Successful School Improvement: The Implementation Perspective and Beyond

By Michael G. Fullan | Go to book overview

4: The Role of the Principal and
School Improvement*

The school improvement perspective is also valuable in examining particular roles. The principal has often been cited as a key figure in blocking or promoting change, and as such represents a fertile ground for considering the concept of implementation in action. First I review briefly research which singles out the principal as a primary agent of change. Second, I consider new conceptions of leadership that enable us to go beyond the limited finding that principals influence implementation of given innovations. Third, I recommend ten guidelines of action consistent with this new, more powerful conception of leadership.


The principal and change

In the first major study of innovation involving almost 300 school districts, Berman and McLaughlin found that 'projects having the active support of the principal were most likely to fare well (1977: 124, original emphasis). They claim that the principal's actions (not what he or she says) carry the message as to whether a change is to be taken seriously and serve to support teachers. Hall and his colleagues (1980) state it flatly: 'The degree of implementation of the innovation is different in different schools because of the actions and concerns of the principal' (Hall et al. 1980: 26).

The image of the principal in the research and policy literature has shifted since the early 1980s from the principal as 'gatekeeper' to the principal as 'instructional leader'. Planned change, school improvement, effective schools and staff development all bear the mark of the principal as central for leading and supporting change.

We know rather definitely then, that when principals pay attention to

*•Portions of this chapter have been adapted from Fullan (1988) and Fullan (1991).

-82-

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