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The Impact of Principal Reassignment on the Educational Environment in Relation to Distributed Leadership and Sustainable Professional Learning Communities

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Robert Eugene Phillips
Abstract:
The purpose of the research was to look at the impact of principal reassignment on the educational environment in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities. Participants included a superintendent who instituted principal reassignment in his school district, eight principals who had been reassigned to another building, and five teachers who experienced principal reassignment. A grounded theory case study was used that utilized interviews, surveys, and focus groups. The responses of the principals and teachers indicate a negative impact from principal reassignment on the educational environment in the areas of distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning community. It is an effect that has a negative impact on both the principals and teachers. However, the superintendent is aware of the disruption to the leadership and community and does not see this as a major impact. He contends that the impact is short lived and the resulting impact is a positive one which benefits the school building.

iv Table of Contents Abstract iii Table of Contents iv Acknowledgements vi Dedication vii Chapter One 1 Introduction 1 Background 1 Statement of the Problem and Significance of the Problem 2 Statement of the Research Question 4 Uniqueness of the Study 4 Purpose of the Study 5 Operational Definitions 6 Chapter Two 10 Literature Review 10 Background 10 Principal Reassignment 10 Educational Environment 11 School Budget 15 Public Relations 17 Community of Stakeholders 20 Distributed Leadership 21 Sustainable Professional Learning Communities 26 Chapter Three 35 Methodology 35 Research Design 35 Participants 36 Role of the Researcher 37 Information Gathering Techniques 39 Questionnaire 43 Focus group 45 Procedure 48 Information Analysis 51 Open coding 52 Axial coding 53 Selective coding 54 Development of a theory 54 Chapter Four 56

V Findings 56 Superintendent Interview Findings 56 Principal Questionnaire Findings 62 Teacher Questionnaire Findings 67 Principal Focus Group Findings 73 Teacher Focus Group Findings 77 Chapter Five 82 Discussion of the Results 82 Introduction 82 Educational Impact of Principal Reassignment on the Educational Environment 84 Distributed Leadership and Principal Reassignment on the Educational Environment 85 Sustainable Professional Learning Communities and Principal Reassignment on the Educational Environment 87 Generalizations 89 Conclusions/Recommendations 90 Limitations 93 Implications 95 Future Study 96 References 98 Appendix A 109 Superintendent Interview Questions 109 Appendix B 112 Reassigned Principal Survey Questions 112 Appendix C 115 Teacher Survey Questions 115 Appendix D 118 Reassigned Principal Focus Group Questions 118 Appendix E 119 Teacher Focus Group Questions 119

vi Acknowledgements I would like to acknowledge the faculty and staff of Saint Joseph's University's Education Department, as well as fellow Cohort IV members for providing a rigorous, challenging, cooperative, and supportive environment that allowed me to develop and grow my knowledge and skills in the realm of educational leadership. I acknowledge and thank Dr. David Noyes for being a dedicated and inspiring mentor throughout the educational leadership doctorate process. The many insightful suggestions and support he provided me was needed and appreciated. I will always remember his response when I asked him to be my mentor, "Yes, I would be glad to help; I believe it is our duty to give back and help future leaders". You did your job well and I hope to give back and help a future leader in the same fashion. I wish to thank Dr. Raymond Horn Jr. Committee Chair/Methodologist, Dr. Robert Palestini Content Expert, and Dr. David Noyes Content Expert, for their help, support, expertise, guidance, and leadership in serving on my dissertation committee. I would like to thank Dr. Horn for his guidance, his leadership, and his support not only through the dissertation process but also throughout the doctoral program. I need to add a special acknowledgement for Dr. Palestini who was a tremendous support during a very trying personal time during my coursework. Dr. Palestini was a true model of the Jesuit educational mission of "cura personalis". I thank and acknowledge the support of my friends, family, and my colleagues at the Pennridge School District for their support and encouragement. I want to acknowledge and thank the Pennridge School Board, the Pennridge Administration, and the Pennridge Teachers for their contributions and support of this project.

