The inservice development of principals: How they learn to lead

Timothy Kevin Donohue, Fordham University


Principals are key players in current efforts to reform America's schools. They are called upon to be instructional leaders, vision makers, change agents, and culture shapers within their schools. Research indicates, however, that for most of their history, school principals have been trained and socialized to be managers rather than leaders. Training programs for current and aspiring principals have repeatedly come under attack for being theory-based and divorced from the practical demands of the principalship. In recent years, inservice programs for principals have begun to address the issue of the continuing growth of principals. The purpose of this study was to examine how a small group of principals attending a summer training institute learn and lead during the inservice phase of their careers. The study explored principals' motivations and needs as learners, as well as sources of new concepts and ideas applicable to their work. In addition, the study examined the transfer of learning from the training site to the school. The study used the principles of qualitative research. Participants completed an open-ended written survey and participated in multiple interviews. Other data included findings from extensive observations and document analysis. Major findings revealed that principals: learn from the shared insights and experiences of other principals; gain personal and professional self-awareness as a result of intensive training; are able to focus more effectively on sustained learning tasks during vacation periods, when their job demands are at low ebb; value hands-on, problem-solving tasks as vehicles for growth; attempt to transfer, from the training site to the workplace, new frameworks or concepts they regard as helpful to their leadership; and recognize the limitations of a training simulation which, while valuable as a practice tool, has none of the consequences of real school problems. The study recommended that principals: attend sustained summer programs as valuable sources of knowledge and know-how; form local networks to facilitate access to other principals whose experience and wisdom they respect; and help themselves and their schools by learning and practicing a coherent, systematic problem-solving model. The study also recommended that further research examine the lasting power of transfer learning. The scope of this study did not include a longitudinal follow-up to determine whether changes initiated following the training program remained in place years later. Further study would add to an understanding of the role of on-site support in facilitating lasting change.

Subject Area

School administration|Adult education|Continuing education|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Donohue, Timothy Kevin, "The inservice development of principals: How they learn to lead" (1996). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9631027.