In order to develop a deep understanding of instructional leadership practice of principals and the potential influence of community and geographic context on the practice of principals the qualitative methodology of portraiture has been chosen for this study. An ethnographic approach, portraiture is differentiated through a focus “…on what works [and] underscoring what is healthy and strong” ( Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p.142) This offsets portraiture from other models utilized in educational leadership research, which typically document weaknesses. Since the goal of this study is to understand how rural New England principals practice instructional leadership and how the rural community and geographic context influences their practice the appreciative nature of portraiture is most beneficial.
Primary participants in this study will include principals from rural New England schools; with the goal being to study three principals in each year of the complete three year project. Purposeful sampling will be utilized to identify the pool of potential participants. Once a pool is identified potential participants will be invited to participate in the study via email with follow up phone calls as needed. Principals from the identified pool will be invited until the sampling targets have been satisfied.
Sampling Criteria. Each of the included principals must have been in their current role for at least three years and will come from small (enrollment 100 or less), medium (101-500), and large (over 500) rural schools; the sampling goal being to recruit at least one individual from each of the size classifications each year. This strategy will allow for potential organizational size influences to be considered while allowing for the community and geographic context to be considered across the size categories. Additionally, of the three principals studied studied each year all will be from New England but none from the same New England state. This strategy will allow for differences in state regulations and Department of Educational authority to be recognized and subsequently separated from issues related to the rural community and geographic context. Participation in this study is predicated on purposeful sampling. If more than three members of the pool agree to participate an additional criteria of grade span will be added to the sample, with one from elementary, middle, and high school being included.
Focus group members will be identified through the primary participants as individuals that could shed light on community expectations around the principalship. Once identified as potential participants they will be invited to participate. Two focus groups, made up of school faculty and staff and community members, will be conducted for each principal. The goal is six participants per group for a total of 12 focus group members per site.
Procedures. All procedures will be conducted by the researcher. IRB approval for year one of this study was obtained on November 27, 2017 . Potential participants were identified through the previously stated criteria and invited via email. Once agreement to participate was made a mutually developed schedule for data collection was developed with each participant and informed consent provided.
Immersion is key data gathering strategy in this study and will be used to deeply engage with the experience of participants. Immersions will occur three times during the school year – beginning, middle, and end. This will allow for the changing demands of the school year to be captured in the data and will additionally ensure the development of the authentic relationship between researcher and participant that is necessary to capture the true essence of participant experiences. Each immersion period will last four to five consecutive days, depending on the ability of the participant to allow the researcher to “shadow” them through their day.
During each of the immersion experiences an in-depth interview will be conducted with the participant and extended observation of them will be conducted. Observation of the community broadly will be conducted including any community meetings, sporting events, or other community events. Additionally, focus groups will be conducted relative to each primary participant and field notes taken.
· In-depth interviews: An in-depth interview will be conducted with participants on the first day of each immersion experience. Each of the interviews will be planned for about sixty minutes and digitally recorded for transcription. The first interview protocol was developed prior to the study beginning with subsequent protocols being developed in response to each of the interviews, observations, and field notes.
· Observation: Observation of the participant during their work day will be continuously conducted to the extent possible. During any legally prohibited access (ex. Student individual educational plan meetings and human resource behavioral concerns) I will recuse myself from the immediate setting. All observations will be documented via standard and impressionistic note taking. The later used to capture the essence and overall quality of the experience for the participant, researcher, and others. All notes will be taken on standard legal pads and later transcribed.
· Field notes: Notes will be written at the end of each day of an immersion experience and throughout the data analysis process. Notes will document procedure as well as the impressions of the researcher. Notes will be categorized by procedure, participant, and site with additional categories being included as they emerge through the data.
· Member checking: At the conclusion of each immersion experience in-depth interviews and observation notes will be transcribed. Copies of transcriptions will be provided to the participant for review, verification, and clarification within a month of the immersion. A copy of the final report of the study will be provided primary participants for the purpose of review, verification, and clarification prior to any publication. The utilization of this strategy will support the development of an authentic relationship between researcher and primary participant; ensure the accuracy of data, and the authenticity of findings.
· Focus groups: Focus groups will be conducted during the second immersion experience and will utilize a semi-structured protocol. They will be designed to capture community expectations about the role of school principal. Focus group participants will be made up of school faculty, school staff, and community members, all of whom the primary participant recommends as individuals that would be able to shed light on the issue of the relationship of community and geographic context and the instructional leadership practice of the principal. Each focus group will have six members, with one for school faculty and staff and the other for community members. Each focus group will be digitally recorded and later transcribed.
· Review of relevant documents: Relevant documents, including social media posts, will be collected throughout the year. Document review will be utilized to develop understanding of the complexity of the community context and to support reflection on gathered data during throughout the study.
Lawrence-Lightfoot, S., & Davis, J. H. (1997). The art and science of portraiture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
A challenge to this study is the availability of principals. Although immersion dates are scheduled in advance the nature of their jobs is such that any variety of emergency can call them away from their schedules. In order to maximize time during immersions, should principals be called away geographic and community exploration will be engaged in.
Data analysis in this study will be ongoing and solely conducted by the researcher with primary participants called upon for member checking. All data will be coded through a process of identifying both data related to the pre-determined themes provided by the instructional leadership framework (Carrier,2017) and organically emerging themes. Analysis will be conducted for each site and across sites.
This project has not yet shared any protocols.