Mentorship and the challenges of novice school principals: A study of the views of selected elementary school principals

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Stevenson, Darryl A.
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ABSTRACT There is increasing recognition in Manitoba, as in many other jurisdictions, of an impending shortage of teacher leaders to fill vacant administrative positions. Thus, an interest in finding how best to attract, support, and guide novice principals has emerged. The purpose of this study was to examine the challenges identified by selected novice elementary school principals working in an urban, western Canadian public school setting who completed their first year as a school principal, and the extent to which they believed that some form of a formal mentorship program for new principals would have assisted them in meeting these challenges. Specifically, the study addressed the following questions: (1) what key challenges (socialization, technical skills, self-awareness) did new elementary school principals identify in their first year in the position; (2) did new elementary school principals believe that a formal mentorship would be valuable in assisting them to respond effectively to some or all of these challenges; and (3 ) if new elementary school principals believe that a formal mentorship program would be of value, what would be the key elements of such a program and was there agreement among the principals on these features? Daresh’s (2002) framework, in which he categorizes the challenges encountered by novice elementary principals into three: technical, socialization, and self-awareness was, utilized in this study. Qualitative research methodology was used in this study. Participants were four elementary school principals, who in the 2006-2007 year were in their second year of appointment as principals of elementary schools. All four novice elementary principals were individually interviewed as well as participated in a focus group session. The results clearly outlined that the challenges identified could be easily organized into technical, socialization and self-awareness categories, each area clearly of importance to the novice elementary principal. The study further suggests that Daresh's formulation identifying the categories of technical skills, socialization, and self-awareness was useful in identifying ten themes that represented challenges for the Winnipeg area novice elementary principals. These themes were: (i) communication issues, (ii) the budget and staffing processes, (iii) building management, and (iv) planning (each fitting into Daresh's category of technical skills); (v) adapting to the new role of principal; (vi) brevity, variety and fragmentation of their workload; and, (vii) change and the existing school culture (Daresh's socialization category); and, (viii) recognizing one's newfound authority as principal, (ix) confidence and delegation, and (x) balance in one's professional and private lives (Daresh's category of self-awareness). The findings in this study also concluded that all of the novice elementary principals though a mentorship program would be valuable in assisting them in meeting a number of challenges. The participants in the study established and agreed that a major goal of the program was to assist new administrators in successfully filling their leadership roles in their respective schools. Some of the key agreed upon elements of a formal mentorship program included: (i) the program would be voluntary; (ii) novice principals have the opportunity to choose a mentor; (iii) protégés have an opportunity to 'opt' out of the program; and (iv) principals would be in the program for one full year. As no Winnipeg area school division currently has any formal mentorship program for novice school principals, this study recommends that school divisions in Winnipeg meet with novice administrators to discuss the merits of implementing a formal mentorship program within the existing divisions and identify what the key elements of such a program, if supported, would be. It is also recommended that Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth in consultation with the council of school Leaders continue to explore how best to prepare candidates that move into administration positions across the province, and the role that some form of formal mentorship program might play in such a process.
school principals, mentorship programs