The professional learning pathways of urban New Zealand primary principals : a case study into the beliefs, practices, and perceived impact of professional learning on primary principals : a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Education, Massey University, 2012
The research contributes to school leadership literature considering the role of formal and informal learning. In particular, the diverse modes of learning, varied pathways to principalship and the need for on-going learning, to include the ‘novice’ phase of being a principal. Urban New Zealand principals, through a purposive sample case study, identified why and how learning was meaningful to them.
An email survey was triangulated with fifteen principals’ narratives and four individual interviews to determine the access to and value of principals’ professional learning. The findings support balanced modes of direct and indirect learning. An articulated principalship learning pathway is required using both explicit and tacit learning approaches. Principals determined that formal learning is paramount to their professionalism and their ability to be effective in the role. They equally valued peer networks as learning environments. Mentoring at all phases of principalship provided invaluable support.
Despite the importance of developing and evaluating curriculum and student learning, principal leadership included growing future leaders, change management, day to day leadership, and management tasking. This created a work portfolio that could conceivably diminish a leader’s personal time for learning. Seemingly, this was inaccurate. Principals are self-motivated adult learners challenged to study in order to improve what happens in their schools, for students, teachers and, for some, the wider community. Data analysis revealed that principals exhibit an on-going moral commitment to learning, their staff, and students.
There is no one course or method of learning that teaches all. Principals learned on the job, through reading, contact with other principals and through degree-type programmes. The First Time Principals’ Programme provided consistency but insufficient recognition of experience or link to qualification status. In New Zealand, principals with educational leadership qualifications are not fiscally recognised.
The research contributes to the body of New Zealand leadership literature through the rich and real descriptions of principals’ experiences. The findings identify a range of suitable learning methodologies that could be developed for principals. The research opens opportunities for further New Zealand research that develops the principals’ voice.