An examination of leadership in the role of the assistant principal through a cognitive perspective
The existing research on the assistant principalship has examined the position through traditional paradigms of leadership concluding that opportunities for leadership do not exist. The cognitive perspective moves away from the normative analysis of the position that is pervasive in the literature, and provides an alternative lens through which leadership in the assistant principalship may be explored. Leadership in this theoretical construct is not determined by what an educational leader does but considers instead how an educational leader thinks.
The purpose of this study was to explore the values, beliefs and strategies of six practicing assistant principals, recognized as educational leaders, in order to understand how leadership is exercised.
Because the study focused on how individuals make sense of their work, in the context of their experiences, a qualitative approach was utilized. An interview guide, developed for this research, provided a framework for conversations with the participants and steered the process of data collection. In-depth interviews were used to identify the external factors, as well as the internal variables, that support the exercise of leadership.
The findings indicate that leadership is enacted in the role of the assistant principal. The participants consistently demonstrated that they relied on internal strategies to understand and to solve effectively the problems that comprised their daily work.
The data revealed that the intended strategies, as well as the values and beliefs of the participants were consistent. They relied on their knowledge and experiences to establish a context for their problem solving and spent a great deal of time thinking about, planning, and prioritizing their problems.
Implications of the study suggest that the position impacts significantly on the school organization and should be reconceptualized as more than a transitional role. Recruitment and hiring practices should, likewise, be examined and modified to bring in administrators with the problem solving abilities that are required for the demands of the position.
Recognizing that leadership does exist in this subordinate role suggests that further examination of the work and workplace of the assistant principal, through an appropriate lens, such as the cognitive perspective, is essential.