Leadership succession: The first-year principal—insiders and outsiders

Shelly L Whitlock-Pope, Fordham University


The role of the school-building principal is vital to the school's overall success and the need for excellent educational leaders is urgent. When school districts are faced with school-building principal succession, the process of replacement can be extremely stressful, so it is critical that the appointment be successful. While much has been written about educational leadership, producing supportive literature around the first-year principal, little analysis and understanding of principal appointments is based on the candidate coming from within the organization versus a candidate coming from outside of the organization. This research investigated the experiences of first-year principals—both insiders and outsiders—to explore and understand their experiences and to identify strategies that they perceive to be successful. The research was conducted using qualitative methods where the primary data collection was through in-depth interviews with participants. The research sample included a total of 6 first-year suburban public elementary school principals, with an equal number of insiders and outsiders participating. The participants answered seven interview questions relating to the five research questions that grounded this study. The results of this study were surprising to the researcher. Following data analysis, no substantial differences were found between the experiences of the two groups—insiders and outsiders. Five findings emerged from this study that were common to all of the participating principals including; (a) believing in job acquisition; (b) fulfilling needs with personal strength; (c) matching support with expectations; (d) approaching and experiencing the first year; and (e) valuing the job, not being an insider or an outsider. The principals themselves reported on recommendations for first-year principals including: (a) communication, (b) support, (c) wisdom, and (d) patience (CSWP). The researcher offered eight recommendations for improved practice that relate to both superintendents and principals. This study contributed to further our understanding of the experiences of first-year principals. Future research in this area might consider the actual hiring process, long term success and school type.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|School administration

Recommended Citation

Whitlock-Pope, Shelly L, "Leadership succession: The first-year principal—insiders and outsiders" (2010). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3420967.