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Principal Leadership: Diversity, Development and Distribution Essay

The principal is the de facto leader of the public school. With this role comes no small degree of pressure and responsibility. And as the nature of education changes and evolves, so too does this role and that which is implied by it. In many ways though, there remains a great philosophical divide on how principal leadership is to be pursued. To the perspective of this research endeavor, this divide is based on varying conceptions of how leadership and education might best be integrated for the office. Therefore, the research seeks to appeal to the conceptions of those most directly effected.

This proposal is intended to serve in a preliminary capacity for a broader survey study which would engage principals on matters of their experience with modern political realities, with career development and mentoring and with theoretical division on the matter of centralized versus distributed leadership. Findings and recommendations will be directed toward the warranting and fashioning of an effective survey and survey study design. Rationale: This study is designed to explore the various career development aspects of becoming and being a public school principal that contribute to the effective ability to serve in a leadership capacity.

The principal has a unique role in both the lives of teachers and students, serving as both a figure of authority and as an advocate in the face of administrative and political demands. This makes the principalship a deeply complex position, imposed upon by the challenges of organizational stewardship, economic constraint and political imposition. The experience of developing into and serving in the position of the principal is of importance to those aspiring to evolve to the role.

For individuals viewing the principalship as a career path, firsthand accounting of the obstacles, opportunities, demands and distinctions there associated might be an invaluable source of verification for that which one might expect. This serves as the rationale for the approach taken in this research report, which contends that the administering of surveys to individuals who are serving today in the role of principal should help to effectively yield data which can be of value to individuals desiring to follow in their footsteps.

The primary thesis of this research is that a consideration of existing studies both which help to define terms for this investigation and which provide precedent for the use of survey-based data-gathering should help us to establish a clear course for the format and content of a survey for distribution. The study proposed in this investigation would be designed as a primarily qualitative study which focuses on the beliefs, attitudes and perceptions of principals on both their careers and the path of their career development.

The method being proposed in this study is qualitative and descriptive research using the combination of a literature review on the topic and a survey of school principals. A descriptive design, according to Gigliotti (2001), is to provide an accurate profile of a variable, group, individual and/or phenomenon. It is a design that involves making careful descriptions of phenomena—particularly educational, which has greatly increased knowledge about what happens in schools. The issues which will be considered in a survey instrument will have been gleaned from the literature review which is to follow.

This review indicates that the responsibilities of the principal as a leader in various capacities must be heavily considered, particularly in light of such issues as the heightened demanded for leadership in the face of new and permeating political realities. Issues such as the need to answer to various sectors of the community, the demand to establish a rapport with faculty that induces support and the overarching presence of such all-encompassing frameworks as the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy all have the effect of shaping the leadership responsibilities and experiences of the principal.

This literature review is justified as a means to clarifying the relationship between these conditions and the perspective of the principal on such issues as career development and leadership distribution and will touch upon the above-noted issues in shaping the focus of its research instrument. Literature Review: Principal Leadership Theory: That schools in the United States in particular have generally experienced a decline in standards, in performance and in personnel commitment is evidenced throughout the field.

To many theorists in the last decade, this is indicative of a core problem relating to the orientation and distribution of leadership. This is especially a challenge for the principal, whose leadership responsibilities are inherent but who faces myriad obstacles to the effectiveness of this leadership. Overly centralized ways of designing curriculum, of engaging students and of evaluating performance of teachers and students, some will argue, has had the impact of disassociating school leadership from the environment which it impacts.

This is why “in the view of many analysts, the task of transforming a school is too complex for one person to accomplish alone. Consequently, a new model of leadership is developing. ” (Lashway, 2002, p. 6) This new model is something that developing school principals and serving principals alike must prepare for. The leadership of the school administration or principalship is often looked upon as the sole determining factoring the curricular standardization and approach which pervades a learning institution.