Dedication vii I dedicate this work to my parents for their love and support throughout my life. I am the person I am today because of them. To my mother Irene for her strength and passion that saw me through all the difficult times. To my father Lewis whose wisdom and humor helped shape the man I am today. To my brother Gary who I have leaned on when I needed it and who is always there for me. To my daughter Juliana who makes me want to be a better person and a better daddy every day. I am so proud of you and all the things you have been able to accomplish. I am sorry for the time I missed away from you to complete this work. Finally, to my wife Melissa who is my love, my life, and my rock. Without her support during some difficult times I am not sure I could have finished this work. She has been the one person I missed the most when I was spending time on this work. From the day we first met my dreams continue to be fulfilled. Thank you for allowing me to pursue this dream.

Chapter One Introduction Background Many reasons can be given for taking a principal out of one school and placing this individual in another building. Principal reassignment can be supported by the idea that change in leadership will improve organizational performance (Waters & Morehead, 1988). This is accomplished by the theory that good performance does not spring from strong training, raw talent, and luck alone. It seems that newness at the job releases creative energies that many employees forget they have when they've spent too many years in one place (National School Boards Association, 1978). Normal rotation of principals is done for other reasons such as matching principal strengths and needs with the strengths and needs of schools, the ability to share the talents of administration throughout the school district, and the opportunity for administrators to encounter new issues and overcome them (School Superintendent, personal communication, March 17, 2008). There are some negative feelings about principal reassignment such as children getting confused, teachers needing time to get used to the administrative style of each principal, and procedures needing time to become traditions. Research and experience have shown that it is the principal who makes the difference between a good school and a mediocre one (Stark, 1990). This study will research the impact of the superintendent reassigning principals in the education environment by comparing the superintendent's reassignment strategies to the theories of distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities. Data will be collected by interviewing the Superintendent of the school

2 district and use of a questionnaire to obtain feedback from both the reassigned principals as well as a purposeful sample of teachers who experienced reassignment in their building. The research study is designed to collect information on distributed leadership and professional learning communities. Professional learning communities imply and entail new forms of shared or distributed leadership, yet not all distributed leadership supports or sustains such communities (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006). Principal reassignment was last accomplished in the school district under study seven years ago. In the school year 2008-2009, principal reassignment again took place. Many of the same principals and teachers are still in the school district and have once again experienced reassignment. The same process that the superintendent followed seven years ago will again be implemented. Statement of the Problem and Significance of the Problem Little research exists on principal reassignment, even less exists on the effect of principal reassignment on the educational environment. Principal reassignment may have a significant affect on the educational environment. Parents and students have relationships with the principal, teachers know the management style and expectations of the principal, but what, if any, effect does the reassignment process have on the principal? We need to understand better the effect on the educational environment of the building undergoing the distribution of leadership along with the lasting affect on the learning environment. Principal reassignment dissolves years of communication and community building between the principal and the parents. Parent teacher association meetings, back

3 to school nights, and school plays have served to bring the community closer with their principal. Students are aware of the rules and the expectations within the building. Some students may have only known one principal for their entire elementary school career. Teachers are comfortable with the routine in the building and the management style of the principal (Stark, 1990). Principal reassignment directly affects the idea of distributed leadership and that reassignment can affect sustainable professional learning communities. Administrators can be transferred within the school system if the needs of the system dictate. Policies determining transfers are usually established by the board with the advice of the superintendent. Transfers ought not to be made arbitrarily and consideration of how administrators involved feel about the change is especially significant (Jones & Walters, 1994). According to Superintendent A (personnel communication, January 29, 2008), Superintendent of the school district, the superintendent is ultimately the person who decides where each principal will be assigned. The superintendent's decision is based on strengths and needs of the building, the rating of each principal by cabinet and supervisors, the ability to match the strength of each principal with the need of each building, the requested assignment of each principal, and the input and ideas of the superintendent. In conclusion, principal reassignment presents potential problems of impact on the educational environment specifically in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities. Impact can be felt in the areas of school staff morale, efficiency, sense of community, public relations, and stakeholder emotions.

