ERIC Identifier: ED479074
Publication Date: 2003-08-00
Author: Lashway, Larry
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Inducting School Leaders. ERIC Digest.
If experienced principals find their jobs to be exhausting and stressful-and
most surveys indicate they do-then what is it like for newcomers? Not
surprisingly, words such as "lost," "overwhelmed," and "shell-shocked" pervade
the literature on first-year principals.
Traditionally, rookie principals have been left to sink or swim. Having
completed a university training program, they are presumed to be prepared, and
get little direction beyond bland encouragement or an occasional practical tip.
But that attitude is changing as schools realize that a scarcity of high-quality
principals means promising leaders should not only be energetically recruited
but carefully nurtured once they're on board.
Formal induction programs are too new to have generated a significant body of
empirical research, but there is a growing literature that articulates a
rationale for such programs, describes the efforts of districts to nurture new
leaders, and provides early testimony that induction efforts are well-received.
This Digest examines the challenges faced by new administrators and the steps
that districts can take to provide a smooth entry into the principalship.
WHAT PROBLEMS DO FIRST-YEAR ADMINISTRATORS FACE?
accounts, new administrators experience intense, unrelenting stress as they try
to adjust their textbook understanding of leadership to the real world of
practice. They have to master technical skills, learn to deal with a variety of
constituents, and wrestle with doubts about personal adequacy, all in a
fast-paced environment that leaves little time for reflection and thoughtfulness
(Parkay and Rhodes 1992). They are frequently haunted by the fear that a moment
of inattention will blossom into a crisis. In the words of one beginning
assistant principal, "You can't turn your back on something, 'cause that might
be the thing" (Hartzell and colleagues 1995).
First-year stress comes not just from task overload, but from the need for
quick assimilation into a new culture. Every school is a unique organization,
with its own history, environment, and cast of characters. New principals not
only have to learn "how things are done," but "how things are done here" (Crow
and Mathews 1998). They must go from "stranger" to "insider," quickly discerning
the unwritten rules and identifying the real movers and shakers (Aiken 2002).
Many new administrators also find it disconcerting to deal with teachers as
supervisors rather than peers. Operating for the first time from a schoolwide
perspective, some are shocked to see the parochialism of some teachers' behavior
(Hartzell and colleagues).
Finally, many beginners report a strong sense of isolation. Unlike new
teachers, who can usually find an empathetic colleague just down the hall,
principals literally have no peers in their building. The isolation can be
magnified when they receive little feedback from supervisors.
WHY DOES INDUCTION MATTER?
Given the stress faced by
first-year leaders, simple compassion would be reason enough to ease their
transition into the field. However, well-designed induction programs can also
enhance the well-being of the district.
Sociologists have pointed out that the first year is a crucial period in
administrators' socialization, the process by which they internalize the skills,
values, and dispositions of the profession (Aiken; Crow and Mathews; Normore
2003). While newcomers will enter the job with both informal and formal
preparation, they still face the crucial task of "organizational socialization,"
in which the simple abstractions learned in university classrooms must be
adapted to the messy realities of real schools.
During this period, beginning principals are strongly motivated to fit in to
their new environment, and the norms of the organization are likely to outweigh
the norms acquired during training. This offers districts a unique opportunity
to influence the goals and behaviors of new leaders (Normore).
In adapting to the school, newcomers often experience role conflict between
the immediate demands of the job and the district's reform agenda. For example,
early career principals interviewed by Aiken described a tension between the
"custodial" and "innovative" dimensions of the job; they felt they had to
effectively run the school as it was before taking it in a new direction. A
well-designed induction program can help novices articulate such dilemmas and
find a way of achieving balance.
Although direct empirical evidence is scarce, some researchers have
speculated that formal induction programs improve retention. Linda Morford
(2002), after interviewing ten new rural principals who had no access to any
kind of induction program, found two years later that nine of them had either
moved on to other positions or returned to teaching.
HOW DOES MENTORING ASSIST INDUCTION?
Induction has become
almost synonymous with mentoring, and understandably so. Few newcomers will fail
to benefit from having an empathetic, experienced colleague who can provide
coaching in technical skills, guide them through the political minefields, and
provide a perspective that encourages reflection. However, there are also
pitfalls. Mentors may become too controlling or overprotective, may try to shape
their protege into a clone of themselves, or may present only a narrow
perspective on the newcomer's situation (Crow and Mathews).
