Principals' actions to influence change, for school success

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Cowan, Susan D'Ette Fly

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As school leaders, principals are called upon to influence change within complex and dynamic organizational structures. Using qualitative research methodology, this study examined actions of two principals to influence change in two successful Texas elementary schools and teachers’ views of those actions. The study revealed that principals took similar actions in two different contexts. Both advocated a vision, changed structures and roles within the school, implemented the improvement process, changed norms of professionalism and work, and fostered relationships with principals and students. Major findings were: (a) Both principals took actions for substantive change within their schools. (b) Actions of the principals were similar in content but different in approach. (c) The contexts in which the schools existed significantly influenced principals’ change actions, particularly regarding site-based management. (d) Principals’ personal visions for their schools and their views of leadership significantly influenced their actions and teachers’ willingness to engage in sustained change. (e) Teachers’ views of principals’ actions were highly influenced by their observations of principals’ interactions with students. Findings of the study were explored using frameworks of educational change, frameworks for leadership, and a framework for organizational change. Conclusions of the study are: (a) Organizational change at the school level is highly contextual, and principals’ actions to influence change are reflective of that context. (b) A principal’s personal vision only is inadequate to engage others in sustained change. Principals and teachers must develop a shared vision of their future. (c) Facilitative leadership and transformational leadership are most appropriate to the challenges of educational change. (d) Trusting relationships between principals and teachers and norms of respect and collaboration are critical to successful school change through site-based management. The study concludes with implications for school leadership practice and recommendations for further research. Further research is specifically needed to explore factors, in addition to principals’ actions, perceived to be essential to substantive educational change. Further studies are also needed to determine whether principals’ actions to influence change at the elementary school level are similar to such actions at other school levels.



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