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«A Dissertation submitted to the College of Graduate Studies and Research in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of ...»

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Principals’ Perceptions of the Essential Components

of Sustainable Leadership and Implications for Succession Planning

at the Elementary School Level:

A Mixed Methods Research Study

A Dissertation submitted to the College of Graduate Studies and Research

in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements

for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

in the Department of Educational Administration

University of Saskatchewan



Rosalind Ann Hardie

December, 2011 © Copyright Rosalind Hardie


In presenting this dissertation in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a postgraduate degree from the University of Saskatchewan, the author agrees that the libraries of this University may make it freely available for inspection. The author further agrees that permission for copying of this thesis in any manner, in whole or in part, for scholarly purposes may be granted by the professor or professors who supervised my thesis work or, in their absence, by the Head of the Department of Educational Administration or the Dean of the College of Education. It is understood that nay copy or publication or use of this thesis or parts thereof for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. It is also understood that due recognition shall be given to the author and to the University of Saskatchewan in any use which may be made of any material in this dissertation.

Requests for permission to copy or make other use of materials in this

dissertation, in whole or in part, should be addressed to:

Department Head Department of Educational Administration College of Education 28 Campus Drive University of Saskatchewan Saskatoon, SK, Canada S7N 0X1 i


The primary purpose of this study was to examine principals‘ perceptions of the essential components of sustainable leadership at the elementary school level. The secondary focus was to examine principals‘ perceptions of present succession-planning practices to see if there were implications for succession-planning. The challenges of providing sustainable leadership in a context of rapid change, globalization, advances in technology, and demands for more accountability warranted further investigation.

Using pragmatism as a philosophical base the researcher determined that a Mixed Methods Research Methodology would provide the most fully informed answers to the research questions. A Sequential Exploratory Research Design was selected with a first phase that was primarily quantitative followed by a second phase that was qualitative.

Methods employed in data collection were: development of a survey instrument and implementation of the survey in phase one and semi-structured interviews in phase two.

The research was carried out in two urban school divisions and two randomly selected rural school divisions in Saskatchewan. A total of 50 principals from the four school divisions participated in the survey, 10 principals served on interpretive panels and 11 principals were interviewed.

The analysis of phase one included a statistical analysis of the responses to the closed questions and theme analysis to the responses for the open-ended questions. This was followed by the use of interpretive panels in each school division to provide further insights into the analysis. Semi-structured interviews in phase two were transcribed and member checks were completed. Theme analysis was then conducted. A case study

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and a composite case study for all four school divisions. Joint display was used as a method to integrate data from the survey, the interpretive panels, and the interviews. This helped to establish the major findings of the study. A Kruskal Wallis Test revealed significant differences based on context, the principal‘s years of administrative experience, the principal‘s years of tenure as principal of this school, and the principal‘s gender.

Findings of this study suggested that principals value collaboration, shared leadership and alignment of school, division, and provincial goals. Principals believed teachers need more professional development in the area of data management, updated criteria for formal leadership positions need to be established and communicated, principals could benefit by formal mentorship, principals want more input regarding what professional development they will be offered and steps could be taken to encourage principals to remain in their position as principals.

–  –  –

interpreted with caution. However, the four school divisions involved in the study can be guided by the findings of this study, as they work to strengthen sustainable leadership and to provide supportive succession-planning practices. This study can also serve as a guide for future research in the area of sustainable leadership and/or succession planning. This future research may include further refinement of the survey instrument.

–  –  –

I would like to thank my advisor, Dr. David Burgess, for his guidance in the completion of my dissertation. His encouragement helped me to proceed in spite of many challenges and his constructive advice improved my work immensely. His endless patience and unrelenting focus were commendable.

My thanks to the members of my Advisory Committee: Dr. P. Renihan, Dr. M.

Prytula, Dr. T. Claypool and Dr. W. Noonan. Their ability to see the big picture and to ask critical questions enriched my dissertation. Thanks to Dr. R. Brayne for serving as my external examiner.

I would like to acknowledge the four school divisions for granting me permission to conduct my study. The willingness of all the participants to share their knowledge and their time is acknowledged with gratitude. Their contributions, based on their experiences and reflections as elementary school principals, have made my study far richer.

I would also like to express my gratitude for the financial support I received during my studies. Scholarships from the College of Education, the Department of Educational Administration, and the Saskatchewan Educational Leadership Unit, along with a Graduate Teaching Fellowship were very much appreciated.

