How the background, preparation and early leadership experiences of school principals influence their approach to leadership
Gruber, Michael Vincent
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The leadership approach of a school principal is an integral part of their identity as a school leader. This approach has at its foundation a set of values, beliefs, attitudes and dispositions formed throughout a lifetime of socialization within a family, in school and through various leadership experiences. Utilizing narrative inquiry, this study looks at the lives of six principals who, in their own words, discuss their path to the principalship and the influences that played a part in the formation of their reported approach to leadership. The research questions guiding this study examined how a principal's background, preparation and early leadership experience influence his or her approach to school leadership. The findings suggest that experiences in the early life of these principals exerted a strong influence on forming the foundation of the approach they reportedly adopted on becoming a school leader. Subsequent learning from reflection on their participation in an administrative preparation program and in early leadership experiences worked to broaden the base of that approach. These values and beliefs, dispositions and attitudes, along with behaviors congruent with the inner elements of their personhood, appeared either to become a part of their identity or were discarded as being at odds with who they were as a person. This identity, whose origins began early in childhood and developed over the course of many years, has aspects of the personal and professional and was influenced by both personal and professional learning. The results of this study have implications in three areas: for individuals aspiring to be a principal; for Schools of Education preparing potential principals; and, for school districts in selecting persons to lead their schools. Individuals need to understand their core values and beliefs, where they originated and how these attributes might lead them to act in certain ways. Schools of Education selecting candidates for their programs should gain a sense of the candidate as a person and professional and know their beliefs and values about education. School districts should understand the applicant's beliefs and core values about leadership in order to make informed decisions about whom to choose and in what kind of school and community the individual would be most appropriately placed to have the best chance of being a successful leader.