Research questions and design
In our preparation, 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 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?
Multi-perspective data about successful principalship will provide richer, more authentic data than has hitherto been available. Such data are best provided by those with close knowledge of the principal i.e. teachers, students, parents, no0n-teaching members of the school and other community members. ISSPP is characterized by: Collaborative research designed to a set of agreed common protocols across English and non-English speaking countries will provide understandings of the insights into successful principalship and school improvement which will add to existing knowledge.
Schools and principals were selected in each research site using, whenever possible, 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 were site-specific. In other words, the criteria for selecting principals were based on a range of evidence that the school had been successful during the period of their leadership.
Later other colleagues from other countries have joined the project.
Revisiting successful school principals - five years later:
Members of the original group have recently completed further investigation of how principals sustain their success by revisiting schools used in the first phase of the research. This research has provided new knowledge about the conditions for, characteristics and consequences of principals who sustain success in their schools
Our intention over the next phase is to design research in which we spend a longer time in schools observing principals at work, by visiting for 3 x 1 week periods over a year. We are considering, also, investigating the work of principals in schools in the same contexts as those we have worked with previously but which are not as successful.