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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Change in schools: Can principals make a difference? Binkley, Nadine Bonda


Principals come to their current positions with their own beliefs about their role, about their practice, and about other educational issues related to the nature of education: schools, teachers, students, community, and professional growth. These and all other factors that influence how principals think about their job are what I refer to as "principals' professional beliefs." This study demonstrated that principals bring to change initiatives their professional beliefs and those beliefs influence how they interpret the language of the change initiative, how they conceptualize the change, and how they plan for enactment of the policy change. I used a multi-case study approach to examine how eight principals in a school district that was undergoing a district policy change, thought about their enactment of the change at the school level. I identified three groups of principals: (1) supporters of teacher decision making, (2) facilitators of shared values, and (3) promoters of mutual respect. These principals differed in their involvement in the negotiation of the way the change would be carried out in the school, how much and what kinds of support they offered to teachers, and the degree of autonomy they allowed teachers in determining how the change would be implemented. Three questions guided the study: (1) What factors influence principals' responses to a change in school district policy? More specifically, what are the professional and context-specific issues the principals consider as they interpret a school district policy change and plan for their own action in carrying out that change process? (2) How do principals enact the policy changes in their own schools? (3) What impact did the principals perceive that the policy change had on their enactment of their role? This study provides insights into how principals understand and interpret educational policy language, how they work toward the development of collaborative relationships and collegial cultures, and how their professional beliefs inform their practice. The policy change and the language of the policy is mediated through principals' professional belief systems as they determine how they will enact the policy change. This study disputes findings in existing literature and contributes to our understanding of change in schools by recognizing that principals play significant roles in change at the school level.

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