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The purpose of this study was to determine the most appropriate model of leadership in Catholic schools, the ways in which student leadership can be promoted, and the role of the principal in that promotion.  The study was done because of the importance of developing leadership potential in young people.  The conceptual framework for this study consisted of four constructs: Christian leadership, student leadership, the promotion of student leadership, and the role of the principal in that promotion.

The researchers used the qualitative methods of semiformal interviews and field notes based on observations.  Three research questions were identified: What do principals of Catholic schools understand student leadership to be?  According to these principals what form should student leadership take and what role do they see for themselves in the promotion of such student leadership?  The sample included eight Catholic high school principals, all living and working in Perth, Western Australia.  Each interview averaged close to one hour and took place in the field.  Principals were purposively selected based on their active engagement in issues of student leadership and the presence of leadership programs in their schools.  Sampling variation was maximized by including three coeducational schools as well as two all boys’ schools and two all girls’ schools.  Further, half of the principals were male and half female.

The instrument was trialed prior to data collection to increase its quality and consisted of six interview questions.  Interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed, checked for validity by the interviewees, coded, and mined for themes.  This analysis was consistent with the framework of Miles and Huberman (1994) and consisted of data reduction and display, as well as drawing and verifying conclusions.


Analysis identified four themes from each of the three research questions presented under the categories of student leadership, student leadership in Catholic schools, and the role of the principal.  Major findings include: visible identification of student leaders, clear leadership goals, involvement of key staff, the importance of school culture and identity; the primacy of servant leadership, clear vision for student leadership, adequate opportunities for students to lead; the principal as model of leadership, the principal as designer of student leadership opportunities, the principal as chief communicator of school values, and the principal as creator and sustainer of leadership vision.  The researchers found that principals went beyond articulating the importance of student leadership and took active roles in the promotion of that leadership.  Principals personally mentored both individual students and key staff and consistently used the model of servant leadership in their approach.

The researchers made two recommendations:

principals should create a network of key staff to work directly with student leadership development and Catholic education authorities should actively support student leadership programs.

The researchers did not identify the limitations of their study or identify avenues for future research.

Lavery, Shane D., Hine, Gregory S.C. (2013). Catholic School Principals: Promoting Student Leadership. Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, 17(1), Article 3