Reliance structures of neophyte principals in rural contexts
Casavant, Marc D.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the development and establishment of reliance structures among rural neophyte administrators in southern Saskatchewan during their first year as principal. The primary research question was, "What are the perspectives and reflections of rural based second year principals concerning the development and establishment of their own reliance structures during their neophyte year? Specifically the study focused on the contexts of the schools, the reliance structure, the formal and informal socialization processes, and the self-efficacy of neophyte principals. The significance of this study was based upon the lack of coherence between the theory and practice for the preparation of new educational administrators (McKague, 2001; Ferrandino, 2000; Griffith, 1999; Lawson, 1999; Renihan, 1999; Davis, 1998; Restine, 1997). This study addressed a deficiency in the research by exploring the reliance structures of neophyte principals through a multi-method approach. First, a questionnaire was utilized to gain a general perception from the participants on their own reliance structure. Second, in-depth interviews provided more detail on the perspectives and experiences of first year principals with their own reliance structure. The sample included 26 rural-based second year principals, who had no prior administrative experience. Twenty-five of the 26 neophyte principals returned the Reliance Structure for Neophyte Principals (RSNP) survey forms, for a return rate of 96.2 percent. As well, all 26 neophyte principals were asked to participate in an interview that further investigated their perceptions of how they established their supports in a reliance structure. Of the 26 neophyte principals, 24 participated in the interviews for a response rate of 92.3 per cent. A number of contextual factors were seen to influence neophyte principals' development of the reliance structure. These included: the location of the school, the size of the school, the size of the school system, educational background, and the prior experiences of the principal as an educator. Upon further analysis, the data suggested that location of the school, size of the school, educational background, and prior experiences as an educator were perceived as the most critical variables in the development of the reliance structure. In regard to periodization (the time periods between August to December and January to June), supervision of instruction emerged as the most important professional development need for the beginning principals during the first year. During the first term. (August to December), principals perceived that having access to formalized mentoring programs and knowledge of important dates would have better prepared and/or supported them. Another important finding was that respondents felt that budgets, timetabling, and graduation were areas which presented unexpected events and/or surprises during the second term (January to June). Overwhelmingly, the perception of the principals in this study was that there was a need to establish a formal reliance structure for beginning principals. Principals identified mentoring programs, professional development opportunities, longer induction and orientation opportunities, knowledge of the culture, and increased administration time as critical functions in a reliance structure. The most critical relationships were with (in order of frequency of mention) school staff, the director and central office staff, and other in-school administrators. Visiting the school meeting staff, and getting to know the community, were viewed as critical processes in the reliance structure. Beginning principals indicated that the informal socialization processes (casual relationships with others) were more effective than the formal socialization processes. The director and the assistant director were identified as the most frequently involved in orienting neophyte principals to their jobs. However, it was other in-school administrators who were the most valuable in orienting and providing support during the first year. Several implications were derived from the findings of this study. Important among these is the need for consideration of a number of functions, relationships, and processes in the reliance structure. In order for this to happen, socialization processes need to be formalized. Formalizing the socialization process warrants the time, energy, and participation of other in-school principals and central office personnel who play an integral role in developing and establishing the reliance structure. The establishment of the reliance structure for neophyte principals will be crucial to the future development of aspiring administrators. Such an initiative could improve the opportunities for success for beginning principals, particularly those in rural contexts.