Leadership and Context
Because principals are seen as the primary leaders in the
individual school, this section of this paper examines how the
principal is both a part of the context while feeling the impact of the
context. Because specific strategies used by principals or others
leading school improvement efforts are addressed elsewhere (Hord,
1992), issues are raised in this section, as in preceding sections, that
are intended to heighten awareness regarding the existence of factors
that appear to facilitate or impede change. Without awareness of their
existence, educators cannot possibly address the problems they
present to change, or the help they may provide for change might be
A study by Hallinger, Bickman and Davis (1990) of school administrators
found that the impact of the context of the school on administrators
is as profound as it is for students and teachers. "Factors such
as school district size and complexity, the number and types of
special programs, faculty experience and stability, school level,
district support and expectations and other factors shape the principal's
approach to instructional leadership" (p. 8). In addition, features
of the community such as homogeneity, socioeconomic status of families,
parental expectations and involvement, and geographic location simultaneously
constrain the principal and provide different opportunities for
leadership (Hallinger, Bickman, & Davis, 1990). Principals who are
aware of the inorganic factors of the school context and their influence
on school improvement efforts may take steps to reduce or enhance
the impact of those factors depending on the needs of their school.
Leaders seeking to improve schools for at-risk students will nurture the
norms of school culture that support lasting school improvement.
Fullan (1992) notes that developing collaborative work cultures
to help staff deal with school improvement efforts is a major responsibility
of the principal. He asserts that "the message for both the school
and district levels is captured in Schein's (1985) observation:
'The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create
and manage culture'" (p. 20). An additional challenge for principals
is that they are also part of the culture of the school through
their attitudes and relationships with others.
Principal attitudes toward change.
Sarason (1982) describes
how past experiences can influence a principal's beliefs. Experiences
as a teacher can cause principals to view going into the classroom for
purposes of evaluation and change as a hostile intrusion. A belief that
the power to legislate change is no guarantee that the change will
occur also may be based in part on the principal's experience as a
teacher. These experiences create "the tendency to deny that
problems exist in the school" (Sarason, 1982, p. 147).
According to Berman and McLaughlin's 1975 study, the active
support of principals powerfully affects a project's implementation
and continuation. The principal's contribution to implementation lies
in giving moral support to the staff and in creating a culture that gives
the project "legitimacy" rather than in "how to do it" advice
(Sarason, 1982, p. 77). Teachers need the sanction of their principal
to the extent that the principal is the "gatekeeper of change"
(Berman & McLaughlin, 1975, p. 20).
Principals' actions serve to legitimate whether a change is to be
taken seriously and to support teachers both psychologically and with
resources. The principal is the person most likely to be in a position
to shape the organizational conditions necessary for success, such as
the development of shared goals, collaborative work structures and
climates, and procedures for monitoring results (Fullan, 1991).
"Change efforts fail if principals do not understand and support
them, if faculties do not view them as relevant to their own goals and
needs and if the community and central office do not provide
ongoing encouragement, support, and resources" (Gauthier, 1983, p.
Most people believe a school principal has a good deal of power
and freedom to act in the school. They rarely realize that there are
numerous restrictions, formal and informal, that limit the principal's
freedom of action (Sarason, 1982). One principal faced with
impending restructuring described the conflicting feelings the
prospect evoked: "I feel like a bird that has been caged for a long
time. The door is now open. Will I dare to fly out? I am beginning to
realize that the bars of the cage that have imprisoned me have also
protected me from the hawks and falcons out there." (Barth, 1990, p.
Principals have little formal preparation for managing change at
the school level. The principal must face problems of change that are
as great as those that confront teachers. Many principals feel that
"other people simply do not seem to understand the problems they
face" (Fullan, 1991, p. 76). Simpson (1990) asserts that leaders, just
like teachers, need partners, someone to nurture them, and persons
with whom to collaborate.
The attitude that "the system" will not allow certain practices is
not questioned by many principals. This attitude presents a
significant barrier to improvement efforts. Evidence that some
principals within the same system change their practices and that these
practices are tolerated by "the system," is an indication that as
important as the system itself is, the way the principal perceives the
system is even more significant (Sarason, 1982).
Principal relationships with teachers.
As it goes between teacher
and principal so will it go in other relationships in the school. If the
teacher-principal relationship can be characterized as helpful,
supportive, trusting, so too will relationships between teachers,
students, and parents. Unfortunately, according to Barth (1990), the
relationships between teachers and principals have become
increasingly strained with growing emphasis on teacher empowerment,
pupil minimum competency, collective bargaining, reduction in
teacher force, increased litigation, and above all "accountability."
The administrative subculture must deal with issues of accountability,
control, and change. Deal (1985) asserts that these values "frequently
place principals in direct conflict with teachers" (p. 611). According
to Goodlad (1984), however, "a bond of trust and mutual support
between principal and teachers…appears to be basic to school
improvement" (p. 9).
