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Rites of Passage: Coercion, Compliance, and Complicity in the Socialization of New Vice-Principals


by Denise E. Armstrong - 2010

Background/Context: Over four decades ago, Arnold van Gennep used the term rites of passage to describe the ceremonial and ritualistic behaviors that marked the passage between social roles. Although the transition from teaching to administration is not as clearly delineated as passages in traditional societies, it is also characterized by socialization rites, rituals, and ceremonies that communicate information about approved administrative behaviors and reinforce organizational roles and structures.

Focus of Study: This research examined the socialization structures and processes that impacted the transition from teaching to administration. Eight newly appointed vice-principals from an urban Canadian school district were interviewed throughout the school year to determine the people, structures, and events that facilitated or hindered their transition and the challenges they encountered in leading and managing diverse urban schools.

Research Design: Qualitative methodology was used to explore new vice-principalsí experiences. Purposive sampling was used to represent the diversity of voices based on gender, ethnocultural background, type of school, and number of years of experience as a vice-principal. The vice-principals participated in two semistructured interviews during the school year. Individual responses were coded according to the research questions and further analyzed to determine recurring themes and patterns.

Findings/Results: The findings revealed that the novice vice-principals experienced separation, initiation, and incorporation rites that tested them physically, mentally, and emotionally. The pervasive pressure of these socialization tactics forced them to comply with normative expectations of the vice-principalship as a custodial disciplinary role and violated their professional rights.

Conclusion/Recommendations: Coercive socialization practices impact new administrators and their communities negatively and are antithetical to institutional goals of creating equitable schools. School districts, along with regulatory, training, and professional bodies, need to address core issues related to the vice-principalship and the ways in which new school leaders are socialized into administrative roles. Coordinated partnerships and interventions are also needed so that new administrators can develop leadership skills in emotionally and physically safe environments.

I wish my heart had been harder—you know, don’t take it personally. I wish I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to have time to have lunch with my friends. I wish I knew that the most difficult part of the job was going to be the adult rather than the kid piece. I wish I knew that I didn’t have to carry the entire world on my shoulders and that I could say, “It’s not my job. I don’t have to solve everything. ”I wish I knew that everybody in the world sees it differently than I do, and my expectations perhaps shouldn’t be as high. I wish I knew it was OK to ask for help. (Barb1)


The transition from teacher to vice-principal is an important professional and organizational passage that carries significant dreams and transformational possibilities for new administrators and their communities. However, it is not unusual for new vice-principals like Barb, who enter administration with the intention of making a positive difference for students beyond the classroom, to experience pervasive organizational rites of passage (van Gennep, 1960) that work together to divest initiates of their previous teacher values and socialize them into traditional administrative roles (Fishbein & Osterman, 2001; Marshall, 1992a). In many cases, these socialization practices remain unquestioned because they are normalized within the daily rituals of schooling. These practices also serve to reinforce the differences between organizational roles and maintain existing power structures. However, from the individual perspective, these socialization practices represent barriers to organizational change that undermine new vice-principals’ professional rights and restrict their ability to develop equitable leadership praxis (Armstrong, 2005).


Vice-principals who were appointed in the last decade have experienced additional socialization challenges because of rapid organizational reforms that carry legal obligations for enforcement (Armstrong, 2009; Marshall & Hooley, 2006; Nanavati & McCulloch, 2003). In many jurisdictions, parallel and sometimes contradictory changes in curriculum, governance, and staffing have increased the complexity and size of administrators’ workload while depriving them of their traditional support bases (Earl, Freeman, Lasky, Sutherland & Torrance, 2002; Griffith, 2001). The difficulty of this passage is exacerbated for administrators who work in urban settings because of external pressures to implement policies that equate sameness with equity, further disadvantaging minority populations (Armstrong & McMahon, 2006; Marshall & Hooley, 2006; Ryan, 2002).  These administrators feel frustrated by their inability to address the needs of an increasingly diverse school demographic, and they experience ambiguity and stress when their actions and values conflict (Armstrong, 2004b, 2005; Begley, 2003).


This study examined the early separation, initiation, and incorporation rites of passage that eight newly appointed Canadian vice-principals experienced as part of their socialization into the vice-principalship. It highlighted the socialization challenges they encountered in leading and managing diverse urban schools and the ways in which these pressures influenced the novice vice-principals’ development of equitable practices. By focusing on new vice-principals’ socialization rites, this study integrated and expanded the existing knowledge base of administrative socialization. Although earlier studies have emphasized the importance of the vice-principalship as a frontline role in which most administrators develop the foundational attitudes that shape future administrative practice (Calebrese, 1991; Hartzell, Williams, & Nelson, 1994; Marshall, 1992a, 1992b), the majority of research in educational administration continues to focus on principals. In addition, because principals and vice-principals often share roles, it is often assumed that their socialization experiences are the same. However, this is not the case. Because of differences in position and power within the administrative hierarchy, principals and vice-principals experience socialization practices differently (Armstrong, 2005). The following section provides a review of the socialization research that informs this study.


SOCIALIZATION INTO ADMINISTRATION


Socialization is commonly defined as the process of learning and performing social roles, and it is the way in which individuals learn about and acquire the values, norms, and beliefs that are required to fulfill organizational roles (Ashforth, 2001; Crow, 2004; Hart, 1991). Organizational theorists identify professional and organizational socialization as the two main forces that inculcate novices into administrative roles (Greenfield, 1985a; Heck, 1995; Matthews & Crow, 2003). Professional socialization is the process of becoming a member of, and identifying with, a profession, and it begins when teachers consider becoming administrators and internalize the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that support professional membership (Hart, 1995; Heck, 1995). This form of socialization includes formal training by professional qualification providers such as universities, and informal experiences that shape aspirants’ notions of what it means to become an administrator (Greenfield, 1985a; Matthews & Crow, 2003).  


Organizational socialization serves to transmit and perpetuate the organization’s culture and stability, and it represents the transition from the initial appointment until the new administrator is finally accepted into the organization (Alvy & Robbins, 1998). Socialization modifies and expands the academic skills learned during university training, and it also entails learning a new cultural perspective (Heck, 1995; Matthews & Crow, 2003). Greenfield’s (1985a) analysis of organizational socialization identifies technical and moral aspects that involve developing role-related knowledge and skills and internalizing group norms, values, and attitudes. Although both organizational and professional socialization occur during the administrative passage, organizational socialization is more powerful because supervisors control evaluations and rewards, whereas “colleagues control affiliation and sociability” (Hart, 1991, p. 452).


RITES, RITUALS, AND TACTICS


Analyses of the new administrators’ socialization experiences identify four broad periods—anticipation, encounter, adjustment, and stabilization—that occur as new administrators learn about and adapt to organizational roles and locate themselves within their school and district culture (Hart, 1991; Matthews & Crow, 2003). Trice and Morand (1989) established close parallels between career socialization stages and van Gennep’s (1960) rites of passages in traditional societies (i.e., the symbolic and ritualistic behaviors and ceremonies that mark the passage between social roles). Rites of passage involve universal stages of separation, transition, and incorporation that facilitate role exit, movement between roles, and role entry, and they may include the involvement of significant others, the manipulation of symbols, and the use of scripted behaviors (Ashforth, 2001; Cobb, 2005). Newcomers are subjected to grinding down periods in which they are isolated from their former group and initiated into the norms of the new group. Initiates are integrated into their new reference group after they have proved their worthiness and ability to fulfill the expectations of their new position (Cobb, 2005; Trice & Morand, 1989; Wollon & Sommer, 2003).


Rites of passage fulfill different functions for individuals and organizations. According to Trice and Morand (1989), they mark the passage between roles and act as social-ceremonial activities that transform newcomers’ psychological identity and uphold the normative status of organizational careers. Organizational rites of passage also facilitate social and psychological withdrawal and disengagement from previous roles by providing natural breakpoints for severing or redefining relationships, and they alert the wider social group that a role transformation is occurring. Ashforth (2001) also proposed that in addition to supporting social and psychological movement from previous to current roles and encouraging the development of a role identity, rites also serve to build group cohesion and affirm organizational values, beliefs, and ideologies.


Although administrative transitions are not as clearly demarcated as passages between social roles in traditional societies, they are still characterized by formal and informal rites, rituals, and ceremonies. To date, few studies within educational administration have focused specifically on administrative rites of passage. However, investigations of new vice-principals’ enculturation and assumptive worlds (Greenfield, 1985a; Hartzell et al., 1994; Marshall, 1992a, 1992b; Marshall & Hooley, 2006) identify the existence of socialization practices that communicate information about approved or unacceptable behaviors and values and reinforce organizational cultures, roles, and structures. Cultural artifacts (e.g., walkie-talkies, master keys) are employed to mark the assumption of administrative status. New vice-principals are subjected to tests by members of the school community during the move between teaching and administrative roles (Armstrong, 2009; Matthews & Crow, 2003).


