Leadership for Learning: How Elementary Principal Leadership Practices Influence the Professional Learning of Teachers
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It is widely recognized that effective leadership ranks second only to the quality of teaching in influencing student learning (Jacobson, 2008; Simkin, Charner, & Suss, 2010).Taking the role of powerful change agents, principals work with staff to change schools from the‘inside out’, thereby fostering the growth and development of the people who inhabit the organization (Owens, 2004). Furthermore, a principal who exercises such leadership acknowledges the conditions for improved student learning rest within the skills of the teachers in the school, and thus focuses on developing the capacity of the organization to support people in improving their own professional practice (Hallinger, 2010). Hence, an ‘inside out’ approach (Owens, 2004) to change embraces teacher professional learning as a key determinant in how schools approach and sustain successful educational reform. Addressing the point that present research related to this phenomenon is often quantitative (Hattie, 2012), this study adopted a qualitative approach to narrow the gap in current literature related to principal leadership practices that influence teacher professional learning. This study investigated the perceptions of principal leadership practices in support of teachers' professional learning from the perspectives of elementary teachers, elementary principals, and supervisors (who are supervising principals and superintendents responsible for instructional and administrative supervision of specific groups of schools and principals). Guided by a phenomenological perspective, I used three focus groups (one with elementary principals, one with elementary teachers, and one with supervisors) all of whom provided their experiences and perceptions of elementary principal leadership practices that influence teacher professional learning. The following research questions explored the perceptions and experiences of elementary principal leadership practices in support of teachers’ professional learning from the perspectives of elementary teachers, elementary principals, and supervisors: 1. What principal leadership practices are perceived by elementary teachers, elementary principals, and supervisors to influence teacher professional learning opportunities? 2. How do elementary teachers, elementary principals, and supervisors describe the ways in which professional learning experiences have led to professional growth? 3. From the perspectives of elementary teachers, elementary principals, and supervisors is there a perceived set of core leadership practices that support and influence teacher professional learning? The findings for each of the three research questions are summarized and discussed in relation to the extant literature. The results of this study suggest that a wide variety of principal leadership practices are perceived to influence teacher professional learning. While a few themes were similar across teacher, principal and supervisor participant groups, the majority of identified themes were diverse. The variability or divergence among themes is in alignment with literature referenced in this study and the conceptual framework upon which this study is based. Potential implications of this study include: an impact on principal leadership practices; principal hiring practices; the structure of teacher professional learning opportunities; and educational policy that constructs the parameters through which teacher professional learning is implemented.