Perceptions of Principal Appraisal: Experience in Australian Lutheran Schools
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This study was an investigation into participant perceptions of principal appraisal in Australian Lutheran schools where a national, systematic appraisal process for principals, entitled Principal Appraisal for Development (PAD), has been in place since 2000. The study group for the investigation consisted of fifteen principals, ten chairpersons of school councils and two district directors, all of whom had been involved in the process. The literature review indicated that whilst there was substantive scholarly writing on the purpose and methods of principal appraisal, there was a lack of recorded research on the experience and longer term outcomes of appraisal. Accordingly, the focus of the study was an examination of participant perceptions of the experience and impact of appraisal. The study's theoretical underpinning was symbolic interactionism and it adopted a qualitative approach to answer the central research question: What are principal and governing council chairperson perceptions of the efficacy of principal appraisal processes in Australian Lutheran schools? Data for the study were gathered through focus group and individual qualitative interviews. In addition, documents associated with the appraisal process were obtained for analysis. The data were then analysed using grounded theory methods, leading to the generation of three theoretical propositions. The first proposition was that the efficacy of principal appraisal depended on the completion of an explicit process that followed six clearly defined and understood steps; the second: that five perceptions of the efficacy of the appraisal process could be identified amongst participants; and the third: that the role played by key players in a spirit of trust in the process and in one another facilitated perceptions of efficacy in the appraisal process. Furthermore, the context in which the process took place, the actual purpose of the process and the nature of responses by participants emerged as key factors in each proposition. In particular, these factors determined whether the appraisal process advanced through the six defined stages required to ensure meaningful, long-term development for the principal, which of the perceptions of efficacy of the process for development was held by participants, and the extent to which trust in one another and in the process was evident. From these propositions eight statements that describe the experience of study participants were identified. These comprised: their belief that a development purpose must have priority in appraisal for perceptions of efficacy of the process; credible messages needed to emerge from the appraisal process for perceptions of its efficacy; appraisal needed to be perceived as a complex process of change involving meaning-making; principal as agent and initiator in the appraisal process facilitated perceptions of efficacy; a supportive and improvement-oriented environment for professional development was associated with perceptions of efficacy of the process; professional development of the principal needed to be perceived as a complex process; trust in the process and in one another was necessary for perceptions of appraisal's efficacy; and appraisal was recognised as having outcomes that may distract from development. These findings have specific implications for the policy and practice of principal appraisal in Lutheran schools, especially as PAD is reviewed. The findings also have application to other appraisal settings and generated key questions to assist in developing, implementing and evaluating principal appraisal systems. The study also indicated that those involved in the appraisal process need to think through how appraisal, development and accountability are related. These concepts are important and legitimate, and are to be both separated and recognised in any employment context. The study found that appraisal that resulted in development was a complex process of change involving shifts to meaning and behaviour. Such a process needed to be supported through an environment of trust with an improvement focus. The study has indicated that appraisal for development needs to be informed more fully by an understanding of the professional development literature. In summary, the study has contributed to an understanding of the place of appraisal in the learning and development of school principals.
Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Doctor of Education (EdD)
School of Cognition, Language and Special Education
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