Consistent with rites of passage, the literature also points to an intensification of organizational socialization pressures that occur as newcomers cross professional boundaries. New vice-principals are generally placed in frontline positions that require dealing with a conflicting range of socializing bodies, inside and outside of their school, such as, parents, students, senior administrators, and community stakeholders (Hartzell et al., 1994; Marshall, 1992a; Sigford, 1998), and they are exposed to a number of complex duties and responsibilities for which they are unprepared (Marshall, 1992b). Conway (1990) confirmed the existence of separation, transition, and incorporation rites that reinforce differences between teachers and administrators and underscore a “we versus they” mentality (p. 198). Separation rites include “subtle shunning” and “polite silences” from former teacher colleagues when the promotion is made public, and in some jurisdictions, new administrators are removed from teacher unions. Transition and incorporation rites include introductions to faculty at the first staff meeting and “humor tests” that humiliate new administrators.


Greenfield’s (1985a, 1985b) research identified hierarchical, functional, and inclusionary socialization boundaries that must be navigated by new and aspiring administrators. New administrators encounter hierarchical boundaries when they move from classroom to middle management roles. They face functional boundaries when they attempt to undertake supervisory tasks related to students, staff, facilities, curriculum, and resources. New vice-principals must cross inclusionary boundaries to be accepted into the organization’s inner circle of information and influence. Greenfield (1985a) also pointed to a gestalt of individual, informal, random, variable, and serial tactics with blended investiture and divestiture processes that ensure that supervisors maintain power to influence novices. Both teaching and administrative groups use investiture tactics to affirm desired administrative dispositions and behaviors, and divestiture tactics discourage teaching practices and attitudes that are perceived to be undesirable in administrative roles. This ensures that over time, “the individual discards many of the values and orientations of regular classroom teachers and begins to take on more and more of the characteristics, values and work-world orientations of administrators” (Greenfield, 1985a, p. 16).  


SOCIALIZATION OUTCOMES


Although organizational socialization often appears to occur by default (Ashforth, 2001) and educational institutions seem to be unaware of the rites that new vice-principals encounter, theorists have identified a range of individual and group practices within schools that are used to inculcate new vice-principals into the perspectives, norms, obligations, and privileges that support administrative roles (Matthews & Crow, 2003). The research (Hartzell et al., 1994; Marshall & Hooley, 2006; Marshall & Mitchell, 1991) identified a number of socialization and enculturation tasks that new vice-principals are required to master in order to be accepted within the administrative culture. These include performing assigned duties; impressing superiors and developing their trust; learning the rules about the right and responsibility to initiate action; taking limited risks to gain recognition and power; and learning the appropriate use of power and the limits of special school conditions.


Micropolitical analyses of socialization practices and new vice-principals’ assumptive worlds also report the existence of factors and processes within schools that foster compliance and impede the development of equitable leadership practices and outcomes (Marshall, 1992a, 1992b; Marshall & Mitchell, 1991; Marshall & Greenfield, 1987). For example, Marshall (1992a, 1992b) contends that complex socialization dynamics within schools inculcate new vice-principals into the norms and obligations that circumscribe hierarchical roles and relationships and discourage innovation. These generally take the form of stated and unarticulated rules, rewards, and sanctions that teach novices when to take initiative, exercise discretion, and express their views.


The ability to handle such technical and sociopolitical tasks is influenced by variables related to personal dispositions, abilities, professional preparation, support, prior experience, and institutional context (Ashforth, 2001; Greenfield, 1985a; Hartzell et al., 1994; Marshall & Mitchell, 1991; Matthews & Crow, 2003). Marshall (1992b) identified variables related to personality, working context, and district selection practices that work imperceptibly to guarantee a complement of administrators who will avoid divergent thinking and action. She pointed to an institutional dynamic in which teachers, as a professional group, are generally chosen because they are conservative. Vice-principals, who are preselected because of their conservative outlook, are further socialized to avoid ambiguous situations. Marshall described a coercive ethos in which


people who raise questions and challenge the system are more likely to be seen as misfits than as potential leaders. People who have conflicting feelings about administration, school programs, and incumbent administrators, and who challenge existing practice, will be less likely to be seen as trustworthy and loyal enough to be included in the administrative group. (p. 91)


She concluded that these practices not only reinforce a “groupthink mentality” and a narrow definition of what constitutes the “best” system, but also result in an administrative culture that avoids value conflicts.


Early socialization experiences not only provide the foundation for new vice-principals’ interpretation and enactment of administrative power and privilege, but they also determine novice administrators’ ability to effect systemic change. The most commonly predicted outcomes of socialization are replication, content innovation, and role innovation (Crow, 2004; Hart, 1991; Matthews & Crow, 2003). Replication is a custodial response that occurs when new administrators preserve previous practice by enacting the role in the same way as their predecessors (Hart, 1991). Content innovation occurs when novices make changes to their enactment of the role. Role innovation occurs when novices reject organizational behavioral and performance norms and make fundamental changes to goals, purposes, and content (Crow, 2004; Matthews & Crow, 2003).


Unfortunately, custodial responses continue to be the most commonly reported outcomes for vice-principals (Armstrong, 2009; Marshall, 1992b; Marshall & Hooley, 2006; Nanavati & McCulloch, 2003). Overall, new vice-principals fulfill organizational stability functions that preclude change and reinforce system inequities. Novices tend to adopt the dominant administrative and district culture, and they often replicate and reproduce these values, beliefs, and assumptions uncritically (Armstrong, 2005; Marshall, 1992a; Matthews & Crow, 2003). Custodial socialization practices function to maintain and reproduce the status quo in schools, restrict new vice-principals’ abilities to initiate change, inhibit divergent thinking, and limit newcomers’ agency (Marshall, 1992b).


Matthews and Crow (2003) advanced a vision of socialization as a “reciprocal process” in which both organization and individual are active participants in professional learning and work together to effect organizational change. They recommended that new vice-principals acknowledge the mutuality of organizational and personal influence and adopt an attitude of “creative individualism” that involves the acceptance of some organizational values and norms and rejection of others. Although vice-principals alone will not eradicate core structures and practices that maintain educational hegemonies, their actions can provide a positive shift in the direction of creating more equitable schools for students and staff.


METHOD


The present examination of new vice-principals’ socialization experiences was conducted as part of an in-depth qualitative study that explored the personal, professional, and organizational transitions of new secondary school vice-principals in Canada, and the significant people, structures, and events that facilitated or hindered their transitional passage (Armstrong, 2004a). That study was guided by constructivist (Lambert, 2002; Schwandt, 2000), phenomenological, and narrative traditions that highlight the importance of educators’ “lived experience” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Kincheloe, 2003). Inherent in these perspectives is the belief that educational praxis (i.e., conscious, committed, reflective, and moral action) is co-constructed through reciprocal relationships between educational professionals and stakeholders. These constructions are influenced by the surrounding sociocultural ethos of the school and equity and social justice lie at the center of these processes (Armstrong, 2004a; Foster, 2004; Kincheloe, 2003). According to Clandinin and Connelly (2000) educators’ personal and professional narratives play a critical role in making sense of their professional experiences. The present study provides an in-depth look at the personal and professional stories of new vice-principals. These stories act as important vehicles for navigating the administrative landscape and help them bridge the gap between the social and psychological worlds of teaching and administration (Armstrong, 2004a).


SAMPLING


The vice-principals targeted for the present study were selected from a large urban school district in Canada, using purposive sampling procedures to represent the diversity of vice-principal experiences and backgrounds (Merriam, 1998). A total of eight vice-principals were contacted and asked to participate. These individuals were identified based on four criteria designed to maximize diversity in experience, biographical factors, and school context: (a) years of experience as a secondary school vice-principal (first, second, and third-year vice-principals); (b) gender; (c) racial/ethnocultural identification—South East Asian Canadian, South Asian Canadian, African Canadian, and Anglo Canadian; and (d) type of school—vocational, mixed vocational/academic, and academic.  See Table 1 for a numerical breakdown of the sample.


