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«Professional Development of School Principals in the Rural Appalachian Region of Virginia Brad E. Bizzell Dissertation submitted to the faculty of ...»

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Professional Development of School Principals in the Rural Appalachian Region of Virginia

Brad E. Bizzell

Dissertation submitted to the faculty of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in

partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Theodore B. Creighton

James R. Craig

Robert C. McCracken

N. Wayne Tripp

March 16, 2011

Blacksburg, Virginia

Keywords: principal, leadership, professional development, Appalachia Professional Development of School Principals in the Rural Appalachian Region of Virginia Brad E. Bizzell ABSTRACT The purpose of this study was to examine the nature of professional development of principals of schools in the rural Appalachian region of Virginia. The researcher interviewed 13 principals from public elementary, middle, and high schools regarding their professional development experiences. Principals were asked to describe their past and current professional development experiences, identify barriers to accessing professional development, and provide their opinion regarding the importance of professional development that focuses specifically on leading a school in rural Appalachia. Principals reported participation in many different types of professional development. Principals’ responses were analyzed to determine the extent to which professional development was on-going, job-embedded, and connected to school improvement goals. Results indicated principals’ professional development experiences were seldom ongoing, often job-embedded, and somewhat connected to school or district improvement goals.

Principals reported the demands of the job, lack of professional development opportunities provided by their school district, lack of knowledge of professional development available outside their district, and being geographically isolated as barriers to their professional learning.

The results led to identification of areas for further research. These areas include (a) the role and influence of school division leadership on principals’ professional development (b) the importance and impact of incorporating networking and other opportunities for collaboration into the design of principals’ professional development, (c) the impact of designing professional development that is on-going, job-embedded, and connected to school improvement goals on initial learning and continued leadership behaviors of principals, (d) the issues relating to the use and non-use of distance technologies for principals’ professional development, and (e) the efficacy of professional development designed for teachers in meeting the needs of principals or the ability of principals to translate the content of teachers professional development to knowledge and skills needed by instructional leaders. The researcher also suggested the need for additional research to compare and contrast the professional development experiences of this study’s participants with other principals in rural Appalachia as well as principals from suburban and urban school districts.


–  –  –

While I take full responsibility for the shortcomings, the valuable parts of this work are the collective effort of many family members and colleagues. I first want to acknowledge my parents who have supported and encouraged me throughout my life and taught me to value learning. I acknowledge my son, Erick, for keeping me grounded in the most important things in life and for granting me time away from our time together to complete this work. Thank you to Theodore Creighton, my advisor and friend, who has mentored me through this journey and provided me countless opportunities to grow as an educator. Thank you to my committee members James Craig, Robert McCracken, and Wayne Tripp, for their wisdom and guidance in making this a rewarding professional endeavor. I must also recognize the principals who willingly and enthusiastically shared with me their professional development experiences and the Roanoke Ed.D cohort who welcomed me into their classes and shared with me their knowledge and expertise.




Setting of the Study

Statement of the Problem

Purpose and Significance of the Study

Definition of Terms

Research Questions




Organization of the Study



Principals’ Impact on Student Achievement

Professional Development

Professional Development of Principals of Appalachia




Research Design

Selection of Participants

Data Collection

Data Analysis



General Description of Professional Development Experiences

On-going Professional Development

Job-embedded Professional Development

Professional Development Connected to School Improvement Goals

Place-based Professional Development

Barriers to Accessing Professional Development



Implications and Recommendations for Further Research


Appendix A Informed Consent

Appendix B Recruitment Letter

Appendix C Participants’ School’s/Participants’ Demographics

Appendix D Interview Prompts



Table 1 Leadership Behaviors Matrix

Table 2 Participants’ Engagement in Professional Development by Type

Table 3 Participants’ School’s/Participants’ Demographics


–  –  –

Figure 1. Leadership influences on student learning (Luis et al.

, 2010).

Figure 2. The Appalachian region (Appalachian Regional Commission, 2010).

–  –  –

There are over 157,000 principals in America’s public schools [National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2011]. These principals face expanding responsibilities, state and federal accountability for student achievement, and calls for reform. Adding a powerful voice to the calls for school reform, President Barack Obama made educational innovation a central theme in his 2011 State of the Union address. Once viewed primarily as building managers, principals must now have expertise in instruction, academic content, data analysis, and public relations [Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson, Orr & Cohen, 2007; Hallinger, 1992; Huber, 2008; Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), 2000; Levine, 2005; Perez, Uline, Johnson, James-Ward, & Basom, 2011; Peterson, 2002]. This expanded role is, in part, the result of state and federal laws establishing minimum requirements for student academic achievement. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 requires all children be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014 (20 U.S.C. § 6301). In response to the requirements of NCLB and the

reform movement, Ravitch (2010) stated:

It is time, I think, for those who want to improve schools to focus on the essentials of education. We must make sure that our schools have a strong, coherent, explicit curriculum that is grounded in the liberal arts and sciences, with plenty of opportunity for children to engage in activities and projects that make learning lively. We must ensure that students gain the knowledge they need to understand political debates, scientific phenomena, and the world they live in. We must be sure they are prepared for the responsibilities of democratic citizenship in a complex society. We must take care that our teachers are well educated, not just well trained (p.13).