4 A breakdown in the structural means of roles, committees, formal procedures, communication, relationships, group life, and assertiveness of the staff can be affected. Depth of learning and real achievement, length of impact over the long haul, breadth of influence, changes in networks and cohesion, resourcefulness that renews staff energy, and building on the best of the past to create a better future in the school can be lost with principal reassignment. Statement of the Research Question This study seeks to answer the following general research question. Is there an impact on the educational environment during principal reassignment in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities? The purpose of a grounded theory is to develop a hypothesis. In this study, the hypothesis will emerge at the end out of the information analysis. Uniqueness of the Study A review of the literature on this topic revealed that no study looked at the reassignment of principals and its impact on the educational environment in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities. This study will be unique in several ways: 1. It is a qualitative study of the reassignment of principals and specifically it's impact on the educational environment in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional leadership communities. 2. The superintendent who makes the actual principal reassignments will be interviewed to discuss the impact on the educational environment in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities.

5 3. The principals who are reassigned will be surveyed to gauge the impact on the educational environment in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities. 4. A sample of teachers who were in the buildings that experienced the reassignment of the principal will be surveyed to gauge the impact on the educational environment in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities. There is very little literature that deals with the effects of principal reassignment on the educational environment. Some research holds that a change in leadership will improve organizational performance but caution must be used when considering a similar change in leadership, due to the circumstances unique to each school district (Waters & Morehead, 1988). Many studies discuss teacher reassignment and the positive impact of reassignment (Cedoline, 1982; Jones & Walters, 1994; Vann, 1992). Purpose of the Study The primary purpose of this research is to add to the understanding of principal reassignment and the impact on the educational environment. There does not seem to be research on the impact of principal reassignment in relation to distributed leadership. This lack of information is particularly important regarding superintendent decisions to reassign principals and the impact on the sustainable professional learning communities in the buildings. There are other considerations for studying the impact on the educational environment of principal reassignment in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities. Important topics for future research would

6 include time frames for reassignment, what specific training should be provided for each reassigned principal, and what consideration, if any, should be made to not reassign specific principals. This study will investigate such specifics from the perspective of the current principal reassignment within the district under study. It is expected that by understanding the impact on the educational environment of principal reassignment, distributed leadership principles can be utilized to provide for sustainable professional learning community activities in the buildings that are undergoing principal reassignment. Operational Definitions The key concepts identified in this prospectus are: 1) impact, 2) principal reassignment, 3) relation, 4) educational environment, 5) distributed leadership, and, 6) sustainable professional leadership communities. Each concept is briefly defined below. Impact This would include the attitudes of the certified and non-certified staff on the professional abilities of the reassigned principal, the feelings of the principals involved in the reassignment, and the adjustment of the students to the reassignment. These attitudes and feelings would include morale, efficiency, sense of community, public relations, and stakeholder emotions (i.e., anxiety, stress). Impact is initially defined through obvious possibilities; however, the impact that will be uncovered will emerge from the participant data collected during the grounded study.

7 Principal reassignment Principals are reassigned within the school system after an established period of time. This process involves principals moving to another school in the school district and assuming the role of building principal of the new building and the staff of that building. Placement is concerned with assigning selectees to the positions available (Jones & Walters, 1994). Relation A logical or natural association between two or more things: connection, correlation, interconnection, interdependence, interrelationship, link, relationship. An aspect or quality that connects two or more things or parts as being or belonging or working together (Mish, 2002). Educational Environment Educational Environment will include a school of culture that creates a set of relationships, norms of behaviors, values, and obligations that lead to the development of healthy and productive adults. These include measure a of autonomy, belongingness, competence, engagement, and psychological health (Newell & Van Ryzin, 2007). Distributed leadership Distributed leadership comprises dynamic interactions between multiple leaders and followers. Task responsibilities are distributed across traditionally defined organizational roles (Timperley, 2005). Distributed leadership is particularly important in relation to the instructional aspects of leadership. It is the development of instructional leadership, rather than