Table 1. Vice-Principals’ Profiles

Name

Age

Sex


Race/ethnocultural Background

Type of School

Years of vice-principal experience

Michael

     30–35

M

African Canadian

Academic

1

Esther

     45–50

F

African Canadian

Mixed Vocational/

Academic

1

Sandy

     40–45

F

African Canadian

Mixed Vocational/

Academic

2

Jerry

     45–50

M

South Asian Canadian

Mixed Vocational/

Academic

2

Greg

     50–55

M

Anglo Canadian

Academic

2

Karen

     40–45

F

South East Asian Canadian

Academic

3

Andrew

     40–45

M

South East Asian Canadian

Academic

3

Barb

     45–50

F

Anglo Canadian

Vocational

3


DATA COLLECTION AND PROCEDURE


Each vice-principal participated in two face-to-face focused interviews during the school year, approximately 6 months apart.  Each interview lasted approximately 90 minutes, was conducted by the author in a mutually agreeable location at the university or at the vice-principals’ home, and audio-recorded for transcription later on.  The interview questions were designed to explore the inner, outer, and temporal dimensions of these vice-principals’ experiences (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).  Table 2 presents the leading questions posed to participants during each interview that represent each of these categories. As can be seen in the table, participants were asked about the nature of their transition from teaching to administration; the people, structures, and events that facilitated or hindered the transition; and the challenges, dilemmas, and tensions they encountered during the passage. Interview transcripts were coded according to themes that emerged from the interview questions shown in Table 2. Table 3 and the appendix illustrate the transcription coding process. In addition to the interview responses from each vice-principal, the author took observational field notes on, and conducted follow-up conversations with, each participant to review interpretations of the data for accuracy.


Table 2. Research Questions Posed in Time 1 and Time 2


Research Questions

Inner

Outer

Temporal

1. What is the nature of the transition from teaching to administration as experienced by newly appointed secondary school vice-principals?

Time 1 Questions

- Why did you decide to become a vice-principal?

-Describe your experiences as you made the transition from teaching to the vice-principalship.



Time 2 Questions

-How do you feel about the role now that you have more experience as a vice-principal?

-What were your perceptions of the role prior to becoming a vice-principal? How have they changed?

Time 1 Questions

-What are the differences and similarities between your current and former roles?

-How are new vice-principals supported in their transition?


Time 2 Questions

-Has your behavior changed as a result of your experiences? How?

-How has this role changed the ways in which you interact with others? (e.g., staff, students, parents)

Time 1 Questions

-How long have you been a vice-principal?

-How did your experiences as a teacher prepare you for this role?




Time 2 Questions

-Describe your first, second, and third year as a vice-principal.

-How have you changed as a result of these experiences?

2. What people, structures, and events do vice-principals identify as significant, facilitating, or hindering to their transition from teaching to administration?

Time 1 Questions

-Do you feel that new vice-principals are supported in their role? Explain.

-Do you think that vice-principals require more support? Please explain.



Time 2 Questions

-How do you feel about the support that you have received to date?

-You indicated that some individuals hindered your transition. Could you please illustrate?

Time 1 Questions

-What are the some of the key organizational factors that support new vice-principals’ transitions?

-What are the some of the key factors that hinder new vice-principals’ transitions?


Time 2 Questions

-What are some of the external factors that hindered your role?

-How did you address them?

Time 1 Questions

-What are some of the key factors that hinder vice-principals during their first, second, and third year?

-How do these factors impact vice-principals’ ability to perform their role?


Time 2 Questions

-What are some of the key barriers that you encountered during your first, second, and third year?

-How have you addressed these barriers?

-What supports would be helpful to you at this stage of your career?

3. What challenges, dilemmas, and tensions do vice-principals report encountering as they make the transition from teaching to administration?

Time 1 Questions

-What are the key challenges that new vice-principals experience?-How did you respond to these challenges?





Time 2 Questions

-What are the key challenges that you have encountered so far?

-What dilemmas did you encounter at various stages of the transition to vice-principal (e.g., first year versus second or third year)?

-How do you feel abut these challenges?

Time 1 Questions

-What are some of the external factors that impact your position as vice-principal?-How have these challenges influenced your perception of the role?




Time 2 Questions

-How have these challenges changed how you perform your role?-What strategies have you used to respond to the challenges, dilemmas, and tensions you have encountered?


Time 1 Questions

-What dilemmas have you encountered at various stages of your transition (e.g., first, second, and third year)?

-What supports do you think new vice-principals need? Explain.


Time 2 Questions

- What supports do you need to deal with the challenges you have encountered?-What would you do differently?



DATA ANALYSIS


Table 3 provides samples of data from the transcripts of two different first-year vice-principals (1 male, 1 female, each of whom worked in different kinds of schools) during the first interview segment. The transcripts are highlighted to show how responses to questions were coded for emerging themes that were evoked by both participants. Both respondents answered the question on their transition from teaching to the vice-principalship by indicating that they experienced a range of emotions, differing levels of supports, a variety of hindrances, and district rituals, and they developed strategies during this process. Data from each transcript were studied in this manner, and field notes were used to augment themes that emerged throughout the process.


Table 3. Sample Transcription Coding


Code

Female Respondent

Male Respondent

Emotions (E)






-For -For some reason, I did not feel that excited because I felt it was long overdue. I just felt that they should have utilized my skills before. So to me it was like it is almost too late now that they have given me this position. And I could have done so much. From that perspective, I wasn’t really that excited.


So

- Because this whole process of trying to be a vice-principal has opened a world of emotion to me. - “Oh, it’s great to be alive, you get to feel this and everything is wonderful.” You feel enraged, you feel happy, you feel sad, and that’s going on inside you. And this is what happened when I found out about getting the vice-principal job.

Excitement (Ee)

 

- But this process, then I go to the second one and I found out I got on the list and I did like kind of a happy dance.

My excitement is more than normal.

- And that was when the list came out and that was published and all. And friends of mine called me and said, “Congratulations, I saw your name on the list. And then, I was so excited to get there.

Joy (Ej)

-I was happy to see that, yes, at least the time has come.

- And after, when X [superintendent] called, I was jumping for joy, and then when the other superintendent called finally, it was, “Great, finally. It is for real.”

Frustration (Ef)

- So you know, that was painful and that was upsetting because everybody knew that I could do the job and the position was there.

- So there was a little bit of frustration along the way, what is it that I need to do? And who do I need to talk to, to help me get to where I want to get?

Shock (Es)

 

- And because my first experience was so great, so easy, I felt that it was so easy, that for my second one that I didn’t prepare as much as I should have. And when I didn’t get that, then it was upsetting.And then I met with her and she says I’m not on the list. You know, I’m in shock.

Doubt (Ed)

- What I found overwhelming was learning the protocol. Who plays this role?  Whose responsibility is this?  Who are the important key players?

- And then, I was so excited to get there and then a month later I’m thinking, “Well, what am I going to do here? I don’t know what I am doing. I’ve never done a vice-principal’s job before.”

Preparation (P)

- So then I decided that I was one of those people who need to get into a leadership role so that I could bring change in that area. So that’s why my interest developed.  So I went on and I did my specialist in Guidance and specialist in Special Education and I went on to do my Masters and so on in order to get me ahead.

- And I just told them about myself, and everything was kind of prepared in advance and I just went through my game plan. And the second interview, that was, “Here you are, here are your questions, how are you going to respond?”

Strategies (ST)

- So I said that I wanted a transfer and I left. And then I got my Principals parts 1 and 2 and decided to apply.

- So when I moved and I completed the application for the final time, and I took it to a retired superintendent and she looked at my resume, and all the work I had done, and all the community work and involvement.

- He says, “Go, and at Commencement, you introduce yourself to her.”

- And a lot of the time, I listen to people, I ask people questions and then I keep them in the back of my mind. And I just happened to ask enough people questions that I say, “I see something and I take advantage of it. I see something that might be useful for me to know or in the future and I take advantage of it.”

Supports - District (Sd)

- So when I moved and I completed the application of for the final time, and I took it to a retired superintendent and she looked at my resume, and all the work I had done, and all the community work and involvement. - And she said, “I cannot believe once again, that you are not a vice-principal. Where were you five years ago? The people that I have seen who have gone ahead have got not even a half of the things that you have in your document.” So this principal was supportive. This retired superintendent had phoned the principal and said, “This person should have been a VP five years ago.” So that went on and I was placed on the list. -There were two of us from my school board on the list. And I was selected mainly because somebody knows me and knows that I have done a lot of work in the community and know this neighborhood and my experience has spoken for me. So they selected me for this school. But, had it not been for that, I probably would not have been selected.

- And we talked a little bit about what I wanted to do and what I need to do to get myself into a school. And at the end of our conversation, I said, I’d fax her all the information so that she could confirm that I was on the list. And when I called her back, she said that she had found the revised list that I was on.

