The new elementary school principal

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The New Elementary School Principal
Charles L. Slater
State University of California, Long Beach
José María Garcia-Garduno
Universidad Autonóma de la Ciudad de México
Gema López Gorosave
Universidad Autónoma de Baja California
University Council for Educational Administration Conference
New Orlean, LA
October 28,2010

The New Elementary School Principal[1]
Throughout the world, principals face similar challenges. The principal is a sort of buffer. According to Webster’s new encyclopedic dictionary, a buffer is “a device or material for reducing shock due to contact”. School principals act as a buffer in many situations absorbing the pressure and responsibility stemming from problemsamong teachers, students, parents, supervisors, and the community. The management of most conflicts in schools comes under the principal’s responsibility. What might vary across different cultural settings are the relevance, intensity, consequences, and methods of handling conflicts. This makes the role of principal one of the most challenging in any educational system. In addition, studies inschool effectiveness pointed out that the role of principal is a key factor for the school’s success.
Since the early 80s, school effectiveness research has claimed that the leadership of principals has played a key role in a school’s success. Recently, new studies have determined more precisely the influence of principals or school leadership on learning. Leithwood, Harris & Hopkins (2008,pp 27-28) have summarized the literature related to successful leadership. The authors found that:
1. Regarding the influence on pupil learning school leadership is second only to classroom teaching.
2. Almost all successful leaders draw upon the same repertoire of basic leadership practices.
3. School leaders improve teaching powerfully yet indirectly through their influence on staffmotivation, commitment and working conditions.
4. School leadership has a greater influence on schools and students when it is widely distributed.
5. A small handful of personal traits can explain a high proportion of the variation in leadership effectiveness.
Moreover, due to global economic competition, the political agenda of most educational systems has concerned itself withraising educational quality thorough educational reforms. The principal has the key role in the success of these reforms. The role of the school principal is undergoing tremendous change among inconsistent political agendas, and unprecedented cultural shifts (Cheung & Walker, 2006). School principals are under more pressure, which is even greater for novice principals. The study of principals hastraditionally been an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon (Oplatka, 2004) that has now started to spread to other parts of the world. However, research on principals newly assigned to the role is still more recent; the first studies were published in the late 70s (Greenfield, 1977a; 1977b). In the current decade the interest in these new professionals has begun to spread to other parts of the world; chieflythrough the creation of two international research networks, the International Beginning Principal Study, created in 1999 by Forrest Parkay (Parkay, 2003) and the International Study of Principal Preparation (ISPP), created in 2005 by Charles Webber (University of Calgary) and Mike Cowie (University of Edinburgh).
The role of the newly appointed principal is considered stressful and eventraumatic. Several metaphors express the difficulties experienced for first-time school principals: “balancing at the top of a greasy pole” (Walker & Qian, 2006); “sitting in the hot seat” (Weindling & Dimmock, 2006); “the pain outweighs the gain” (Howley, Solange & Perry, 2005); “jumping off the deep end and swimming against the tide” (Armstrong, 2004).
Hobson, Brown, Ashby, Keys, Sharp, &...
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