Developing principal capability: findings from a trial work shadowing program

Year: 2018

Author: Tomkins, Matthew, Kowalkiewicz, Anetta

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

School improvement often involves significant organisational change, and school principals are typically leaders of that change (Fullan 1993; Schleicher 2012). To be effective change agents, principals need to develop competencies such as challenging the status quo, building trust, planning for success, creating and fostering teams, and building networks and partnerships (Fullan 2014, p. 127-34). Principal capabilities can be developed through a range of leadership programs, although the ongoing development of these capabilities is not currently recognised in the professional standards for principals (DET 2018, p. 95). In addition, leadership development programs are traditionally provided to school leaders in isolation from the real context (Jensen et al 2015, p. 36).
The shift in discourse from delivering professional development programs to understanding and supporting authentic professional learning emphasised the need to ‘encourage a spirit of critical inquiry where professionals can gain insight into their own learning and the assumptions they hold about their practice’ (Webster-Wright 2009, p. 727). By participating in authentic professional learning, principals draw on the experience and insights of others and themselves, and learn more effectively. They create social knowledge and recreate it as personal knowledge, in contrast to the ‘transmission’ model with pre-existing fixed ideas transmitted to the learner (Kolb & Kolb 2005, p. 194).
This presentation explores the concept of authentic professional learning in the context of building the capability of school principals to lead school improvement. The analysis is based on data gathered as part of a trial work shadowing program for principals in small rural and remote schools conducted by the Queensland Department of Education in early 2018. The data were collected before and after the program through semi-structured interviews with participating and host principals, review chairs and executive and administration staff associated with the trial.
The presentation discusses in what ways the work shadowing provided authentic professional learning experiences for the participating principals. Findings demonstrate how these experiences contributed to developing the professional capital of these principals in terms of their knowledge (human capital), professional relationships and networks (social capital), and their ability to make discretionary judgements and decisions (decisional capital) (Hardgraves & Fullan 2012, pp. 88-96). Implications for educational leaders and policy makers are discussed regarding how principal capability may be further developed and assisted.