning. They have an indirect influence as a principal and also a direct influence as a classroom teacher. However, they face challenges of being new to the role, being highly visible, geographically distant from metropolitan and even regional centres and their provision of professional support, and balancing the increasingly demanding accountability pressures imposed by central educational authorities and governments, often with limited administrative assistance. Furthermore principals in Iceland and Australia begin their principalship without preparation, and learn on the job (Wildy, Clarke & Slater, 2007).
In light of the evidence across all continents that principals influence students' learning, and of the challenges faced by principals, especially novice principals of small schools, we wonder how principals learn the skills and develop the knowledge and understanding to take on this vital role. In countries such as England, Scotland and the US where principal preparation has long been a feature of the educational landscape, the answer is clear. However, there is evidence that the provision of such programs does not always mean that principals adopt the behaviours and attitudes that lead to improvement in student learning (Brown, 2006; Cowie & Crawford, 2007; Hess & Kelly, 2007; McHatton et al., 2010), at least in England, Scotland and the USA.
In Iceland and Australia principal preparation is very new. Postgraduate degree programs have only recently been introduced in each country. Therefore it is not possible to explore whether such programs influence student learning. However, these degree programs are also offered to in-post principals. This study aims to explore how Masters degree programs in each country influences the beliefs, attitudes, language and actions of principals to improve student learning in small rural schools.
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