Nonetheless, mentoring programs are generally welcomed by beginners (Howley
and colleagues 2002; Ricciardi 2000). Laura Dukess (2001), after interviews with
mentors, proteges, and supervisors of mentoring programs in six New York City
community districts, concluded that good mentors rendered three forms of
assistance to new principals:
1. They provided instructional support by keeping newcomers' attention
focused on learning issues and offering models of successful practice.
2. They provided administrative and managerial support not just by giving
practical tips but by helping their proteges set priorities.
3. They provided emotional support by listening carefully and being present
at particularly stressful moments.
Dukess also concluded that good results did not automatically come just by
putting a mentor and protege together. Key steps included careful matching of
mentors and proteges, clear expectations and guidelines for participants,
adequate time for the mentor, and selection of mentors who have a record of
success and who are "reflective, compassionate, good listeners, good
communicators, and able to speak the hard truth."
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD INDUCTION
Increasingly, districts are taking a "grow your own" approach to
provide newcomers with a smooth entry tailored to the context of the district.
Although almost any assistance would be beneficial to new principals, early
experience with induction programs suggests some basic principles that can guide
First, although new administrators often worry the most about technical
skills, induction programs should help candidates stay focused on the big
picture. Aiken recommends that induction should "support principals through
paradox, help to demystify leadership practice, and provide opportunities for
collaborative and reflective learning."
At the same time, programs must respect the immediate needs of the new
administrators. Howley and colleagues found that new principals in a leadership
academy expressed a strong preference for focusing on what one called
"practical, hands-on, get-me-through-the-first-year-so-I-can-survive stuff."
They were much less interested in reflective portfolio activities centered
around the ISLLC standards. Striking the right balance is a key challenge.
Second, induction involves more than one-to-one mentoring. Districts can use
a wide array of strategies, including portfolios, professional development
plans, study groups, leadership academies, focus groups, peer coaching,
workshops, and retreats (Peterson 2001).
Third, induction is especially powerful when it is embedded in the culture of
the district, not just a one-shot "extra" activity for newcomers. For example,
New York City's District Two incorporates day-long principal conferences on
instructional topics, study groups, support groups, visits to other schools, and
intensive "walkthroughs" by central-office supervisors (Elmore and Burney 2000).
In their discussions with new principals, the researchers were struck by the
degree to which new principals had internalized the district's culture of
continuous learning and improvement.
WHAT EXTERNAL RESOURCES CAN SUPPORT DISTRICT INDUCTION
Many districts, especially those in rural areas, have difficulty
finding the personnel or money to develop comprehensive induction programs.
Fortunately, districts can leverage their efforts through partnerships with
states or professional associations.
More states are offering school leadership academies that sometimes include
programs designed for new leaders. For example, Ohio has developed an entry-year
leadership academy built around mentoring and portfolio development. As part of
the initiative, the state has produced a curriculum for training mentors and
contracted with Educational Testing Service to design reflective questions for
the portfolio (Beebe and colleagues 2002).
Some states have realigned their certification requirements to better support
the developmental needs of leaders (Southern Regional Education Board 2002). For
example, Kentucky and Louisiana use two-tiered licensure systems in which full
certification comes only after successful experience as an administrator. School
leaders are provided mentoring and other forms of assistance, leading to
full-fledged certification after a successful first year. These programs provide
a natural structure into which districts can integrate their local priorities.
Universities offer another source of support. For example, the New Teacher
Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, provides trained coaches to
give individualized guidance to new administrators. Participants meet every two
weeks and also maintain contact by email and phone. Services include observation
and coaching in authentic work dilemmas (Bloom 1999).
Professional associations offer a variety of professional development
resources. The National Association of Elementary School Principals conducts
numerous workshops, assessments, and training opportunities. NAESP also partners
with Nova Southeastern University to offer intensive mentor training and
certification. The National Association of Secondary School Principals has long
been a leader in using assessment center methods to promote principal
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Normore, Anthony H. "Professional and Organizational Socialization Processes
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Opportunities." Paper presented at the first meeting of the National Commission
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