Posted: August 1st, 2022
Conduct a literature review on the research articles related to teacher
perceptions of leaders. At least one of the three articles must be related
to supervisory behaviors. In your assignment be sure to explore the
following in your review:
● Theoretical framework
● Research methods
● Research results for each article
● Synthesize the findings and make recommendations for practice
Length: 5 pages, not including the title and reference pages
References: A minimum of five scholarly references, at least one of
which must relate to supervisory behaviors, published within the last five
years, to support your assertions
ISEA • Volume 44, Number 3, 2016 129
The Changing Nature of School Principals’
Work: Lessons and Future Directions for
School Leadership Research
Recent research has charted the changing landscape in the work of principals and headteachers
(hereafter referred to as ‘principals’) in Western contexts (e.g. Leithwood, Jantzi & Steinbach 2003;
Pollock, Wang & Hauseman 2014). In line with the emerging research, this Special Issue documents
changes occurring in principals’ daily work in Alabama, the U.S. (by Sun, Johnson & Przybylski), in
Ontario, Canada (by Pollock) and in Victoria, Australia (by Drysdale, Gurr & Goode). The Special
Issue also illuminates that the changing nature of principals’ work emerges beyond Western
societies, with articles concerning Hong Kong (by Cheng & Szeto), Nepal (by Shigh & Allison)
and the Philippines (by Buenviaje). The six articles comprising this Special Issue provide a solid
contribution to the emerging research on the changing nature of school principals’ work in various
countries and jurisdictions. In particular, including relatively uncharted countries such as Nepal
and the Philippines further helps the Special Issue to gain scholarly attention and traction. In this
commentary article, I have attempted to extract a number of important lessons for international
research communities focusing on the work of school principals. I have also sought to capture
a fuller picture of the changing nature of principals’ work by comparing, complementing and
combining key findings across the six articles, which I hope will be useful for ongoing discussions
and future directions in the research area.
Lesson 1: There exist similar factors that shape the changing nature of
school principals’ work across different schooling systems.
While studies in the Special Issue have been conducted in different education systems, they report
some similar factors that influence the changing nature of principals’ work, namely:
• increasingly diverse student populations
• growing importance of resources embedded in local communities,
• a high accountability policy environment.
I outline each of the factors below in a little more detail.
ISEA • Volume 44, Number 3, 2016130
Increasingly Diverse Student Populations
Cheng and Szeto’s study reports the ever-changing student demographics in terms of increasing
ethnic diversity and decreasing birth rates as a main factor shaping principals’ work in Hong Kong.
Similarly, Pollock’s study demonstrates that an increasingly diverse student population in terms
of race and ethnicity (and thereby culture and religion) and declining student enrolment are key
school environments in conjunction with the changing nature of principals’ work in Ontario.
Growing Importance of Resources Embedded in Local Communities
Given the lack of school resources penetrating into the whole public school system in Nepal,
Singh and Allison indicate the importance of principals’ building collegial relationships with
local communities to garner community support and resources for school management. Even in
schools situated in relatively developed societies, principals find themselves seeking out additional
resources from local communities, including local universities, in order to 1) address wellbeing
issues of students and teachers in Ontario (Pollock); 2) build a school structurally and culturally
for students with multiple disabilities in Victoria (Drysdale et al.); and 3) provide tailored support
for special education students and non-Chinese speaking students in Hong Kong (Cheng & Szeto).
A High Accountability Policy Environment
Two articles in the Special Issue add evidence to the trend that principals’ focus on and allocation
of their time to their leadership responsibilities have substantially shifted to externally imposed
accountability measures in East Asia and Anglo-Saxon countries (see also Lee & Kirby 2016).
Cheng and Szeto note that externally imposed accountability measures such as the Territory-wide
System Assessment (TSA) change principals’ priorities over their leadership behaviours in line
with accountability requirements. In a similar vein, Sun et al. situate school leadership practices
in another externally imposed accountability measure – the Alabama 2020 accountability policy –
which leads principals in the US state into data-driven school leadership (DDSL) practices.
These three factors are similarly identified across some of the articles in the Special Issue.
Furthermore, they appear as interrelated elements that shape the nature of principals’ work across
Lesson 2: There are noticeable differences in principals’ work between
developing and developed countries, suggesting that broader societal
or national contexts are important in the changing nature of principals’
Differences or variations in school leadership practices within a country or jurisdiction are largely
attributed to individual principals’ characteristics and the organisational contexts of schools.
However, it is reasonable to say that marked differences in principals’ practices identified from
different countries or jurisdictions can be indicative of how broader societal or national contexts
play a role in changing the nature of principals’ work (see also Lee & Hallinger 2012).
