Martin STYNES, Gerry MCNAMARA, Joe O’HARA
Centre for Evaluation, Quality and Inspection (EQI) DCU Institute of Education, Ireland.
Purpose: There is a vast quantity of research into principalship, mainly concentrating on macro level theorising about concepts such as ‘instructional’ leadership, ‘distributed’ leadership and a myriad of other notions of the role. In contrast there is very little work done on the messy and demanding day to day and hour to hour work of school principals and the experience, knowledge and skills that this requires and the intense stresses and strains placed on school leaders. In Ireland, as elsewhere, primary school principals meet the challenges of teaching, community leadership and on-site management in an era of continual change, in most cases with limited or no formal preparation. The rationale for this work is to balance research in the field by focusing on the micro tasks that make up the bulk of the principal’s role and to examine how school leaders cope with the job and how they respond to it.
Research methods: A diverse group of 31 primary school principals from schools across Ireland generated data from the self-observed minutae of researcher-driven diaries and from a colourful spectrum of personal reflections in follow-up semi-structured qualitative interviews. Coding in NVivo and the querying of emergent themes through conceptual frameworks provided detailed evidence of a myriad of daily activities and experiences.
Findings: This paper offers an exploration, in narrative form and with supporting evidence, of principals’ encounters with the constant minutiae of administration, dealing with the unexpected and interacting with staff. The daily practicalities of school governance and community leadership demand a considerable investment of time and personal interest and often little time for consideration of higher level macro theories of leadership.
Implications for Research and Practice: As the boundaries between principals’ professional and personal lives blur significantly in the narrative, the evidence supports a generally held understanding that life’s journey as a school principal is demanding but worthwhile.
Keywords: School leadership, school management, diary research, case study, ireland.