Empowering principal leadership in democratic schools
Bastian, Kenneth H, Jr
Expanding on the work of Reitzug (1994), the primary purpose of this study is to provide empirical examples of empowering principal behavior that inform educational practice. Specifically, the behaviors that principals in democratic schools exhibit are ones which: (1) empower others to focus on school-wide issues; (2) model democratic decision-making for students; (3) focus on the purpose of public schools in a democratic society; (4) understand the leader's role as supporter and facilitator; and (5) internalize the change process. Both the empowerment literature and the literature on alternative conceptions of administrative leadership behavior are long on theory and short on empirical examples that inform practice. With theory-practice connections scarce, this study seeks to enrich the knowledge base by providing empirical examples of empowering principal behaviors, obstacles to empowerment, and principal stressors in democratic schools. The study was conducted from the interpretivist paradigm and used qualitative research methodology. Forty principals from democratic schools representing rural, urban and suburban settings were included in the sample. Fourteen principals were female and twenty-six were male. Schools included were 22 elementary, 10 middle, and 8 high schools from the following states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont. The data were collected through audiotaped entries made by principals throughout a typical day. Additionally, principal and faculty interviews and direct observations were made at ten schools. The researcher's fieldnotes were helpful to draw connections between observed behaviors and their relationship to the study's focus. Audiotaped entries by principals in addition to school observations and interviews were conducted over a two-year period. Results indicated the types of empowering principal behavior include: modeling inclusion and collaboration, serving the community, sharing the big picture, developing common beliefs about learning, increasing outside information, connecting teaching and learning, highlighting successes in teaching and learning, demonstrating a caring community, building trust through communication, facilitating change, and empowering student leaders. Obstacles to empowering behaviors which were identified are time, isolation, fear of risk-taking, communication, technology, connectedness, and powerlessness and frustration. Principal stressors that emerged include: time, listening, support, managing more with less, fiscal constraints, trusting others, technology, dialogue, critical study, students first, systemic reform, complaining without action, view of teachers, and refusal to participate.