Change will be undermined if misconceptions held by teachers
regarding administrators and by administrators regarding teachers are
not dealt with. Liftig (1990) asserts that administrators perceptions of
teachers as "the Loafer, the Artful Dodger, and Them" and teachers'
perceptions of administrators as the "Snoopervisor, the Terminator,
and the Successful Incompetent" cloud this essential relationship for
Louis and Miles (1990) note that broad participation in
developing the change program is essential to implementation.
Sarason (1990) argues that schools, like other social systems, can be
described in terms of power relationships and that recognition of these
relationships and the distribution of power is a significant issue in
change. The basis for power rests with the acquisition of three
commodities: information (technical knowledge, expertise), resources
(money, human services, material goods, space, time), and support
(endorsement, backing, legitimacy). Access to these commodities by
those ultimately responsible for using a specific innovation is critical
to successful implementation (Patterson, Purkey, & Parker, 1986).
Personnel who will encourage the flow of information between the
formal and informal systems and, where needed, make sure that the
flow occurs are needed. Teachers who are influential leaders are
especially useful in assisting with implementation through informal
networks within the school (Krueger & Parish, 1982).
In a study of five schools in Missouri that had adopted national
improvement programs and then discontinued them within a short
time, Krueger and Parish (1982) identified an "informal covenant"
that exists between teachers and principals. This covenant defines the
roles of each group and relationship between them where
implementation of new programs is concerned. "Principals control
access, resources, and decision making. Teachers control what is
going to actually be implemented, if anything" (p. 138). This
covenant was responsible for the demise of the new programs at these
schools according to the study.
Relationships with the district.
The degree to which the
superintendent supports school improvement affects the ability of
individual schools to increase student achievement (Wimpelberg,
Teddlie, & Stringfield, 1989). The superintendent and central office
supervisors are key figures in stimulating and facilitating efforts to
maintain and improve the quality of instruction (Everson, Scollay,
Fabert, & Garcia, 1986; Firestone & Wilson, 1991; Patterson, Purkey
& Parker, 1986; Pajak & Glickman, 1989; Pink, 1990). "Teachers
and others know enough now, if they didn't 20 years ago, not to take
change seriously unless central administrators demonstrate through
actions that they should" (Fullan, 1991, p. 74). Levine (1991) notes
that the success of an effective schools program depends on a
"directed autonomy" defined as a mixture of autonomy for
participating faculties and control from the central office (p. 392).
Relationships with the external environment.
accountable to parents, the central office, school boards, and the state
department of education. The school principal is the agent through
which others seek to prevail on teachers to do their bidding.
"Principals are judged on the basis of how effectively they can muster
teachers to the drumbeats of these others, by how well they monitor
minimum competency measures, enforce compliance with districtwide
curricula, account for the expenditure of funds, and implement the
various policies of the school board." (Barth, 1990, p. 27) With these
many forces exerting pressure on the principal, focus on the change
effort may be difficult. Hallinger, Bickman, and Davis (1990) found,
however, that parental involvement has a positive impact on principal
The support of the community for the school and efforts to
improve the school have been shown to be vital for lasting
implementation. Because the school's culture is impacted heavily by
the external environment, the introspection and critical examination of
the school by those who are implementing school improvement
efforts cannot occur without a supportive community. If schools are
to be successful in providing success for all students, especially those
at risk, parents and other members of the community must be actively
involved in the school and school improvement effort.
Community involvement often entails the allocation of resources
to eliminate disadvantages in students' access to resources (Nettles,
1991). One significant contribution of business is support of
adequate and equitable financing of the public schools and an
insistence that the schools produce students who are properly
prepared for the workforce and who are good citizens (Carnegie
Foundation, 1989). It is essential that the community, including
parents, social agencies, businesses, and civic and volunteer
organizations, be involved particularly in rural areas where resources
are simply too scarce to attempt to deal with problems in isolation
Support groups are the key ingredients in reducing opposition to
change. It is important, first, to identify target groups that are
essential for effecting change. Some of the critical groups include
"teachers, and teachers' organizations; school administrators and the
groups that represent them; school boards; parents; civic, business, and
political leaders, including governors and legislators; and taxpayers
generally" (Cole, 1991, p. 79). There is little chance to survive the
competition for limited resources without the appropriate constituency
Caught between the external demands of constituent groups and the needs
of teachers and students, as well as the community and institutional
contexts, administrators at both the district and building level
have a difficult role to fulfill. Their attitudes, beliefs, and
values, like those of teachers and students, profoundly impact efforts
to improve schools.
Administrators must often take risks regarding what the system
will allow. It is they who provide support, both psychologically and
through the allocation of resources, to give credence to
implementation efforts. Without this support, these efforts will not
succeed. Administrators demonstrate this support through power
sharing and relationships with teachers. As previously stated in this
paper, establishing and nurturing a culture of shared power and
decision making, with norms of introspection for continuous
improvement, is an important task for school administrators. It is a
task that is shaped by the community and institutional context in
which administrators find themselves.