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 on January 10, 2019

by Andrea Prado Tuma, James P. Spillane

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A school principal's ability to engage with external stakeholders is critical for achieving a range of school objectives such as involving parents, implementing policy mandates, and accessing resources from the school district. This study examines how novice school principals make sense of different external stakeholders' demands and their own role in relation to external stakeholders during their first year on the job.

Research Approach

We analyze 53 semistructured interviews conducted with 18 novice principals throughout their first year on the job. We use an iterative process of coding and analysis to identify patterns and verify our findings by ensuring interrater reliability in our coding and examining disconfirming evidence.


We find that novice principals struggle to make sense of external stakeholder claims that they perceive to conflict with their own understanding of the goals and values of the school. In particular, conflicting claims elicit sense-making about a new principal's role vis-a-vis external stakeholders. Across time, a majority of novice principals narrow the scope of their role by coming to terms with taking an unpopular position, setting priorities, and modifying their expectations about the job.

Implications for Research and Practice

Our study highlights the cognitive, rather than behavioral, responses that principals have toward conflicting claims. Furthermore, we extend work on the occupational socialization of school principals by showing how conflicting claims shape novice principals emerging understanding of their role vis-a-vis external stakeholders. Our findings have implications for improving principal preparation programs and succession planning.

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