Vincent Baxter, Rebecca A. Thessin, and Jennifer Clayton
The George Washington University
Abstract: Principals have tremendous influence on the schools they lead (Bamburg & Andrews, 1990; Marzano et al., 2005). Certain leadership behaviors impact school level factors (Cotton, 2003; Hallinger & Heck, 2010; Leithwood, Begley, & Cousins, 1990; Marzano et al., 2005; Orr, 2003). To affect high levels of student achievement, school principals must be responsible for uniting diverse groups under shared purposes with purposeful emphasis on others rather than on self (Cotton, 2003; Hallinger & Heck, 2010; Leithwood, Begley, & Cousins, 1990; Marzano et al., 2005; Orr, 2003). Effective programs in educational leadership preparation include cohort-modeled groupings, among other features (Davis et al., 2005). Because cohorts are a feature of effective programs, yet few aspiring school leaders are prepared through cohort-based programs (Browne-Ferrigno & Muth, 2009), a concern regarding a problem of practice is raised.
The purpose of this study was to explore how aspirant school leaders experience the acquisition of leadership practices within their educational leadership preparation program and to contribute to the empirical understanding of how to best prepare school leaders for successful practice. This study was designed to examine: How do school leaders make meaning of their experience in a principal preparation program? In what ways do their experiences support the development of communitarian leadership?
The sample included nineteen school leaders who were alumni of a university-based educational leadership preparation program. Participants were interviewed using a basic interview protocol that followed the semi-structured approach for interview technique outlined by Moustakas (1994). The data analysis was carried out in the stepwise manner, using Atlas.ti 7.0 to code and group significant statements from the interview texts and using a basic memoing process to address any concerns of subjectivity.
Leaders who experienced preparation activities, including activities that gave them practice leading diverse individuals to shared outcomes articulated how preparation influenced the development of communitarian leadership skill, including relationship-building, communication, and values-identification. Communitarian leadership, which includes leadership actions linked to improved school-level outcomes (Marzano et al., 2005), may have utility as a framework for developing aspiring principals through formal preparation programs.
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