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Dinham, S. (2005). Principal Leadership for Outstanding Educational Outcomes. Journal Of Educational Administration, 43(4), 338-356.

The purpose of this qualitative study was to ascertain the role of Principals in creating high student outcomes in grades 7 to 10 in government schools in New South Wales, Australia.  The study was a part of the Australian Research Council funded, An Exceptional Schooling Outcomes Project (AESOP), in collaboration with the University of New England, the University of Western Sydney and the New South Wales Department of Education and Training (NSW DET).  The study was done because of the need to determine the extent to which principal leadership directly leads to positive school outcomes.

The measure for high student outcomes consisted of the three domains:

the full development of student talents, the attainment of high knowledge and skills standards via curriculum, and social justice

of The Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for [Australian] Schools in the Twenty-first Century.  Four research questions were formulated: what activities and behaviors lead to high school performance?  Are there relationships between high academic outcomes, self identity, and social status?  Which institutional factors limit or expand educational success?  Are (and if so, how are) high educational outcomes sharable with other schools?

A total of 50 sites were studied within 38 secondary schools.  The methodology included four researchers visiting each site for four days with all but four site visits taking place during 2002 and 2003 (the first four being in 2001).  Researchers observed lessons, and interviewed teachers, the Principal, other staff, students, parents, and members of the community.  Document analysis was also performed.

Coding of the data revealed 300 concepts related to Principal leadership.  The researchers used grounded theory (axial and selective coding) to produce seven categories linking principal leadership with high student outcomes –

one core (focus on student learning) and six contributing (external awareness and engagement, student support with common purpose and collaboration, bias toward innovation and action, relationships, vision of a culture of success, and teachers learning/responsibility/trust).

Findings clearly showed both positional and distributed leadership, rooted in the core category of focus on student learning, to be significant factors in the achievement of excellent school outcomes.  In particular, researchers found the principals at the highest achieving schools didn’t allow themselves to be distracted or over-worked by administrative demands and consistently found ways to focus on teaching and learning.  The highest achieving schools had principals who used all the contributing categories together in the service of the core category of student learning.  These findings surprised the researchers because the study was originally expected to ascertain the effectiveness of faculties and departments (not principals) in producing high student learning.  The study offered no suggestions for future research.