8 other organizational functions, that has been shown to have the greatest leverage in effecting programmatic changes and instructional improvement (Hargreaves, 1994). Distributed leadership is an attitude rather than a management technique. It means seeing all members of the faculty and staff as experts in their own right - as uniquely important sources of knowledge, experience, and wisdom. A central goal of the approach is for individuals to succeed in a climate of shared purpose, teamwork, and respect - an atmosphere in which we can reach out to help one another and feel free to turn and ask for help (i.e., shared leadership). Leadership is conceptualized as a distributed practice, stretched over the social and situational contexts of a school. Leadership is not simply a function of what a school principal, or indeed any other individual or group of leaders, knows and does. Rather, it is the activities engaged in by leaders, in interaction with others in particular contexts around specific tasks (Spillane, Halverson, & Diamond, 2004). Redistributed leadership is leadership that occurs through structural means of roles, committees, formal procedures, communication, relationships, group life, and assertiveness (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006). Hopkins and Jackson (2003) suggest it is where "leadership and organizational growth collide and by definition, it is dispersed or distributed" (p. 99). Sustainable professional leadership communities This is characterized by depth of learning and real achievement, length of impact over the long haul, breadth of influence, leadership actions do no harm to and actively benefit students in other schools, diversity that replaces standardization

9 and alignment with networks and cohesion, resourcefulness that conserves and renews teachers' and leaders' energy and does not burn them out, and conservation that builds on the best of the past to create an even better future (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006). A professional learning community is an ongoing process to establish a school- wide culture that develops teacher leadership explicitly focused on building and sustaining school improvement efforts. Educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006).

Chapter Two Literature Review Background The school district in this study has undergone a reassignment of elementary principals during the 2008-2009 school year. This reassignment will be the focus of this question: Is there an impact on the educational environment during principal reassignment in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities? Chapter Two will review the research relating to: principal reassignment, educational environment (i.e., school budget, public relations, community of stakeholders), distributed leadership, and sustainable professional learning communities. Principal Reassignment Conventional wisdom holds that change in leadership will improve organizational performance, whether it be in the educational arena or the private sector (Waters & Morehead, 1988). All professionals in public school districts are employees of their local school boards. Since local school boards are quasi-municipal corporations legally constituted to conduct a state government function (i.e., providing public education), professionals in local school systems can then be considered public employees (Hudgins & Vacca, 1979). Hudgins and Vacca make it clear that local school boards have the power to assign, reassign, reprimand, discipline, and discharge employees for a variety of reasons. Although school boards have this authority, it is in their best interest to delegate these administrative functions to the superintendent. In most employment instances employees are not promised a position in a

11 particular school or school building but are considered district employees. It is important that employees understand fully that their individual assignments can be changed if the change is considered by the superintendent to be in the best interests of the total school system. In the final analysis, it is the responsibility of the superintendent to place employees in their respective assignments (Jones & Walters, 1994). Principals in large urban school districts are often transferred after an established period of time. Policies determining transfers are usually established by the board with the advice of the superintendent (Jones & Walters, 1994). As in industry, educational transfer policies should provide professional growth and be viewed as a positive, promotional experience. School districts might strongly consider reassignment as a positive and expected change every four or five years (Cedoline, 1982). Educational Environment The environment consists of those conditions that promote or hinder, and stimulate or inhibit the characteristic activities of a living being. Education is the shaping, forming, and molding activity - that is, a shaping into the standard form of social activity (Dewey, 1944, p. 10). The school as an institution receives its mandate from the society it serves. The citizens of a local community elect school board members, who are charged with formulating policies for the governance and administration of the schools. After the board of education establishes the policies, the superintendent of schools and his or her staff are responsible for establishing administrative processes and procedures that implement the board policies (Rebore, 2007).

