Principal identity and educational change

  • Author / Creator
    Wright, Lisa L
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2010
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Melnychuk, Nancy (Secondary Education)
    • Snart, Fern (Educational Psychology)
    • Blase, Jo (Educational Leadership, University of Georgia)
    • Newton, Paul (Educational Policy Studies)
    • Peters, Frank (Educational Policy Studies)