Research questions and design
In our reconnaissance of the school leadership field, we found that much of the research was on principalship or effective schools but not on successful principals and, where this was the focus, it was largely based upon self report, narrative single lens accounts, input-output measures, and theoretical perspectives, or the world of business. Notwithstanding Leithwood’s work over a number of years, combining the empirical and conceptual, we were intrigued by five questions which did not yet seem to have been answered:
- What similarities and differences can be identified in the beliefs and behaviours of successful school principals across national cultures and policy contexts?
- Do different countries have different ways of defining success?
- How do high-stake assessments and accountability measures influence the practices of successful principals?
- Do different socio-economic contexts in which schools operate affect the ways in which successful principals work? Are different qualities, strategies and skills needed?
- How do successful principals come to be successful? How do they learn about their work and acquire the skills needed to create and sustain school improvement?
Over the years, we have found that multi-level, multi-perspective research methods provide richer, more authentic data about successful principalship than has hitherto been available.
Such data are best provided by those with close knowledge of the principal i.e. teachers, students, parents, non-teaching members of the school and other community members.
Schools and principals are selected in each research site using, whenever possible, evidence from independent school inspections, evidence of student achievement beyond expectations on state or national tests, principals’ exemplary reputations in the community and/or school system, and other indicators of success that are site-specific. In other words, the criteria for selecting principals are based on a range of evidence that the school had become successful during the period of their leadership.