Supports - Principal (Sp)

 

- You know, I don’t see these people every day, so I don’t know what to do. So I talk to my principal.

- My last principal, if there was anything that came by his desk, he would feed it to me.

Hindrances (H)

 

- I haven’t really had anyone say, “Oh, X, you want to be a vice-principal, take, this and this and this.

- But there was nobody clearly defining the path for me.

District (Hd)

- And of course it was a good thing for the students, but I knew right away that it was going to become a problem for me because they don’t like to see that.

- And so I realized that that was not a good thing for me in terms of getting ahead.- When the superintendent went to my principal, the principal that did not give me the headship position, she said that she did not think I was ready and right there I was cut again. When I said that they have too much power, I think it is also very dangerous. So she passed that information on every time so went for the interview three times and each time it was her. It was only after I moved schools, because I was advised again by another principal that I should move because she has a bias against me.

- And after that, even after I got on the list, I realized that it is still who you know up at the top. -Because although you are ready and although you have stated the things that you are good at and the areas that you are interested in, if the principal who is working at the school where you are going to be placed doesn’t really know you or know somebody who knows you, the chances of you getting on are very slim. So, I think that there are barriers there and I think they need to work at that to ensure that equity is there and there is fairness, because it really isn’t a good system the way it is right now. - I really am concerned about the people who made it to the top in general. It’s just a networking issue and who you know and I don’t even know if the best people make it all the time.

- Because I got myself a letter that says I’m on the list and now she says I’m not on the list.

    Principal (Hp)

-Then I came across a stumbling block where I was in one school and was practically running the department and the person who was there was a good head, but when she became ill or had to go out, I was the one who totally ran the department. And when the time came up for the position, the principal decided, “No, I am not going to put you in this position.” Mainly again, it is because I am an African-Canadian. She said “I need someone I know.” So she went out and she got a brand new person. I think the person had been teaching for two years. So she brought the person handpicked in and gave them the position.

- Because although you are ready and although you have stated the things that you are good at and the areas that you are interested in, if the principal who is working at the school where you are going to be placed doesn’t really know you or know somebody who knows you, the chances of you getting on are very slim. So, I think that there are barriers there and I think they need to work at that to ensure that equity is there and there is fairness, because it really isn’t a good system the way it is right now.

- And so, that was where the barrier for me started, when she decided that she did not want me to become an administrator. Because of that fact, I believe that it was a racial barrier.

 

Rituals (R)

- Firstly, I’ll start off by saying that principals have too much power where this is concerned, and too much control for people getting ahead. Because this can be done very much on who you know, who knows you, and whom they feel they want to support. And it has very little to do with ability.

- And when I did my first interview, one of the principals who interviewed me, and he was not allowed to tell me this, but he came and he said to me, “You did such and outstanding job that the people on the committee cannot believe that you are not already a vice-principal.”

- When the superintendent went to my principal, the principal that did not give me the headship position, she said that she did not think I was ready and right there I was cut again. When I said that they have too much power, I think it is also very dangerous. So she passed that information on every time so went for the interview three times and each time it was her. It was only after I moved schools, because I was advised again by another principal that I should move because she has a bias against me.

- If you don’t know the right people, because the other person is still waiting and he has been on the list for probably two and a half years. And once the list is increased, they just select you randomly from the list like it used to be. They don’t say that this is the best pick for the school, or this person has been on it for two years. They can choose someone who just got on it yesterday. So that is another way I think it is not fair.

- And then, I had a meeting to get off the list and into a school. And I had gotten to know my last superintendent a little bit, so that I ceased to be just someone’s name on a list, and there was actually a face to my name.

- And I wanted to introduce myself. And so I didn’t really know what to do and how to make that contact, because they are a superintendent and I’m just a teacher. You know, I don’t see these people every day, so I don’t know what to do.

- So I found out I’m going to be placed. X (superintendent) calls me, she says, “I’ve got some news for you. You’ve been placed.” I said, “I have? I said, “I just talked to you last week or whatever.” She said, “Yes, I know. You’ve been placed somewhere else and I can’t tell you the details because everything is hush- hush.”

- So one day passed, two days passed, hadn’t got this call. So I go down to my principal and I say, “I got a call the other day from the superintendent. She said that I have been placed. Have you heard anything?” He said that he hadn’t heard anything. And I am thinking to myself, “Uh oh. I don’t think this is a joke, but I’ll just continue to do what I’ve always been doing…. And eventually, things will happen, I assume.”

- A week or so later , the other superintendent called me and informed me where I was going to go.


Note. Codes are as follows: Emotions = E (Excitement = Ee; Joy = Ej; Frustration = Ef; Shock = Es; Doubt = Ed); Preparation = P; Strategies = ST; Support = S (District = Sd; School principal = Sp); Hindrances = H (District = Hd; School principal = Hp); Rituals = R.


RESULTS


Overall, these vice-principals’ individual narratives depicted unique journeys that were influenced by a variety of personal, professional, and organizational factors. However, when the data were aggregated and cross analyzed, the results showed that the stories had common themes, and that the transition from the classroom represented an important socialization period for new administrators (Fishbein & Osterman, 2001; Matthews & Crow, 2003). The vice-principals identified a range of organizational actors, both above and below them within the organizational hierarchy, who converged to assess their competencies and socialize them into existing expectations of the vice-principals’ roles. These findings showed that organizational socialization began even earlier than acknowledged in the literature. Rites of passage were initiated as soon as the aspiring vice-principals indicated their interest in becoming administrators, and they triggered a complex psychosocial journey that, over time, forced the novices to reject their teacher values and beliefs and realign themselves with managerial and administrative goals. Different tactics were employed at different phases of the passage that were consistent with previous descriptions of separation, initiation, and incorporation rites of passage (Ashforth, 2001; Conway, 1990).


THE ADMINISTRATIVE PASSAGE


A visual metaphor of transitional epicycles, or cycles within cycles, that was derived from vice-principals’ narratives in an earlier study (Armstrong, 2004a) was used to provide a framework for understanding the iterative cognitive and socioemotional trajectories that the novices experienced as they adjusted to external socialization pressures. This model highlights the dialectical interaction between individual and organizational socializing forces and the evolving nature of administrative practice. Figure1 depicts the successive phases of the transition and socialization environment as described from the perspective of the new vice-principal. Within this model, the new vice-principal is positioned in the middle of the transitional cycle to illustrate the onset of the transition and his or her centrality to the process.


Figure 1. Epicycles of transition

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click to enlarge


Although this visual representation gives the illusion of cyclical uniformity and forward progression, it was, in reality, experienced as a chaotic, nonlinear process by the new vice-principals. The names of the four cycles—Entry-Exit, Immersion-Emersion, Disintegration-Reintegration, Transformation-Re-stabilization—reflect the paradoxical nature of this socialization and transition dynamic and the tension that evolves as new vice-principals and their communities negotiate their respective needs (Armstrong, 2004b). The cycles are corollaries of each other, and the dotted lines show the potential for retrograde and forward movement. Each phase of the vice-principal’s trajectory builds on the previous cycles, and different rites of passage occur within each phase.


The primary circle of Entry-Exit traces the local or first-order trajectory, and it represents the period when the aspiring vice-principals were still teachers and preparing to become administrators. At this point, they were in the process of surveying the administrative landscape through their teacher lenses, and the administrative passage appeared to be simple and predictable from this first-order viewpoint. The Immersion-Emersion cycle represents the second-order trajectory that was precipitated after the newly appointed vice-principals moved to their new school and became immersed within their new school culture. Although both motions are simple progressions, when overlaid, they were perceived as complex from the first-order egocentric viewpoint because the new administrators continued to perceive the administrative passage through their teacher lenses. This trajectory became increasingly complex as they progressed to the higher order trajectories of Disintegration-Reintegration and Transformation-Restabilization. However, as the new vice-principals gained in experience, they were able to look back on their previous trajectory and develop clearer perspectives of the administrative passage.


ENTRY-EXIT RITES


The Entry-Exit cycle started when the vice-principals began thinking about administration as a possible career move and ended when they began working in their new schools. An important part of this social and psychological process entailed the vice-principals surveying the organizational landscape to determine how they could separate from teaching and move ahead within the organizational hierarchy. During this period, the new vice-principals engaged in formal and informal preparatory and anticipatory rites that consciously and unconsciously signaled to their supervisors their interest in becoming administrators. Informal rites included assuming additional responsibilities at the school and district level, such as volunteering to be substitute administrators; assisting with duties such as attendance counseling, and student and staff scheduling; providing leadership to committees; and attending professional development courses. These pre-promotion socialization rites provided opportunities for the aspiring vice-principals to demonstrate their leadership potential, rehearse for the vice-principal’s role, network with potential role models, and get their supervisors’ sponsorship.


