Defining the role of the school principal: an auto ethnographic study comparing the dual perspectives of the insiders (principals) and the outsiders (participant observers)
University of New Brunswick
This research is a qualitative study that described the lived experiences of school principals in a specific context (New Brunswick, Canada) from the dual perspectives of internal (principals) and external (school improvement consultant/lead school reviewer) participants in order to better define the practical role(s) of the principal. Through this qualitative research study, I used an auto ethnographic methodology supported by a social constructivist perspective and will focus on the principalship in the Anglophone New Brunswick context (Palincsar, 1998). Autoethnography naturally allows for the voice of self. I will use Anderson’s (2006) analytic auto ethnographic methodological approach, which allows for the voice of others to further inform the study, beyond the perceptions of the participant researcher (Ellis, 2004). Research methods, including time and motion tracking, reflective journaling, interviews of self and others in the principal role, and thematic analysis, were used to triangulate data. The time and motion analysis and reflective journaling were used to ensure the voice of self is documented and accurate. Interviews of self included two separate interviews of the participant researcher, who has been the principal of a small rural school for eight years as well as the external lead school reviewer for the province of New Brunswick over a three-year period. I conducted 12 interviews with principals serving in the Anglophone New Brunswick context. The interviews of others were used to apply components of analytic autoethnography, which aims to include informants beyond the self. My research was also informed by a comprehensive literature review focused on leadership theories, as well as the contextual factors associated with leadership in modern schools, as observed by me, the participant researcher, during my practice as principal and lead school reviewer. I utilized thematic analysis (Seidman, 2006), to identify trends in the data sets, and the analysis was used to inform the generation of narratives used to explain the role of the principal from three distinct but interrelated perspectives: participant researcher as principal, participant researcher as lead school reviewer, and the voices of 12 other principals working in the role. These perspectives were combined in the form of a final narradigm, which was used to synthesize the three perspectives and define the amorphous role of the principal in the 21st century, thereby informing both aspirants to this role and those currently practising this role.