Principal Behaviour and School Context: A Case Study
Tufts, James Murray
The relationships between communities and schools have been conceptualized as overlapping spheres of influence on children's learning (Epstein, 1992). The influence of one sphere upon another is multidirectional and the behaviors of the principal are influenced by the context of the community. A number of researchers have concluded that a more contextualized view of the thinking and learning processes of leadership is needed as well as greater emphasis on the study of the internal and external influences on the principalship (Begley, 1995; Hallinan, 1995; Hannaway & Talbert, 1993; Leithwood & Hallinger, 1993; Mitchell & Tucker, 1992). This study provided a qualitative, in-depth examination of the context of leadership, the profile and the work behaviours of a principal with a view to understanding leadership practices in one particular context. The purpose of this study was to describe in depth the profile and the work behaviours of the principal operating within a culturally diverse, inner-city context. This purpose gave rise to a number of areas of investigation: (a) What were the internal and external contexts within which the principal works? (b) What were the personal and professional characteristics of the principal (profile) in this context and what were the principal-perceived implications of these characteristics for her work behavior? (c) What were the unique problems, concerns, obstacles, and opportunities that exist for the principal's work behavior? The concept of context of leadership as defined by Cheng (1991) was used to organize the descriptions of the elements of school community context, profile and work behaviors of the principal. On the basis of three criteria, namely experience, job description and familiarity with the school and community, one principal was selected for study. This study incorporated a naturalistic, single-case study approach which acquired data from multiple sources, including direct, non-participatory observation over a five-month time frame. Narrative inquiry was used to construct descriptions based on stories of significant incidents from the research participants (Eisner, 1992; Connelly & Clandinin, 1990). Methods of data collection for inquiry into narrative included field notes, journals, interviews and observations. As a descriptive tool, this study was useful in identifying elements of an inner-city, community school context and in extending knowledge of the way one principal made sense of what was appropriate and effective school practice in such a context. The study of the principalship in this context identified a significant preoccupation with parent and community involvement complicated by the phenomenon of domino interruption and external demands upon the principal's time. Educational administrators, in particular, must be able to think on their feet in a variety of settings (Lindle, 1995). In conclusion, this study described the profile, behaviours and the context of one principal and added to the "second-generation" of effective schools theory (Hannaway & Talbert, 1993).