The provincial certification requirements and school district selection and placement rounds were formal mechanisms that triggered the early rites of separation from the teaching culture and initiation into the administrative culture. The certification courses functioned as a form of professional socialization whereby the administrative candidates met off-site as part of a heterogeneous group of teachers from different school districts. Overall, these processes were clearly scripted; the candidates were required to meet a fairly predictable set of outcomes, and they felt empowered to exert some control over the process. All of the vice-principals agreed that although the prerequisite principals’ certification courses provided valuable information about the principalship and leadership theories, they failed to prepare them for the diversity of schools or the technical and sociopolitical challenges of the vice-principalship itself. Andrew identified this lack of preparation as a key contributor to the emotional strain that the new vice-principals experienced: “A lot of the skills that are required as an administrator haven’t been touched when we go through the Principals’ programs. I remember the first several weeks that feeling of inadequacy really puts you down.”  


Like the provincial certification process, the school district’s two-part selection and promotion procedures were outlined in policy, and they acted as an additional formal separation rite of passage. However, when compared with the provincial certification process, the district procedures were experienced as unpredictable and disempowering and were more consistent with previous descriptions of organizational socialization tactics (Fishbein & Osterman, 2001; Greenfield, 1985a; Marshall, 1992a). During this period, the administrative aspirants were required to undergo individual tests to prove to their supervisors that they possessed the knowledge and skills required to join the administrative group. These individuals were required to interact directly with senior administrators, who communicated clear messages to the aspirants regarding the behavioral norms of the administrative hierarchy and the vice-principals’ subordinate status in the power pyramid.


The vice-principals identified inequitable practices whereby teachers who were well connected or perceived to be conforming to the district’s administrative culture were “tapped on the shoulders,” received additional coaching, and were provided with sample interview questions. Conversely, teachers who challenged institutional practices and lacked powerful networks were discouraged from applying. Those who persisted in spite of these messages were usually “cut” in the interview rounds. Esther’s story is illustrative of the insidious ways in which her district’s pre-promotion process maintained the status quo by blocking entry to administrative candidates who openly challenged systemic inequities. Esther, who described herself as an advocate for poor and minority students, identified her stumbling blocks as beginning when she applied for department headship against her principal’s wishes:


When the time came up for position [to be filled], the principal decided, “No, I am not going to put you in this position.” Mainly again, it is because I am an African Canadian. She said, “I need someone I know.” So she went out and she got a brand new person. I think the person had been teaching for two years. So you know, that was painful and upsetting because everyone knew that I could do the job and the position was there. That was where the barriers for me started.  When she decided that she did not want me to become an administrator.


Although she had transferred to another school, Esther was surprised to learn that even though she was successful in the interview, her former principal was still powerful enough to veto her promotion:


When I did my first interview, one of the principals who interviewed me, and he was not allowed to tell me this, but he said to me, “You did such an outstanding job that the people on the committee cannot believe that you are not already a vice-principal.” When the superintendent went to my principal,  the principal that did not give me the headship position, she said that she did not think I was ready and right there I was cut again . . . I went for the interview three times and each time she blocked me.


It was only after Esther appealed to another superintendent that she was placed on the official promotion list. Reflecting on these inequitable practices, Esther observed, “After I got on the list, I realized that it is still who you know at the top. . .  I was selected mainly because somebody knows me and knows that I have done a lot of work in the community. . . . It’s just a networking issue and who you know, and I don’t even know if the best people make it all the time.”


Although she acknowledged that she herself benefitted from her contacts, Esther remained disenchanted by inequities that contradicted her district’s espoused commitment to equity and diversity as it related to candidates’ rights to a fair hiring process and students’ rights to administrators who challenge the status quo.  


The vice-principals reported additional threshold rites by teachers and administrators that increased their feelings of liminality or “betwixt and between” (Ashforth, 2001). Even after being notified by their school superintendents of their promotion success and their new school assignments, the novices were subjected to additional waiting periods and were sworn to secrecy until the school board’s official announcement was made. The vice-principals reported that colleagues who violated these secrecy rites were perceived as untrustworthy and in some cases were punished by having their placement changed or rescinded. While these early preparation and anticipation rites affirmed the aspirants’ ability to conform and to be trusted by the administrative corps, they also unwittingly communicated the aspirants’ desire to separate from teaching. Perceiving these preparatory actions as a threat to the teaching corps, veteran teaching colleagues accused the aspirants of “climbing the ranks” and “selling out”, and responded with negative peer pressure and subtle forms of ostracism.

 

Although their administrative contracts did not officially begin until September, in some cases, the new vice-principals were expected to begin work during the summer. During this period, they described rituals of divestiture and investiture that are consistent with physical, social, and psychological separation processes. Divestiture rites involved giving up aspects of teaching such as leaving their former classroom roles, relationships, and locations, and investiture rites entailed receiving administrative rights and privileges that reinforced their new status, such as their own office, secretary, parking space, walkie-talkies, and keys to the building. These Entry-Exit rites provoked feelings of satisfaction and sadness as the newly promoted vice-principals struggled with the realization that their entry into administration also entailed a corresponding physical, psychological, and social exit and separation from teaching. These contrasting emotions exacerbated their sense of liminality, and the resulting social and emotional disequilibrium triggered the onset of the second transition cycle.    


IMMERSION-EMERSION RITES


The separation and initiation rites that started in the first cycle were amplified when the new vice-principals began their duties in their new location. Whereas the primary cycle of Entry-Exit allowed for a gradual preview of the boundaries of the administrative terrain, Immersion-Emersion was experienced as a sudden shift that stripped initiates of their comfortable teacher roles and contexts and immersed them in a different school culture. The vice-principals described a number of organizational practices that were consistent with grinding down processes. These socialization tactics worked together to test the novices socially, emotionally, and physically by isolating them from their familiar locations and reference groups and subjecting them to difficult conditions and tasks.  In this way, their vulnerability to external pressure was increased.


The new vice-principals were almost immediately placed at the frontline of the school, where they were expected to assume responsibility for a wide range of duties and problems for which they had no prior preparation. Metaphors such as “sink or swim,” “jumping off the deep end,” “swimming against the tide,” and “baptism by fire” were used to describe the turbulence and magnitude of this stage of the passage. In all cases, the new vice-principals were given a partial list of their duties and general areas of responsibility without detailed instruction about how to perform these roles. In addition, although they were expected to manage the complex student and staff information systems, the new vice-principals received little or no technical training in basic areas such as student registration and scheduling, which were integral to effective role performance. This lack of training and support led to errors that magnified the novices’ feelings of incompetence. Their attempts to train themselves after school led to longer workdays that increased their physical and mental strain.


The vice-principals’ location at the epicenter of  school activity exposed them to a wide range of socializing forces that included being inundated by demands from students, parents, staff, district supervisors, and the external community. These demands were accompanied by pressure to perform at a high level of competence and to conform to traditional expectations of vice-principals as “enforcers,” “firefighters,” and “problem-solvers.” In addition to feeling as if they were being assessed by different stakeholder groups, the new vice-principals were also pressured to dress, speak, and behave like “administrators.” Greg described how the concerted pressure of external socializing groups communicated narrow role definitions to newcomers and constrained their attempts to impose personal constructions on their role:


Everybody has a particular definition of what that role and what that script is, and

if you are not going according to the script, people remind you. They put you in your place, whether it’s a student, or a parent, and whether the issue is the way you dress, or the fact that you have an office. All of those things redefine you, whether you like it or not.


Although the vice-principals had anticipated challenges from students and parents, they were surprised at the extensive separation rites that were perpetrated by teaching and administrative groups. Both groups communicated clear messages regarding professional roles and territory, and vice-principals who attempted to transgress these boundaries were subjected to subtle pressure or reprimands. All the vice-principals described separation and initiation tactics by teachers that served to reinforce professional boundaries, maintain power, and emphasize differential status. The novice administrators were discouraged from visiting areas such as the staffroom or classrooms, which were designated as teacher territory. Sandy observed, “It’s geographical, you know, there’s the classroom and there’s the office, and the halls. These are my domains now, the office and the halls, and the doorways of classrooms when they are open.” This narrow delineation of physical and social boundaries further reduced the newcomers’ sphere of interaction and increased their sense of loss and isolation.