As Graseck’s (2005) article reveals, the perceived singularity of this leadership is both a product of a fundamental misapprehension of the opportunities for in-school leadership and may be a contributor to a negative educational experience all around. At the heart of Graseck’s model for administrative leadership is the notion that too much vested authority in this position will tend to create what he refers to as a ‘wall,’ which reinforces an improper notion that administration exists above principalship and teaching on a hierarchical scale.

A perception which may be shared by both parties, it is likely to cause an improperly aloof administrative approach to leadership which is more dominated by bureaucracy than a true and inquiring interest in the improvement of education. Equally as destructive, such an attitude imperils the security of the teaching faculty, which tends to respond to being undervalued with resentment, occupational antipathy and diminished morale. As we enter into this discussion, it is important to recognize that this is a dilemma which centrally impacts the authority and leadership opportunities for the principal.

The presumption that more effectively distributed leadership will ultimately produce positive performance outcomes for a school is underscored by heretofore existent positive evidence as to the impact of effective leadership overall as a determinant of student outcomes. According to Spillane (2003), “over the past few decades researchers have consistently reported that school leadership, principal leadership in particular, is critical in developing and sustaining those school-level conditions believed essential for instructional improvement. (Spillane, 2003; p. 343) According to Lumby (2003), it may be accurate to state that an evolution in our appreciation for classroom level ingenuity inherently incites the need for a more distributed approach to leadership as pertaining to the relationship between principal and teachers.

As his research claims, “leadership is embedded in the activities of staff and students, including delegated management, and can be understood to be both distributed and systemic. (Lumby, 2003; p. 283) This is to indicate the natural process of educational development will require this type of dynamic contribution where the relationship between the principal and teachers facilitates a sense of leadership determination for the latter which can help to stimulate their invaluable support of the former. Indeed, for educators, the heightened emphasis on the opportunity for contribution at the highest levels can improve motivation and individual ingenuity.

To this end, according to a study by Harris (2004), there is cause to infer that the outcome of this leadership approach for the principal will be to improve the quality of a school overall. Accordingly, the author notes that such “forms of leadership can assist capacity building within schools which contributes to school improvement. ” (Harris, 11) For teachers and other staff members who are given the opportunity to offer their skills at the leadership level, the framework will accommodate greater innovation, personal stake and perspective variance.

All of these may be argued to promote the advancement of school quality as an experience for both student and educator. This review uses an extensive number of studies available on the subject of principals in education. Some of the research directed the fix of our attention toward the external pressures which denote the need for a principal to develop a clear base of support from within the school. The challenges inherent in the No Child Left Behind legislation, according to the findings of most survey studies considered here, have compromised the ability of principals to lead effectively.

The implications of externally shaped standards and performance consequences are undermining to the capacity of the principal and his or her faculty to lead in the shaping of curriculum, philosophy and evaluation. Some of the research available on the subject demonstrates the need to develop a clear strategic approach to leadership in the face of such pressures. To this end, according to Crum & Sherman (2008), the heightened emphasis on standardized testing and other practices related to No Child Left Behind has created a condition wherein the principal is found to be largely at the center of an array of very inflexible demands.

The result is that the principal’s performance evaluation is directly connected to the capacity of the school and its students to comport with the standards created by such legislation. Therefore, principals are increasingly finding it necessary to take a hands-on approach to providing leadership in public schools. As Crum & Sherman indicate, “the burden for school improvement in a time of accountability falls squarely on the shoulders of principals as new requirements demand that they act as instructional leaders. ” (Crum & Sherman, 562)

This study is of particular value to our discussion both for its association to the inherent case for a more widely distributed approach to leadership and to the establishment of our core methodology. The study in question is largely based on the data-gathering process of surveying those with measurable experience in the areas of principalship discussed. The issues of leadership and the distribution of authority are both recurrent in the self-reports gathered by Crum & Sherman, which focus in useful detail on the aspects of the position which demand the intimate leadership oversight of a highly involved principal.