12 Research in education has demonstrated the value of student autonomy in encouraging academic success and personal development (Newell & Van Ryzin, 2007). Giving students autonomy does not mean that they "get to do whatever they want," rather, it means that the students' personal point of view is acknowledged and that students are given some level of choices in satisfying learning requirements. Positive peer relations and teacher/student relationships are vital to maintaining high levels of motivation, engagement, achievement, and positive behavior. Research has found that the perceived goal orientation of a school can significantly affect a student's own goal orientation (Newell & Van Ryzin, 2007). Engagement in learning is encouraged when students' core developmental needs are met in school. In other words, if the school environment is perceived as providing opportunity for autonomy, support for belongingness, and a "learning" goal orientation instead of a "performance" goal orientation, then students will be more engaged in their learning (Newell & Van Ryzin, 2007). These core values are the dominant values that most of the organizational members accept and share; they influence every aspect of organizational life (Hoy & Miskel, 2008). Deal and Kennedy (1982) suggest that successful organizations share some common cultural characteristics. They argue that such organizations have a widely shared organizational philosophy, concern for individuals that is more important than formal rules and policies, rituals and ceremonies that build a common identity, a well-understood sense of the informal rules and expectations, and a belief that what employees do is important to others. Terrance Deal (1985) proposes that effective schools have strong cultures with

13 the following characteristics: 1. Shared values and a consensus on "how we get things done around here." 2. The principal as a hero or heroine who embodies core values. 3. Distinctive rituals that embody widely shared beliefs. 4. Employees as situational heroes or heroines. 5. Rituals of acculturation and cultural renewal. 6. Significant rituals to celebrate and transform core values. 7. Balance between innovation and tradition and between autonomy and control. 8. Widespread participation in cultural rituals (p. 605). At a middle level of abstraction, culture is defined as shared beliefs and values. Values are beliefs of what is desirable. They are reflections of the underlying assumptions of culture, and lie at the next level of analysis. Values often define what members should do to be successful in the organization. When we ask people to explain why they behave the way they do, we may begin to discover the central values of the organization. Shared values define the basic character of the organization and give the organization a sense of identity. If members know what their organization stands for, they are more likely to make decisions that will support those standards. They are also more likely to feel part of the organization and that organizational life has important meaning (Hoy & Miskel, 2008). School climate is a broad term that refers to teachers' perceptions of the general work environment of the school, and the formal organization, informal organization, personalities of participants, and organizational leadership that influence it. Put simply, the set of internal characteristics that distinguish one school from another and

14 influence the behavior of each school's members is the organizational climate of the school (Hoy & Miskel, 2008, p. 198). More specifically, it is a relatively enduring quality of the school environment that is experienced by participants, affects their behavior, and is based on their collective perceptions of behavior in schools. The climate of a school may roughly be conceived as the personality of a school - that is, personality is to the individual as climate is to the organization (Hoy & Miskel, 2008, p. 198). Multiple environmental influences affect what happens in schools. Technological and informational developments, political structures and patterns of legal norms, social conditions and cultural values, economic and market factors, and population and demographic characteristics that influence school structures and processes (Scott, 2001). Effective school studies have added a wide range of contextual and school process variables (i.e., school leadership, teacher characteristics, teacher expectations, class and school size, school climate, school socioeconomic status) that can affect student learning (Heck, 2004). The atmosphere of a school has a major impact on the organizational behavior, and administrators can have a significant, positive influence on the development of the "personality" of the school (Hoy & Miskel, 2008, p. 198). The institutional level connects the organization with its environment, the managerial level mediates and controls the internal efforts of the organization, and the technical function is the teaching - learning process (Hoy & Miskel, 2008). If a school district is to achieve its objectives, it needs financial resources, physical resources, and people (Rebore, 2007). In every school district, people must be recruited, selected, placed, evaluated, and compensated, whether by a central human

