The impact of academic/professional and contextual demographic variables of principals upon developmentally appropriate beliefs of principals and teachers
Tryjankowski, Anne Marie
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Education professionals have articulated the need for and are beginning to define more carefully what constitutes a quality program leader in Early Childhood Education. However, most states have little, or no, specific specialization requirements for administrators of programs in early childhood (defined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children as children from birth to age 8). Because research has shown that the developmental and learning needs of students in early childhood are unique, administrators of school programs for younger students should be aware of these needs and their implications for the learning environment. However, little is known about the types of academic/professional characteristics and contextual demographic variables that must be present to properly allow a leader to lead early childhood grades in a developmentally appropriate manner. This study investigated the qualities of educational leaders of early childhood grade programs, and how those qualities relate to developmentally appropriate beliefs of both principals and teachers in early childhood education. Information was gathered via survey. Surveys were sent to principals and teachers in Erie County, New York whose grade configurations included any early childhood grades (prekindergarten-grade 3) as defined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Principal surveys probed principals' teaching background, professional preparation, instructional program and school/district circumstances. Principals were also asked to complete the Primary Teacher Questionnaire (PTQ) which resulted in a score of their developmentally appropriate beliefs. Teachers were asked basic demographic questions, completed the PTQ, and also answered open-ended questions related to the types of principal behaviors that influence their classroom instruction. Returned teacher surveys were paired with returned principal surveys from the same school. Results were analyzed by both quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative analyses measured the relationship a specific principal quality had to a principal's or the teachers' developmentally appropriate beliefs. The qualitative analyses explored the extent to which a building principal's behavior influenced classroom instruction among teachers whose beliefs were classified as developmentally appropriate. Results from this study suggest that comprehensive leadership skills and experiences may lead to programs in which developmentally appropriate beliefs are evident. However, no one particular leadership preparation experience was found to ensure such beliefs within a program. Teacher-reported principal behaviors that positively influenced classroom instruction included behaviors related to building a culture of community within the school, and with outside stakeholders; helping the school community close the gap between research and practice in early childhood education; and ensuring a safe and orderly environment for learning. Principal behaviors that negatively influenced classroom instruction included behaviors that did not support a culture of community, and were divisive within that culture. Additionally, principal behavior that exemplified a lack of knowledge of early childhood development and practice were also cited as having a negative influence on early childhood classroom instruction. Future research efforts include replication of this model in other areas of the state and country. Additional efforts should be aimed at exploring developmentally appropriate early childhood grade schools to probe more deeply into descriptive issues presented in this study.