Ravitch (2010) described quite the task for school leaders. The expanded role of the principal, coupled with accountability measures and reform initiatives, places a heavy burden on school leaders. Preparation programs for aspiring principals and professional development for existing principals must be designed to develop the knowledge and skills that will enable school leaders to meet these demands.

Statement of the Problem

Pounder (2011) indicated that current state level policies, which promote high quality school leadership, have resulted in a “blurring of the lines between preparation, licensure, induction, and ongoing professional development” (p. 259). Accordingly, what follows identifies problems and issues related to both initial preparation and continuing professional development of school principals.

Over 500 university-based educational leadership programs prepare 16,000 graduates each year for school leadership roles (Baker, Orr, & Young, 2007). These principal preparation programs have been criticized as failing to adequately prepare principals for his/her role as a instructional leader [Davis, Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, & Meyerson, 2005; Levine, 2005;

Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), 2006]. Levine criticized school leadership curricula as irrelevant, entrance and graduation standards as low, and faculty as weak. Dave Spence, president of the SREB, criticized university principal preparation programs as being unwilling to change at the necessary pace. Davis et al. indicated there is little evidence that the types of experiences provided in principal preparation programs enable principals to be more effective. Each of these authors, and others (Buskey & Topolka-Jorissen, 2010; Creighton, 2005; Farmer & Higham, 2007; Huber, 2008; IEL, 2000; Johnson, Shope, & Rouse, 2009;

McKensie et al., 2008), have offered recommendations for the improvement of preparation programs.

One common recommendation to enhance the quality of instructional leadership in America’s schools is to improve recruitment efforts and raise preparation program entrance standards for aspiring principals (Farmer & Higham, 2007; IEL, 2000; Levine, 2005; McKensie et al., 2008; SREB, 2006). In order to support preparation programs in raising entrance standards, school districts should actively identify, encourage, and begin to develop school leaders from within the teaching staff. One could conclude that simply allowing aspiring principals to self-select will not lead to higher quality participants in preparation programs.

Another common recommendation to improve instructional leadership is to use field experiences to a greater extent (Davis et al., 2005; Huber, 2008; IEL, 2000; Levine, 2005; SREB, 2006). Creighton (2005) described a leadership practice field in which aspiring leaders can repeatedly practice in real, but risk-free environments, applying concepts studied in the preparation program. Clinical experiences, internships, use of mentors, and leadership practice fields should be used more extensively to prepare aspiring principals for the wide range of responsibilities they will face (Creighton, Davis et al., Huber, IEL, Levine, SREB).

Other recommendations regarding principal preparation programs relate to specific areas of emphasis in programs. McKensie et al. (2008) proposed a model to develop leaders for social justice. Farmer and Higham (2007) made recommendations for a program focused on culturally responsive leadership. Buskey and Topolka-Jorissen (2010) described the process for developing a program that was “grounded in an ethics-driven vision of school leadership” (p.

112). Johnson, Shope, and Roush (2009) recommended a contextually based model to prepare leaders for schools in rural Appalachia. Even if implemented, changes in principal preparation programs will not address the professional development needs of the 157,000 (NCES, 2011) principals currently practicing in the U.S. Therefore, there is value in examining current professional development practices and the relationship of those practices to the development of principals’ skills.

In recognition of the critical role of principals in leading effective schools, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) recently announced the development of an advanced certification program for school leaders (Maxwell, 2009). The National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals as well as the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, support this program. The advanced certification program is being designed both as a professional development tool and to recognize the achievement of principals (Maxwell, 2009).

As a professional development tool, the NBPTS hopes “to create a consistently reliable process to develop, recognize and retain effective principals” (NBPTS, 2010, para. 2). The NBPTS has identified nine “skills, applications and dispositions” (para. 7) that form their “Core Propositions for Accomplished Educational Leaders” (para. 6). The nine are leadership, instruction, ethics, vision, learners and learning, equity, management, culture, and advocacy (Maxwell, 2009). These propositions form the basis for the assessments that will be used to assess principal performance. The program, like the teacher certification program, is designed for principals who already have several years experience (Maxwell). NBPTS’ initiative supports the idea that principals must continue to develop their professional knowledge and skills throughout their careers.

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