15 resources office or various administrators within the school district (Rebore, 2007). The goals of the human resources function are basically the same in all school systems - to hire, retain, develop, and motivate personnel in order to achieve the objectives of the school district, to assist individual members of the staff to reach the highest possible levels of achievement, and to maximize the career development of personnel (Rebore, 2007). Through the process of human resource planning, a school district ensures that it has the right number of people, with the right skills, in the right place, and at the right time, and that these people are capable of effectively carrying out those tasks that will aid the organizations in achieving its objective (Rebore, 2007). The future objectives of a school district determine future human resources needs. The number and mix of employees are determined by the types of services called for by organizational objectives. Establishing objectives is the prerogative of the board of education. However, the board must rely on the advice of the school administration as it establishes objectives that will best meet the educational needs of the community. Human resources planning thus translates the organization's objectives into people requirements (Rebore, 2007). The school budget is what funds the requirements of the organization. School Budget Most school district employees are paid on the basis of a schedule that provides a stepwise increment in salary based upon length of tenure. On a typical schedule, salary is not adjusted on the basis of performance. Education provides few, if any, incentives for performance (Cedoline, 1982).

16 Sustainable professional learning communities conserve and renew people's energy and resources. They are prudent and resourceful communities that waste neither their money nor their people. Authentic learning of all kinds renew energy, enlivening the work lives of those who experience it (Hargreaves & Fink, 2004). Developing a budget requires defining the revenue necessary to support expenditures. Expenditures are defined as program choices for serving students. Revenue choices represent the public policy impact on the district's taxpayers (Pennsylvania School Boards Association, 2005). Policies are plans that address identified needs by providing stated purposes, delegated responsibilities, and guidelines for desired action. They are written plans developed by identifying needs, considering alternative solutions, devising a plan of action, and evaluating the results (PSBA, 2005). Business officials should have the ability to effectively communicate the "bottom line" in an easily understood manner to the superintendent as well as the public. When adopting a budget, its purpose is to provide children in the district with the best possible educational program maximizing the resources available. Care is taken to have adequate participation in the process and sufficient public and staff comment (PSBA, 2005). The school budget planning must include material costs as well. In the next section, we will discuss the single largest procurement action a school board can undertake, constructing a new school building (PSBA, 2005). The process of construction involves millions of dollars and typically spans several years from inception to completion. Boards are charged with providing necessary grounds and suitable buildings to accommodate all school age children in the district

17 (PSBA, 2005). The budget must also fund the purchase of needed materials used during the school year, which is discussed in the following section. The public has an expectation that the funds used to support the education of children will be expended in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Contracting and purchasing of materials, supplies, and facilities are subjects that are not taken lightly by school officials. The School Code specifies that the school board shall purchase all necessary furniture, equipment, textbooks, school supplies, and other appliances for the use of the school (PSBA, 2005). Adopting a budget is one of the most important functions of the school board. Simply stated, a budget is the description of programs and services with price tags attached that are intended to achieve stated goals and objectives. Public relations is the method the school uses to communicate the budget as well as attributes of the school district to the community. Reassignment of principals needs to be communicated to all stakeholders and information provided to substantiate the decision to move principals in a cyclical fashion within the school district. Public Relations Communications is like anything else. It requires work. The message must be relevant to the needs, concerns, and dreams of the public. Being up front with people confers respect. Even when delivering bad news, chances are most individuals who disagree with school administrators will respect them if they put their cards on the table (Carville & Begala, 2002). The idea of social capital has enjoyed a remarkable rise to prominence. By

Full document contains 128 pages
Abstract: The purpose of the research was to look at the impact of principal reassignment on the educational environment in relation to distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning communities. Participants included a superintendent who instituted principal reassignment in his school district, eight principals who had been reassigned to another building, and five teachers who experienced principal reassignment. A grounded theory case study was used that utilized interviews, surveys, and focus groups. The responses of the principals and teachers indicate a negative impact from principal reassignment on the educational environment in the areas of distributed leadership and sustainable professional learning community. It is an effect that has a negative impact on both the principals and teachers. However, the superintendent is aware of the disruption to the leadership and community and does not see this as a major impact. He contends that the impact is short lived and the resulting impact is a positive one which benefits the school building.