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First-Year Principals' Engagement with Instructional Leadership: The Presence, Pathway, and Power of Institutional Logics



First-Year Principals' Engagement with Instructional Leadership: The Presence, Pathway, and Power of Institutional Logics


Jessica Goodman Rigby

Doctor of Philosophy in Education

Professor Cynthia Coburn, Chair

In the current shifting educational landscape, first-year principals encounter multiple messages about what it means to be instructional leaders. While the concept of instructional leadership has been discussed in academic and practice-based literature for over three decades, there is no consensus on what it means. Moreover, the varied approaches to instructional leadership reflect the changes in the broader educational environment, such as the focus on alternative approaches and models in multiple elements of the education sector such as school types, preparation programs, and curricular approaches. The various notions of instructional leadership, then, serve as an opportunity to examine the multiple ways in which conflicting ideas in the institutional environment influence both leadership and, more broadly, education.

We know that what happens in the institutional environment matters for what happens in organizations, and schools in particular. Yet the majority of research that investigates the connections between the environment and schools focuses on teachers. The literature that studies principals mostly investigates school leaders at the school site; there are few studies that examine the role of the principal as the nexus between ideas in the environment and what happens instructionally in schools. This study fills this gap in the research literature, examining the entirety of the phenomena, first identifying the logics of instructional leadership that exist in the institutional environment, tracing the pathways of the logics to principals, and, finally, understanding how principals make sense of and enact them.

In a cross-case qualitative study, I studied six first-year principals who came to their positions through four distinct principal preparation paths. I first conducted an iterative document analysis to identify the institutional logics of instructional leadership in the environment. Then, using data from interviews and observations from the 2010-2011 school year, I mapped out the principals' informal social networks and compared them to the formal organizational structures they were exposed to. Using this analysis, I explored the influence of the formal organizational structures on the principals' informal networks: when they impacted the shape of the networks and when they did not. I also sought to understand the role of social networks as mechanisms for logics to be carried through the environment. Finally, I explored how principals made sense of and enacted the ideas of instructional leadership that they had access to, especially in relationship to the shape of their informal networks.

I define three notions of leadership in the environment, or institutional logics. I term them the prevailing, entrepreneurial, and social justice logics. I present a typology of these institutional logics of instructional leadership that moves the field towards a stronger conception of what it means for a principal to be an instructional leader. I also found that the institutional logics were carried to individual principals through actors, norms, xx in their informal social networks. When principals received messages imbued with a logic often and from multiple alters, they were both more likely to consider it to be a part of their belief system and to take leadership actions that were associated with the logic.

This research contributes to understanding the relationship between institutional ideas and practice in schools, principal preparation, and professional development by explicating the mechanisms through which the ideas are carried through the institutional environment. It also extends research on social network theory by elucidating the content of interaction in social networks to include beliefs. Finally, this study has practical implications for both the research and implementation of principal preparation programs including the presence, salience, and messaging of distinct notions of instructional leadership.

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