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-principals’ 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.
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