Novice School Principals Constructing Their Role Vis-A-Vis External Stakeholders

(Not) Attempting to Be "All Things to All People"

Published in: Educational Administration Quarterly (2019). doi: 10.1177%2F0013161X18822101

Posted on RAND.org on January 10, 2019

by Andrea Prado Tuma, James P. Spillane

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A school principal's ability to engage with parents, school district officials, community members and other external stakeholders is critical for achieving a range of school objectives such as ensuring sufficient student enrollment, implementing policy mandates, and accessing necessary resources. Moreover, engagement with external stakeholders has implications for the principal's organizational legitimacy, which also affects their ability to meet school goals.

However, little is known about how school principals make sense of and manage their relationships with a variety of external stakeholders. Our study begins to fill this gap in the literature by asking: how do principals’ early-on-the-job experiences shape their understanding of their interactions with and role toward external stakeholders?

Research Approach

To find out, we analyzed 53 semi-structured interviews with 18 novice principals across their first year to understand how they make sense of different external stakeholders’ demands and their own role in relation to external stakeholders.

Findings and Implications for Principal Preparation Programs and Succession Planning

We find that novice principals struggle to make sense of external stakeholder claims that they perceive to conflict with their own vision of the goals and values of the school and attempting to understand their role in managing such claims. Across time, most study participants came to limit the boundaries of their role in relation to external stakeholders rather than attempting to be “all things to all people.” In particular, the participants narrowed the scope of their role by coming to terms with taking an unpopular position, setting priorities, and modifying their expectations about the job.

These findings have implications for improving principal preparation programs and succession planning. Specifically, novice principals could benefit from succession planning that allows them to learn from the previous principal’s experience in managing their school’s external stakeholders. Relatedly, principal preparation programs could support participants in identifying the different external stakeholders that are likely to make demands of their time and attention as well as encouraging them to anticipate different options for navigating possible conflicting claims.

Research conducted by

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