The vice-principals described patterns of “negative collegiality,” such as humiliation rites, that were used to intimidate the newcomers and undermine their confidence. For example, although the vice-principals had been promoted because of their instructional skills and curriculum expertise, teachers generally discounted or ignored their suggestions. Veteran teachers also attempted to subvert the novices’ authority by going directly to the principal, and, in some cases, the principals colluded with the teachers. The vice-principals also reported instances in which teachers used direct attempts to shake their confidence by attacking aspects of their core personal and professional identities related to gender, race, and administrative competence. Michael described how his confidence was shaken by comments about his youth and minority status: “There is talk that (a) there is the piece that I got the job because I am a minority. So there is pressure there. I want to make sure that it’s because I earned the right to be here and; there is (b) ‘Oh, and you are so young …’”


Similarly, Karen’s insecurities were increased when veteran teachers questioned her directly about her lack of prior administrative experience: “And it just threw me off. They didn’t think I was good enough and I had to work at proving myself in the school.” Andrew reported being subjected to bullying and intimidation: “Some could be quite aggressive and challenge you because you are an administrator. They try to put you on the spot, just to test you. Some teachers . . . actually went to the point of being rude.”


The vice-principals reported “trial by fire” initiation processes by members of their own administrative team that forced them to assume time-consuming tasks, such as timetabling, without support. Jerry’s story provided an example of how these harsh initiation rites demoralized the new vice-principals and ensured compliance. His initial excitement was soon replaced by feelings of uncertainty when he was confronted with the challenge of meeting the needs of a large urban school population and a disenfranchised staff. Jerry’s plight was exacerbated by the command-control tactics that his principal used to inculcate him and the other vice-principals into the administrative ethos. These tactics involved denial of common administrative privileges such as purchasing cards and master keys, prohibition from socializing with teachers, and frequent and unexpected public humiliations. He described how these tactics contributed to his feeling of isolation and powerlessness:


Having your decisions overturned in your face in front of students and staff. Having someone come into your office while you are dealing with parents and demanding that you come and do what she is dealing with. She would kick my butt every day. And being new and coming back into a big collegiate, I really got sort of lost.  


Although Jerry felt disempowered by this violation of his employee rights, he was immobilized because administrators in his district had no legal access to union support, and he was reluctant to complain to his superintendent for fear of potentially negative career repercussions.


Poor induction practices, a lack of training and explicit working terms, and downloading from the school district left the new vice-principals open to multiple demands and contributed to a Sisyphean workload. During their first year, the vice-principals were also tested with serious issues such as violent conflicts, bomb threats, drugs, and suicidal students. The unpredictability of these events, the responsibility to make decisions in high-risk situations, and the pervasive fear that they would fail to protect others exacerbated the feelings of vulnerability that normally accompany transitions (Gould, 1981). However, in spite of these physical dangers, both male and female vice-principals felt inhibited in expressing their fears because administrative rites of passage prohibited demonstrations of “weakness.”


Andrew’s description of his reaction after a violent incident illustrated how administrative taboos and initiation processes impacted the new administrators: “Part of me felt really scared. And you can’t tell anyone. You can’t even go and tell the principal because you would not want to be seen as incompetent. You’re a VP now. You’re no longer a teacher. You are now an administrator.” Although appearing to be tough built stakeholder trust in their ability to handle crises, the lack of avenues to process these concerns intensified the new administrators’ feelings of insecurity and powerlessness. In addition, their continued silence and complicity not only reinforced institutional stereotypes of heroic vice-principals but also ensured that endemic safety issues and their underlying causes remained unaddressed at the community level.


The vice-principals’ involvement in disciplining students opened their eyes to structures that maintained institutional hegemonies but were invisible from their former classroom perspective. The new vice-principals’ discomfort in implementing zero-tolerance policies that they believed criminalized normal adolescent behaviors motivated them to seek alternative approaches. Greg identified the existence of a knee-jerk management culture that impacted students negatively and also precluded curricular leadership and change: “Most of the time we are reactive, so we tend to punish, and that does not have a long-range effect, so in fact, we are creating more problems in many cases by being reactive rather than proactive.”


However, the vice-principals’ early attempts to mitigate the negative impact of policies on vulnerable populations were often frustrated by entrenched teacher and administrative attitudes that pressured them to adopt tough disciplinary approaches. Jerry identified these rigidities as key factors that contributed to the development of harsh responses that violated students’ rights:


So maybe I’ll get better at not caring. You just don’t care, and you start shutting down those kinds of processes that you have to block out. And you say, “I’m sorry, it just doesn’t bother me.” And, I see it with other VPs where they just kick the kid out. There is zero tolerance. There is no process. It’s just boom.  Get out!


The second cycle of the vice-principals’ socialization trajectory was punctuated by periods of emergence during which they attempted to counteract systemic inequities and resist punitive roles. These attempts involved seeking alternative ways to support students, such as networking with other administrators outside of their school to facilitate student transfers, and becoming involved in teams and clubs. However, the ongoing conflict between their desired and enacted roles, and the persistent socialization pressure to conform to custodial and disciplinary roles increased the new vice-principals’ feelings of frustration, loss, and anger, and precipitated the Disintegration-Reintegration cycle.


DISINTEGRATION-REINTEGRATION RITES


The third epicycle began during the latter part of the vice-principals’ first year and lasted for most of their second year. This period of Disintegration-Reintegration was a function of the additive effects of the pervasive organizational socialization rites. Although the vice-principals attempted to accommodate to, and in some cases were able to circumvent, these challenges, the physical and psychological stress caused by long working hours, coupled with the inability to address chronic and ongoing crises, led to the development of poor dietary, sleep, and exercise habits that resulted in increased blood pressure, headaches, and fatigue. Barb described the pervasive impact of the role and the feelings of physical and psychological disintegration that resulted from this ongoing grinding-down process: “Sometimes it is physically exhausting because stuff keeps coming at you. It is emotionally exhausting because, for a number of reasons, where these kids come from—often they are not well nourished, so you are feeling sorry for where they are coming from.”


The discrepancies between the vice-principals’ expectations and their day-to-day management realities also led to a growing sense of alienation from their school district because of downloading and a lack of support. During this period, Greg, Andrew, and Jerry tried to resolve this dissonance by returning to their former department headship positions. The discovery that they could not go back to their former positions because they had also been stripped of their teacher seniority forced them to review their decision and determine how they could accommodate to the role.


The vice-principals reported undergoing a period of self-analysis to resolve the conflict between the negative demands of their role and their own personal values and expectations. This personal and professional process appeared to be consistent with Fein’s (1990) notion of “resocialization,” that is, the process through which role incumbents attempt to alter or replace dysfunctional roles. Greg used the analogy of “digging deeper” to describe this process, which entailed assessing his ability to accommodate to the demands of the role. This involved letting go of and/or reframing the skills, values, and personality traits that contributed to his teaching success but that were inconsistent with his administrative role and developing new competencies. Reflecting on this psychological process, Greg observed:


What I am finding is that the talents that were being underutilized were not necessarily appropriate to the job, so I’ve had to mourn the loss. But, I’ve come to realize that there are other abilities that I have that I can put into place that suit my personality. So it’s been having to grudgingly give up some that were appropriate as a teacher, that may be appropriate in the position that I had before, and just mourn their loss.


The cumulative socialization impacts of the previous cycles contributed to the disintegration of the vice-principals’ earlier dreams to support students. Esther described this process of emotional distancing, which involved relinquishing her hopes to create equitable conditions for all students:


Emotionally, I have said to myself, I cannot internalize everything and I have to take a broader look at students and the relationship between how I can achieve the best for them. I realize that I cannot save everybody and I get distressed over the fact that I have to ignore some of the ones [who] need it. It’s difficult to let go.


Although accommodating to the vice-principal’s role required letting go of some of their earlier leadership expectations, some of the vice-principals reported a simultaneous process of reintegration that allowed them to use prior skills to meet the demands of their role in constructive ways. A number of the vice-principals discovered that their cultural background was an important asset in helping marginalized parents navigate the school system. For example, Andrew derived satisfaction from his work as a cultural interpreter and counselor to Chinese parents who felt intimidated by a lack of English:


I was really surprised that my language skills could make such a big difference in parents coming to the school and expressing themselves. Even grown men would cry in the office because they just felt so helpless. Finally, they could actually speak to someone about the cultural conflicts that they experienced in raising their children.


