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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Educational leadership, school commercialism, and neoliberal policy : understanding elementary school principals’ decision-making Issel, Bradley


This study explores how school principals in elementary settings are positioned within an education context heavily influenced by the discourses and policies of neoliberalism. By targeting principals’ decision-making on school commercialism, I analyze the impact market ideologies are having in shaping principals’ understandings of their roles and identities in public education. Using a qualitative research design, I interviewed seven elementary school principals in a school district in British Columbia, Canada. The key results of this study indicate that principals are in states of “cognitive dissonance” (Festinger, 1957) as they struggle to clarify the possible or actual impacts of school commercialism on pedagogy and the management of schools. Principals express a need for stringent regulatory district policy to monitor and control partnerships between schools and corporations. In addition, principals’ positioning towards dominant neoliberal consumer discourses is diverse as they enact and describe their decision-making on school commercialism. Thus, principals cannot be positioned as fully resistant to, or reproducing of, neoliberal consumer discourses. The majority of principals seek to make compromises between their philosophy of education and any perceived consequences with corporate involvement in their schools. I conclude that notions of critical leadership may be the impetus needed to resist discursive power contexts associated with market ideologies and neoliberal policies. I have used pseudonyms to protect the identity of the people and places involved in this study.

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