Finally, thanks must go to my family and friends. To my husband, Peter, who understood my need to complete my doctoral studies, his willingness to provide computer support was much appreciated. To my daughters, Laura and Colleen, your encouragement to reach my goal was always apparent. In addition heartfelt thanks to close friends for their encouragement and support.

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Appendix I: Descriptive Statistics: Means and Standard Deviations 344 Appendix J: Joint Display of Quantitative and Qualitative Data 360

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School improvement has been a focus in educational administration for decades.

In recent years, researchers have lost faith in a model that depends on one leader. With the increased pace and complexity of schools, it has come to be accepted that meaningful and sustained progress in the area of school improvement will depend on the expertise of all staff within the school. This study will examine elementary school principals‘ perceptions of essential components of sustainable leadership for school improvement.

As a secondary focus this study will examine principals‘ perceptions of current succession-planning practices for the elementary school principalship in their school division. There may be implications for succession planning based on their perceptions of sustainable leadership. To date, sustainability has proven to be the holy grail of school improvement.

Background For several decades, the principal has been recognized as having a key role to play in school improvement (Fink & Brayman, 2004; Gurr, Drysdale, & Mulford, 2006;

Leithwood, Harris, & Hopkins, 2008; Leithwood, Steinbach, & Jantzi, 2002). During the 1970s, ―the theme of accountability surfaced for the first time‖ (Brown, 2005, p. 126) with a definite focus on practice (Oplatka, 2009). Questions of the day that reflected support for scientific management, focused on what educators should do to make their schools more effective in terms of student learning outcomes. This was gradually to change as ―some increase in the proportion of theoretical, conceptual and empirical articles at the second half of the 1970s‖ surfaced (Oplatka, 2009, p. 14). During the 1980s, the first wave of reforms, ―top-down reform efforts from the state legislatures‖ (Brown, 2005, p. 130) arose, requiring a focus on instruction and student outcomes, and were to be put in place, as prescribed, by school principals. Principals were to be instructional leaders as outlined by effective schools research. Questions focused on how to find the best way to put in place the reforms suggested by the government of the day.

As efforts to carry out the prescribed reforms were made, ―conceptual pluralism‖ (Oplatka, 2009, p. 16) became evident, and both academics and practitioners became aware of the fragmentation within educational administration. Since the mid 1990s, school leadership research has converged on leadership for sustainable school improvement (Crawford, 2009; Davies, 2007a; Day, 2007). Oplatka (2009) described the changing context as one in which the dominance of quantitative research was refuted, the dichotomy between research and practice was resolved through hybridization, and the recognition of a need for a period of renewal and improvement arose. ―Theory was no longer positioned in front of practice, but as an indispensable means to improve it‖ (Oplatka, 2009, p. 21). All of these changes have resulted in a focus today on discovering how principal leadership can contribute to the process of sustained school improvement. The primary role of the principal ―is that of change agent within their organizations‖ (Harris, 2003, p. 14).

As a result of globalization and advances in technology, the context for principals‘ work today is undergoing unprecedented and rapid change (DfES, 2007;

Harris, 2008; Hopkins, 2001). Contemporaneously, there is a growing demand from the public for a higher level of accountability for all students‘ learning and increased pressure to meet imposed short-term goals as part of standardized reform. Internationally, most schools have an increasingly diverse student population, and in many instances, there is also an increased rotation within leadership assignments (Gurr et al., 2006; Hargreaves & Fink, 2006; Normore, 2004).

The type of school leadership required in schools today is very different and more complex than in previous decades (Brown, 2005; Elmore, 2005; Fullan, 2008; Hargreaves & Goodson, 2006; Normore, 2004). ―The school leader‘s job is complex and demanding and is becoming more demanding with each passing year‖ (Whitaker, 2003, p. 50).

Principals are expected to work collaboratively with teachers, parents, and students; and serve as a facilitator who nurtures leadership skill development on all fronts. Mulford and Silins (2003) and others claim the magnitude of change required is major (DfES,

2007) and involves the assistance of all teachers. ―A new model of leadership is emerging, one that recognizes the limitations of an approach to organizational change and development premised upon the efforts of just one person‖ (Harris & Day, 2003, p. 97).

Under the pressure of ongoing, multiple demands, some principals have reverted to management of a system agenda (Day, 2007; Hargreaves, Moore, & Fink, 2008).

The principalship is often viewed as dealing with overwhelming expectations (Chirichello, 2004; Whitaker, 2003) and fewer teachers are indicating an interest in becoming a school principal or a willingness to apply to be a school principal (Fullan, 2007; Leithwood et al., 2008; Leithwood et al., 2002; Phillips, Raham, & Renihan, 2003;

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