An integral part of this cycle also included accepting the political challenges of the role and working contexts while at the same time taking limited risks within their restricted sphere of influence. Sandy reported choosing a more proactive and moral approach to her role by “bending the rules” for student and parents in spite of the challenges that this entailed: “I’m really there to help. And I think part of helping is taking risks, giving chances, and never putting yourself in a position where you have to do something because people said you had to.”


Although these changes were not as far reaching as they had anticipated, they allowed the vice-principals to resist some of the socialization pressures by circumventing some of the negative aspects of their role and integrating their own values and skills.


TRANSFORMATION-RESTABILIZATION


The Transformation-Restabilization cycle represented the culminating phase of the transition and socialization trajectory whereby the vice-principals were incorporated into the administrative role and felt fully integrated into the school and district culture. This fourth epicycle was a continuation of the socialization process that was initiated in the previous epicycle, in which the vice-principals experienced a fundamental shift in their goals, values, and professional outlook. Although they were still subjected to external socializing challenges, they saw themselves as better able to assert their values and expectations because of increased networks, knowledge of the role and their constituents, and their ability to put “things into perspective”.


This cycle was a function of experience, and it marked the return to a state of relative stability, which the vice-principals connected to their familiarity with the administrative ethos and their school population. By the third year, the vice-principals reported that they were better equipped to anticipate socialization challenges, to resolve the majority of the conflicts and tensions that characterized their role, and to balance the personal and professional spheres of their lives. Knowledge of the school system and its yearly cycles facilitated a deeper understanding of their role and allowed them to be more strategic and proactive. Barb observed confidently, “It’s like it’s the third year now and it flows together. It’s not a heck of a lot that is put on my plate that I can’t figure out how to deal with or I can’t ask someone about or get information from.”


At this stage, socialization was experienced as a reciprocal (Crow, 2004; Matthews & Crow, 2003) or negotiated interpersonal process that involved attempts at content and role innovation, such as mentoring and coaching new and existing staff and initiating programs that supported students. The more experienced vice-principals clearly articulated a shift from being task oriented to being people oriented, and they identified their ability to establish connections across the vertical and horizontal levels of the educational hierarchy as an integral part of their success. In reflecting on the importance of collaborative relationships, the third-year vice-principals provided specific examples of how the credibility and trust that they established with their teaching staff helped to cushion the negative impact of the districts' numerous strikes on children. As part of developing a capacity to cope psychologically with the socialization challenges, the vice-principals acquired an interior and exterior “toughness” that was described as “developing a thick skin” and “not taking things personally.”  Although they continued to express discomfort with the negative aspects of their role, the vice-principals coped by believing that it was a temporary rite of passage to the principalship. In addition, some of the second- and third-year vice-principals were in the process of “scanning the horizon” for future career possibilities, thus indicating the possibility of a new socialization trajectory.


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS


The vice-principals’ narratives supported previous research that claimed that  socialization processes are ingrained within schooling cultures and that they function to maintain and perpetuate institutional roles and norms (Crow, 2004; Fishbein & Osterman, 2001; Marshall, 1992a, 1992b). Socialization processes and their attendant rites began when the newly appointed administrators attempted to cross the boundary between teaching and administration, and they continued throughout the administrative passage. During this period, a variety of organizational forces coalesced to ensure compliance with traditional administrative norms. Rites and rituals were employed at different stages to socialize the new vice-principals into adopting reactive custodial behaviors that protected organizational hegemonies and maintained the status quo. In spite of their initial resistance, over time, this pervasive dynamic forced newcomers to discard their teacher identities and values and adopt perspectives and behaviors that were more consistent with managerial paradigms.


The new vice-principals reported that a combination of pervasive socialization rites and inadequate support at the successive phases of their administrative passage created unnecessary transitional strain and increased the novices’ vulnerability to external pressures. Inappropriate professional certification programs neglected to prepare them for the nature and demands of this socialization passage and its physical and psychosocial impacts. In addition, district “sink or swim” initiation rites, in the form of difficult challenges, long hours, and poor support, created disempowering conditions that violated their employee rights. Furthermore, the resulting survival-of-the-fittest mentality fostered a climate of intolerance that impacted vulnerable populations negatively. The evidence suggests that in spite of articulated commitments to equity, school districts and professional preparation and regulatory bodies support these socialization practices implicitly and are also complicit in perpetuating and reinforcing management systems that are antithetical to democratic or socially just practices.


These findings raise a number of issues related to the vice-principalship as a viable leadership role, socialization into this position, and the role’s ability to facilitate equitable structures and outcomes. Although it is impossible to address these issues fully within the context of this discussion, it is important to raise some of the concerns and suggestions that were threaded through the vice-principals’ narratives. In spite of ongoing educational and structural reforms that emphasize the importance of administrative leadership and equitable outcomes (Armstrong & McMahon, 2006; Ryan, 2002; Williams, 2001), the vice-principalship continues to be an ill-defined, default managerial role. The current legal definition of “duties as assigned by the principal” (Mackinnon & Milne, 2007) leaves vice-principals without clear rights or professional status, and it ensures that they are socialized to carry out custodial enforcement, maintenance, and stabilizing roles. Effective, equitable leadership practice cannot be achieved without in-depth changes to hegemonic arrangements that maintain the vice-principalship as a subordinate middle-management position. For this role to achieve its potential in transforming schools for students and staff, there must be a clear definition of its parameters, a reduction in the focus on management and disciplinary tasks, and an increase in leadership activities.


The vice-principals confirmed that although administrator preparation programs are often the first formal socialization agents that influence novices’ early conceptions of their role, they do not adequately prepare teachers for the challenges of middle management (Marshall, 1992b). Disconnected and haphazard training and induction practices at the certification and induction phases, inappropriate or poor preparation, and lack of support increased the new vice-principals’ vulnerability and ensured compliance. Coordinated cooperative partnerships between professional qualifications providers and regulatory bodies are needed to provide early and ongoing scaffolding that supports opportunities for new administrators to learn and practice new skills in emotionally and physically safe environments. Professional programs need to prepare aspiring vice-principals for the complex socialization structures of schooling and to explicitly align leadership behavior and school practices. Such programs should be interventive and preventative in nature, be premised on long-term developmental approaches that are based on equity and social justice, and provide opportunities to develop the competencies necessary to mobilize and influence diverse stakeholders on behalf of students (Armstrong, 2009).


The findings of this article are aptly summarized by a comment from Greg that resonated throughout the new administrators’ stories. He believes they have been “set up” by the system, and he is considering resigning from his position in spite of his commitment to students. Although it is expressed in the form of a desperate plea to senior administrators, it bears serious consideration by theorists and practitioners because it encapsulates the sense of abandonment that the new vice-principals felt. He said:


 I have told a couple of superintendents this, formally and informally. I am tired of hearing principals and superintendents and directors and ministers saying that our job is so valued and so important. And I am tired of listening to that. Don’t tell me that you value me. Demonstrate that you value it. And if you can’t, say, “I wish I could.”


School districts and regulatory bodies need to ask critical questions about the purpose of the vice-principal role and to determine how it can be transformed into a position that guarantees equity for new administrators and their communities. Supporting new vice-principals as they make this important transition is an integral part of the educational organizations’ responsibility to newcomers and an important first step in achieving their espoused commitment to developing humane and democratic learning communities.


Note


1. The pseudonyms Barb, Andrew, Jerry, Esther, Sandy, Michael, Karen, and Greg are used throughout this document to represent the voices of the novice vice-principals and to ensure their anonymity.


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APPENDIX


Sample Transcription Coding


Note: Codes are as follows: Emotions = E (Excitement = Ee; Joy = Ej; Frustration = Ef; Shock = Es; Doubt = Ed); Preparation = P; Strategies = ST; Support = S (District = Sd; School principal = Sp); Hindrances = H (District = Hd; School principal = Hp); Rituals = R.


Interview Question—Describe your experiences as you made the transition from teaching to the vice-principalship.


