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Principal identity and educational change Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Wright, Lisa L
Supervisor and department
da Costa, José (Educational Policy Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Blase, Jo (Educational Leadership, University of Georgia)
Snart, Fern (Educational Psychology)
Peters, Frank (Educational Policy Studies)
Melnychuk, Nancy (Secondary Education)
Newton, Paul (Educational Policy Studies)
Department of Educational Policy Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Despite growing consensus that educational reform has changed the nature of school leadership, the contemporary literature provides limited insight into how educational change impacts the identity of those who are centrally involved. Although the principal is deemed to be a critical lynch-pin in school improvement, relatively few studies seek the informative voices of principals to understand the identities assumed as principals engage in change processes, and how principals address consonance and dissonance between their identities and internal and external demands. In this study, interpretive approaches were used to explore the relationship between principal identity and educational change. I used purposeful sampling to select six principals within central Alberta. Multiple individual interviews were conducted with each principal. Additionally, I recorded notes in my researcher’s journal which also served as a record of my thinking as the study unfolded and as an additional data source. Data analysis involved identifying patterns and themes pertinent to the research questions. Micropolitical analysis suggested that the nature and degree of change was influenced by the four identities principals assumed as they engaged in educational change: (a) organizational architect (visionary and analyst sub-identities), (b) mediator (disseminator, meaning maker, and problem solver sub-identities), (c) awakener (teacher and learner sub-identities), and (d) protector (caregiver and advocate sub-identities). A degree of overlap and reciprocity, as well as competition, between identities and sub-identities existed. Principals’ assumed identities were derived from access to sources of organizational power. Principals constructed their own understandings and responses to change by assimilating, accommodating (including symbolic accommodation and compromise), or resisting (through evidence-based argument, avoidance, and opposition) new ideas or approaches. Although principals often felt at odds with the prevailing discourses of educational change, they both consciously and inadvertently reinforced dominant ideologies. Expectations for legitimacy and cohesion preoccupied principals’ thinking and influenced identity salience. Principals’ identities and responses impacted the potential for change. My key recommendation is that principals need to consider how their identities, positional power, and responses to change shape the nature and extent of educational change. I conclude with further questions and directions for practice, policy, and research.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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