According to the data gathering process which the researchers undertook, “the principals provided valuable insights into their daily practices that foster an environment which is supportive of high-student achievement. These practices are categorized in the following themes: developing personnel and facilitating leadership, responsible delegation and empowering the team, recognizing ultimate accountability, communicating and rapport, facilitating instruction, and managing change. (Crum & Sherman, 563) Here, the principals who served as key respondents would generally come to an agreement on the crucial importance of using one’s leadership to invoke leadership initiative and the command of responsibilities amongst those who are theoretically subordinate. This means developing, maintaining and feeding a set of healthy relationships betwixt the principal and teachers and faculty. The principal must cultivate an atmosphere where trust and a sense of value allow teachers to effectively carry out the message, mission and pressures of the principalship.

At the core of a data-gathering process such as this is the finding that the principal cannot act alone. Though accountability will typically be closely associated with the job of the principalship, the support which the principal enjoys from the teaching staff will be tantamount their willingness to support him or her. In turn, this support will translate into an effective staff which maintains the principal’s vision and standards of efficacy. Self-reporting proves here to be an illuminating process, driven by observations made by principals operating under the provisions of No Child Left Behind.

Though the No Child Left Behind is not the core focus of this investigation, its mention here denotes another aspect of the survey which makes it valuable to our purposes. A wide array of subjects in survey make voluntary mention of No Child Left Behind. With no connotation, the issue remains a relevant one today for its pervasive impact on the way that schools and students alike are assessed. The use of evaluative testing as a means to enforcing a universal standards for academic competence holds all members of the academic community under a microscope.

Whether responding positively or negatively to its implications, a great many respondents to the research surveys which this source review encountered recognized that its provisions are a significant factor in shaping leadership strategy. Ferrandino (2001) wrote about the subject of the principalship over the transition into the 21st century, which saw the inception of our current policy approach. Ferrandino analyzed the job itself and noted that being a principal today is far different than it was even 20 years ago.

Principals work longer hours, have responsibility for a much broader community of pupils and staff (that is, pupils and staff from a diversity of cultures), are required to be far more politically savvy, and have to meet a much broader range of demands. Ferrandino’s (2001) research addressed the claim that too many principals are soon due for retirement and there are insufficient numbers of teachers and educators with the training, education, and qualification to replace this aging workforce. (p. 441). The author posed and addressed the question as to why there appears to be shortage of qualified candidates for such positions.

In resolution, the article finds that many potential candidates do not want to cope with the inherent pressures of leadership and the requisite long hours of the job. According to the survey research gathered in the Ferrandino essay, the politicization of the academic process has become a deterrent for many serious and qualified candidates. The issues provoked by No Child Left Behind are played out today in the administrative conflicts which shape education as we know it, with the principal at the center of disputes.

And quite indeed, as pedagogical approaches clash with each other (constructivism versus traditional teaching, for one example), more in the way of direct leadership is expected of principals than ever before. To some extent, this is causing many to shy away from even applying for the position. Ferrandino (2001) notes that this is not simply a problem of a shortage of candidates, but implies that which is at the crux of research, that there are institutional shortcomings which have disinclined a proper pool of candidates.

The complexity of leadership demands in the position are dominant in either disinclined candidates or rendering the position too exclusive. The research by Langer and Boris-Schacter provides a model for consideration as we meditate on the notion of using the survey methodology to produce a data set on the selected subject. In the research of Langer and Boris-Schacter (2003), it is confirmed that Ferrandino’s perspective that the role of the principal is one that leaves many of its beholders feeling frustrated and uncomfortable with the constantly changing demands of the job.

Their study showed that most of the principals surveyed experience poor job satisfaction, that the job has a negative affect on their personal lives, that they have less and less leisure time, and that the constant demands on their time are often unreasonable. (Langer & Boris-Schacter, 14) One of the primary concerns noted by the principals surveyed in their study is the intrusiveness of new state and federal legislation. Surveyed subjects expressed the concern that there is a movement towards an emphasis on standardized test scores over quality of education in the classroom.


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