Michael’s Response: I said to somebody that it’s nice to be alive. Because this whole process of trying to be a vice-principal has opened a world of emotion to me. I remember Sidney Poitier. . . . hearing him being interviewed, and he said, “Oh, it’s great to be alive, you get to feel this and everything is wonderful. You feel enraged, you feel happy, you feel sad, and that’s going on inside you. And this is what happened when I found out about getting the vice-principal job. (E) Because, when I went through the rounds at first, it was, “Well, you know, we’ll go through the motions, see how it goes, I’ll learn something and then, when I’m ready to do it, I’ll do it.” And I went in there the first time very relaxed, because there was no pressure. And I just told them about myself, and everything was kind of prepared in advance and I just went through my game plan. And the second interview, that was, “Here you are, here are your questions, how are you going to respond?” (P) And because my first experience was so great, so easy, I felt that it was so easy, that for my second one that I didn’t prepare as much as I should have. And when I didn’t get that, then it was upsetting (Es).  And that registered for me. And normally, I’m a pretty level person. You know, some things are great . . . . like this happens . . . . wonderful, getting married . . . . exciting, big party, lots of fun. You know, work is stressful and that brings me down, but overall, pretty level (E). But this process, then I go to the second one and I found out I got on the list and I did like kind of a happy dance (Ee). And my excitement is more than normal. Normally, it’s just like, “Oh, great. . . .  pat on my back.” But this is like, “Yes. I got on the list.” This is what I have been trying to do now. And then, I had a meeting to get off the list and into a school (R). And I had gotten to know my last superintendent a little bit, so that I ceased to be just someone’s name on a list, and there was actually a face to my name. And then he retired and my new superintendent was X (name of superintendent), and I wanted to introduce myself (ST, R). And so I didn’t really know what to do and how to make that contact, because they are a superintendent and I’m just a teacher (R). You know, I don’t see these people everyday, so I don’t know what to do. So I talk to my principal (Sp). He says, “Go, and at Commencement, you introduce yourself to her. And then I met with her and she says I’m not on the list. You know, I’m in shock (Es), because I got myself a letter that says I’m on the list and now she says I’m not on the list (Hd). And we talked a little bit about what I wanted to do and what I need to do to get myself into a school. And at the end of our conversation, I said, I’d fax her all the information so that she could confirm that I was on the list. And when I called her back, she said that she had found the revised list where I’m on (Sd). So there was a little bit of frustration along the way, what is it that I need to do? And who do I need to talk to, to help me get to where I want to get (Ef)? And a lot of the time, I listen to people, I ask people questions and then I keep them in the back of my mind. And I just happened to ask enough people questions that I say, “I see something and I take advantage of it. I see something that might be useful for me to know or in the future and I take advantage of it” (ST). I haven’t really had anyone say, “Oh, X, you want to be a vice-principal, take, this and this and this” (Hd, R). My last principal, if there was anything that came by his desk, he would feed it to me (Sp). But there was nobody clearly defining the path for me. So I found out I’m going to be placed. X (superintendent) calls me, she says, “I’ve got some news for you. You’ve been placed.” I said, “I have? I said, “I just talked to you last week or whatever.” She said, “Yes, I know. You’ve been placed somewhere else and I can’t tell you the details because everything is hush- hush. And I said, “Great, I’ll look forward to getting a call from another superintendent. So one day passed, two days passed, hadn’t got this call. So I go down to my principal and I say, “I got a call the other day from the superintendent. She said that I have been placed. Have you heard anything?” He said that he hadn’t heard anything. And I am thinking to myself, “Uh oh. I don’t think this is a joke, but I’ll just continue to do what I’ve always been doing. I love what I’m doing, teaching. . . . And eventually, things will happen, I assume.” And anyway, then, finally, a week later or so, the other superintendent called me and informed me where I was going to go (R). And after, when X (superintendent) called, I was jumping for joy, and then when this superintendent called finally, it was, “Great, finally. It is for real” (Ej). And that was when the list came out and that was published and all. And friends of mine called me and said, “Congratulations, I saw your name on the list.” And then, I was so excited to get there (Ee) and then a month later I’m thinking, “Well, what am I going to do here? I don’t know what I am doing. I’ve never done a vice-principal’s job before” (Ed).


Esther’s Response: I feel that I have a story to tell where this is concerned. Firstly, I’ll start off by saying that principals have too much power where this is concerned, and too much control for people getting ahead. Because this can be done very much on who you know and who knows you who they feel they want to support. And it has very little to do with ability (R). And I found out with my own experience. I was in a certain school and when I got there, I was working as a guidance counsellor, and prior to that the students had not seen a counsellor of African descent. And so they were very excited and they lined up outside my door. The lines were reaching outside the door. And of course it was a good thing for the students, but I knew right away that it was going to become a problem for me because they don’t like to see that (Hp). So anyway, the students were happy and we worked through everything and I worked very well with the staff and the admin at the time and so on. But it turned out that they felt it was a negative thing because the students should not be attracted to one particular person. They should actually go off to everybody within the area and so they got almost bitter at the situation. And so I realized that that was not a good thing for me in terms of getting ahead, although it was good because we tried to meet the needs of the students and we worked with the personnel from the board and so on. But initially, that became a problem (Hp). That was resolved when we talked it through and we said, “No, no. This was not the situation. But anyway, it remained a problem because to see that the students were looking for people that they could identify with, which the community had told them. And a number of people had done studies in the area and said this was the case, that students need to have a true representation of who they are in literature and also in admin and in the school system. So then I decided that I was one of those people who need to get into a leadership role so that I could bring change in that area. So that’s why my interest developed. So I went on and I did my specialist in Guidance and specialist in Special Education and I went on to do my Masters and so on in order to get me ahead (P). Then I came across a stumbling block where I was in one school and was practically running the department and the person who was there was a good head, but when she became ill or had to go out, I was the one who totally ran the department. And when the time came up for the position, the principal decided, “No, I am not going to put you in this position.” Mainly again it is because I am an African-Canadian. She said, “I need someone who I know.” So she went out and she got a brand new person. I think the person had been teaching for two years. So she brought the person handpicked in and gave them the position (Hp). So you know, that was painful and that was upsetting because everybody knew that I could do the job and the position was there (Ef).  And so, that was where the barrier for me started. When she decided that she did not want me to become an administrator. Because of that fact, I believed that it was a racial barrier (Hp). So I said that I wanted a transfer and I left. And then I got my Principals parts 1 and 2 and decided to apply (ST, P). When I did my first interview, one of the principals who interviewed me, and he was not allowed to tell me this, but he said to me, “You did such an outstanding job that the people on the committee cannot believe that you are not already a vice-principal.” (R) When the superintendent went to my principal (R), the principal that did not give me the headship position, she said that she did not think I was ready and right there I was cut again. When I said that they have too much power, I think it is also very dangerous. So she passed that information on every time. I went for the interview three times and each time she blocked me. It was only after I moved schools, because I was advised again by another principals that I should move because she has a bias against me (Hd). And when you are young, you don’t know these things. So when I moved and I completed the application of for the final time, and I took it to a retired superintendent and she looked at my resume, and all the work I had done, and all the community work and involvement (S). And she said, “I cannot believe once again, that you are not a vice-principal. Where were you five years ago? The people that I have seen who have gone ahead have got not even a half of the things that you have in your document.” So this principal was supportive. This retired superintendent had phoned the principal and said, “This person should have been a VP five years ago.” So that went on and I was placed on the list (Sd). And after that, even after I got on the list, I realized that it is still who you know up at the top (Hd). Because although you are ready and although you have stated the things that you are good at and the areas that you are interested in, if the principal who is working at the school where you are going to be placed doesn’t really know you or know somebody who knows you, the chances of you getting on are very slim. So, I think that there are barriers there and I think they need to work at that to ensure that equity is there and there is fairness, because it really isn’t a good system the way it is right now (Hd, Hp). There were two of us from my school board on the list. And I was selected mainly because somebody knows me and knows that I have done a lot of work in the community and know this neighbourhood and my experience has spoken for me. So they selected me for this school. But, had it not been for that, I probably would not have been selected (Sd). If you don’t know the right people, because the other person is still waiting and he has been on the list for probably two and a half years. And once the list is increased, they just select you randomly from the list like it used to be. They don’t say that this is the best pick for the school, or this person has been on it for two years. They can choose someone who just got on it yesterday. So that is another way I think it is not fair (Hd). So that’s really my story and I think changes are needed in that area. And they do need to look at people’s ability, the work they have done, and also when they say they have placed you at the best fit, they really need to follow through on that, because I don’t think they do. I really am concerned about the people who made it to the top in general. It’s just a networking issue and who you know and I don’t even know if the best people make it all the time (Hd).




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 3, 2010, p. 685-722
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15772, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 2:41:32 AM

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About the Author
  • Denise Armstrong
    Brock University
    E-mail Author
    DENISE E. ARMSTRONG is an assistant professor in organizational and administrative studies at Brock University. Her research and writing focus on professional and organizational change and transitions, educational leadership, and social justice. Her recent publications include Administrative Passages: Navigating the Transition From Teacher to Assistant Principal (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer-Verlag, 2009), and a coedited volume, Inclusion in Urban Educational Environments: Addressing Issues of Diversity, Equity, and Social Justice (Greenwich, CT: Information Age, 2006).
 
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