Consistent with previous studies (e.g. Arikewuyo 2008; Hallinger & Lee 2013, 2014; Lee 2006), Singh
and Allison’s article demonstrates that one of the most critical issues commonly facing principals
in developing countries is the serious dearth of school (financial) resources and basic school
infrastructure. Principals are keenly aware of the implications of this and the impacts on leading
and managing schools. Apart from the issue of limited school resources and infrastructure in
developing countries, Pollock’s study sheds light on a different nature of principals’ work that may
ISEA • Volume 44, Number 3, 2016 131
be rarely found in developing countries, namely, student discipline issues related to cyberbulling.
She finds that addressing cyberbullying not only adds extra workload, but also reshapes the nature
of principals’ work in creating safe school environments, given the non-traditional characteristics of
cyberbulling (including privacy issues, and the facts that it occurs beyond school boundaries and is
complicated by technological issues). Pollock also documents that information and communication
technology (ICT) changes the nature of principals’ work, particularly communication work. In
particular, she believes that ICT (e.g. email and social media) has some positive features for efficient
organisational communication, but she also suggests that it appears to blur the line between work
and home for principals in Ontario. This is an important point in that it suggests that existing
research on principals’ time use and allocation should pay greater attention to principals’ work
outside of school and before/after school, which is mediated through ICT.
Lesson 3: While successful school principals engage in a similar set
of practices across different schooling systems, their vision, personal
philosophy, courage and/or passion are the key drivers in enacting and
sustaining the aforementioned core practices.
Across the six articles, it is found that successful or effective school principals actively engage in
a similar, core set of practices such as leading instructional programmes and managing staff and
resources. Importantly, two articles (by Buenviaje and by Drysdale et al.) illuminate how school
principals’ personal philosophy, values (Drysdale et al.) and/or passion (Buenviaje) are the key
drivers in enacting and sustaining such core practices. Buenviaje’s study, with a focus on school
principals’ work passion, shows that principals’ passion about their work not only makes princiapls
maintain a high level of work intensity, but also makes their work meaningful in their eyes. This
resonates with Drysdale et al.’s discussion of principals’ vision (i.e. the belief in what can be done,
providing energy and purpose), personal philosophy based on meaningful values, and courage
(i.e. the determination to change). More importantly, Drysdale et al. convincingly argue that the
aforementioned characteristics of school principals are the sources for them to explore the outer
limits of their roles towards what they term ‘augmented’ and ‘potential’ roles.
Lesson 4: Research foci on school leadership practices from non-
Western perspectives or frameworks can complement and consolidate
contemporary leadership research dominated by work from Anglo-
Buenviaje’s study, conducted in a provincial area in the Philippines, pays attention to particular
spatial and temporal dimensions of Filipino principals’ lives – their time before/after school and
outside of school – which have been largely uncharted by previous research literature on principal
leadership. His study reports that principals’ allocation of time to relaxing, reflecting on daily
school work, and engaging in charitable work at religious or community organisations before or
after school, and outside of school, is an integral part of their lives. According to Buenviaje, such
activities (what he calls ‘therapeutic activities’) are sources of passion that keep school principals
working hard, despite various leadership challenges. Buenviaje’s focus on school principals’ daily
life before/after school, and outside of school, suggests another way to research principals’ use or
allocation of time, which can complement a growing number of empirical studies mainly conducted
in Western societies. Notably, existing studies tend to focus only on principals’ time use/allocation
in several core domains of leadership practices within school boundaries, such as administration,
ISEA • Volume 44, Number 3, 2016132
external relations (with parents/the community), internal relations (with teachers and students)
and instructional leadership (Lee 2016). The missing link here is the possible impact of principals’
personal time spent before/after and outside of school on school improvement.
In addition, exploring principals’ daily life outside of normal school hours may provide implications
for research on principals’ professional development. As noted in Buenviaje’s article, Western
leadership development frameworks tend to focus more on what school principals’ roles and
responsibilities ought to be, rather than how and why they should be. If we accept this statement,
it would be necessary to research how and why principals’ spiritual and psychological well-being,
as highlighted by the article, should be integrated into contemporary leadership development
frameworks/programmes used across economically developed societies (for details of successful
leadership development programmes, see Walker, Bryant & Lee 2013). In fact, this line of research
may help researchers and policy-makers to address the growing concerns for principals’ (potential)
burnout and work intensity issues reported in Hong Kong (Cheng & Szeto) and Ontario (Pollock)
in this Special Issue.
Suggestions for Future Work
It has been a pleasure to discuss the key findings of the articles in the Special Issue – they make
a significant contribution to the emerging field of research on principals’ work. I wish to provide
some suggestions for future work in the hope that they could further consolidate the contribution
of the Special Issue to the field.
