Principals reflecting on their leadership learning with an heuristic: A Pilot Study

Year: 2012

Author: Dempster, Neil, Lovett, Susan, Fluckiger, Bev

Type of paper: Refereed paper



The purpose of this paper is to report on a small pilot study in which an heuristic was used to enable principals to reflect on the confidence they have in their existing leadership knowledge and how they might add to that knowledge in the future. The motivation for the study arose from a literature review of strategies for leadership development which showed up the lack of attention paid in research to principals' agency in the pursuit of their own learning. This contrasts starkly with the dominance in the literature of principals' reliance on education systems or authorities which, at present, make most decisions about principals' learning in leadership development programs. The piloting of the heuristic acts as a means of shifting the emphasis from system to self, thus empowering individuals to take more responsibility for their own future leadership learning needs.


Two versions of the heuristic were trialled; the first with 10 Australian and New Zealand principals. This led to a second version which was trialled with 6 newly appointed Australian faith-based independent primary school heads. The tool was administered electronically. It contained twenty statements arranged in groups of four around five focal points defining leadership learning content, namely, Pedagogy, People, Place, System and Self. This listing of focal points extended the original four found in Clarke's and Wildy's (2011) work (Pedagogy being the additional one). Data from the second version were processed and are presented for analysis and discussion in this paper.


Two types of results are presented and discussed. The first concerns the aggregated responses from the six participants. The second analyses participants' comments on a series of open-ended probes seeking reactions to the usefulness of the instrument itself.


The findings from the pilot study confirm the usefulness of the content inventory arranged around the five focal points as an aid to principals' reflection. However, they point to further adjustments such as the inclusion of  a confidence scale against which principals would be able to determine their own strengths and weaknesses and appropriate ways they might plan to extend those strengths and address those weaknesses. Overall, the results show that the heuristic is a helpful device in lifting personal agency for leadership learning.