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The Need for Principal Renewal: The Promise of Sustaining Principals Through Principal-to-Principal Reflective Practice


by Eleanor Drago-Severson — 2012

Background/Context: Given the challenging complexity of the modern principalship—including high-stakes testing, standards-based reform, increased accountability, and severe budget cuts—practitioners and scholars emphasize the urgency of supporting principals’ stress-relief and renewal.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This nationwide study offers insights into how a group of principals renew themselves and prevent burnout, crucial for 21st-century school leaders. This article focuses on how 25 principals supported their own renewal and their yearning to engage in reflective practice with colleagues as a support to their own revitalization, growth, and learning.

Research Design: Eighty-nine hours of qualitative interviews with a diverse sample of 25 public and private (independent) and Catholic school principals who served in schools with varying levels of financial resources (i.e., high, medium, and low) were conducted, in addition to analyzing field notes and approximately 60 documents. Interviews for the encompassing research study—an investigation of developmentally based principal leadership practices employed to support adult learning—concerned a variety of topics, including principals’ practices for supporting teacher learning and how principals themselves supported their own renewal.

Data Collection and Analysis: All interviews were transcribed verbatim. Two researchers coded interviews, documents, and field notes for central concepts (theoretical and emic codes were employed). Thematic matrices were developed, and narrative summaries were created. A grounded theory approach was employed, and important literatures informed analysis. Matrices displayed confirming and disconfirming instances of themes, and two researchers conferred on alternative interpretations.

Findings: Findings reveal that these principals (1) employed a variety of strategies for self-renewal given the complex challenges of their leadership work in the 21st century and (2) expressed a desire for engaging in ongoing reflective practice with colleagues as a to support their own development, sustainability, and renewal. All also expressed that although they were fulfilled by their jobs, the scope seemed vast and overwhelming. Whether they served in high, low, or medium financial resource schools and whether they served in public, independent, or Catholic schools, they emphasized that they needed to develop more effective and frequent strategies for self-renewal.

Conclusions/Recommendations: These school leaders explained that they yearn for regular, ongoing opportunities to reflect with colleagues and fellow principals on the challenges of leadership, emphasizing that this type of ongoing collegial reflection would help them to more effectively exercise leadership, avoid burnout, and renew themselves. Although all these principals spontaneously voiced the desire to engage in collegial reflection, only 3 were doing so on a regular basis. This research suggests the importance of supporting and retaining principals by using reflection and collegial support for renewal, with serious implications for education policy and school district practices.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 12, 2012, p. 1-56
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16717, Date Accessed: 10/25/2014 2:58:12 AM

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About the Author
  • Eleanor Drago-Severson
    Columbia University, Teachers College
    E-mail Author
    ELLIE DRAGO-SEVERSON is an associate professor of Education Leadership and Adult Learning & Leadership at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Her research interests include school leadership for adult learning, principal and faculty development, leadership preparation and development, supporting adult development and learning in K–12 schools, ABE/ESOL and university contexts, and qualitative research. Ellie has authored three recent books, Leading Adult Learning (Corwin/Sage, 2009), Becoming Adult Learners (Teachers College Press, 2004), and Helping Teachers Learn (Corwin Press, 2004), which offer a new learning-oriented model for supporting adult growth in K–12 schools and other educational contexts. Helping Teachers Learn was awarded the 2004 National Staff Development Council’s Book of the Year Award, and Leading Adult Learning was selected as NSDC book of fall 2009. Drago-Severson is currently writing Creating Spaces That Nurture Leadership Development (Harvard Education Press, forthcoming, 2012) and Learning and Leading for Growth (Corwin/Sage Press, forthcoming, 2012).
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