First, the six articles shed light on the changing nature of principals’ work by scrutinising 1)
different contexts within which school principals work, and 2) how their work is influenced by
those contexts. At the same time, research on how principals influence the changing contexts is
relatively thin on the ground. As noted, one of the lessons from the Special Issue is that principals’
work is continuously expanding within school contexts (Cheng & Szeto) and outside of school
(Buenviaje; Pollock), and is getting more complicated – requiring the use of ICT and attention to
cyberbulling (Pollock), and demanding data-based decision-making and data-driven leadership
(Sun et al.). Principals are sensitive to the ever-expanding and complicated contexts to which they
seem, in general, to be reactive or responsive. Nonetheless, we know that some principals are also
proactive and somehow entrepreneurial in influencing the contexts in the midst of forming their
responses. I think that Drysdale, Gurr and Goode’s study gives us an important piece of the picture
about how this can be possible through principals who dare to make a difference. More studies in
this line are needed.
Second, more studies with non-Western perspectives (particularly from South Asia, South America
and Africa) are much needed. For example, I look forward to more case studies similar to Buenviaje’s
study in the Philippines, but on a larger scale with multi-site investigations and multiple methods.
I also appreciate Singh and Allison’s study in Kathmandu, which is highly informative, given that
only a few articles are available about Nepalese principals’ leadership practices in international
outlets. Their study uses a conceptual lens, which is based on a common set of effective leadership
dimensions from the existing Western school leadership literature (e.g. Council of Chief State
School Officers 2008; Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson, & Cohen 2007; Day et al. 2010;
Leithwoord 2012; Leithwood & Jantzi 2005; Louis et al. 2010; The Wallace Foundation 2013). On the
one hand, this approach enables researchers to capture effective leadership practices systematically
in a less charted context. On the other hand, this pre-occupied lens developed from the Anglo-
American literature in particular may have not charted some effective leadership practices from
ISEA • Volume 44, Number 3, 2016 133
a local or indigenous perspective. This is because some effective leadership practices commonly
defined in the Western research literature might be differently perceived or interpreted in Nepalese
school contexts. For example, effective instructional leadership practices such as principals’ direct
supervision of teachers’ instruction exercised in the U.S. are largely unacceptable to cultural
contexts such as East Asia (Lee, Walker & Chui 2012). In this regard, although there would be a
trade-off, I think that using a grounded-theory approach probably would have generated more
context-specific findings about Nepalese principals’ leadership practice for this study.
Third, of a number of important findings in the study of Pollock, I pay special attention to two
findings for future research in the field. One concerns principals’ focus on teachers’ health and
students’ wellbeing. If the effectiveness of principals’ practices is captured only by academic
outcomes of schools, excellent principals who support teachers’ work and occupational conditions
and students’ non-academic outcomes such as well-being cannot be recognised by current,
externally imposed accountability metrics. From empirical studies (e.g. Louis et al. 2010) and meta-
analyses (e.g. Robinson, Lloyd & Rowe 2008), we know that certain leadership practices have
significant associations with teachers’ job-related outcomes (e.g. instructional skills) and student
academic outcomes, but we do not know much about whether and how principals’ work can make
a difference in teachers’ work and occupational health, and in students’ non-academic outcomes
such as wellbeing.
Another important finding from Pollock’s study I wish to note is the trend for increasing use of
ICT by principals. While ICT utilisation seems desirable in particular for faster and more efficient
organisational communication, using ICT outside of school and before/after office hours for school
work seems to be a sign that principals’ work is adopting the characteristics of a 24/7 ubiquitous
service, which commonly occurs in business sectors. This somehow resonates with the growing
requirement for 24/7 self-management in many professions in late capitalist societies (Crary 2013).
In other words, neoliberal discourses in education seem to say that good or successful principals
are required to be always in the loop of their work and are asked to go the extra mile for better
organisational performance. Indeed, such 24/7 self-management discourses appear a pathological
phenomenon to people in leadership positions in public as well as corporate sectors. In short,
research on principals’ work intensity and burnout should be further investigated.
Finally, Drysdale et al.’s study shows how value-driven leadership practices can empower people
to change situations proactively and continuously, whereas Sun et al.’s study suggests that data-
driven leadership practices can enhance areas such as professional development and school
planning. It seems that much of the school leadership research tends to highlight or prestige one
over the other (i.e. value-driven versus data-driven). In general, principals enact leadership that
intermingles both value-driven and data-driven practices in real school contexts. Apparently, both
are complementary to each other. Future research capturing a fuller picture of both dimensions is
This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea grant funded by the
Korean government (NRF-2014S1A3A2044609).
ISEA • Volume 44, Number 3, 2016134
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University of Canberra
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