Dissertation Spotlight
Dissertation Spotlight

Dissertation Spotlight: Examining How Principals are Recruited, Hired, and Developed as Instructional Leaders

By The Room 241 Team January 18, 2019

As the principal of Clear Creek Middle School in Oregon, David Atherton, EdD, understands the importance of recruiting, hiring, and supporting administrators who are strong instructional leaders. While earning his Doctorate of Education from Concordia University-Portland, Atherton decided to examine this process for his dissertation, “Human Resource Management Practices for Public School Principals: Recruitment, Selection, and Development.” Here are some interesting highlights from his research.

The principal’s role

Atherton begins by defending why school principals are important: they set the tone, provide leadership, and establish a clear structure. He further defines the principal’s role as “responding to school and district contextual needs, managing systems and resources, and providing instructional leadership as evidenced in the evolving principal educational leadership standards.”

The importance of high-quality candidates

Atherton also cites the shortage of principals, particularly at the high school level, due in large part to the retirement of principals who are a part of the Baby Boom generation, and due to the increasing complexity of the principal’s job responsibilities. He concludes that recruiting, hiring, and supporting quality candidates for principals has never been more important. Atherton cites researchers like Timothy Waters and Robert Marzano who highlight the significance of the school principal, stating that this administrative leader “is second only to the impact a teacher (has) on student achievement.”  

Analyzing hiring practices

Atherton used research regarding principal hiring criteria and practices spanning 61 years. He selected a case study research design to examine the research from multiple vantage points rather than using data from any single source. He used Critical Systems Theory (CST) as a theoretical approach to address the complex problems in education through a systems-thinking lens in order to promote emancipatory action and social justice.

Atherton acknowledges that there were some issues that affected the outcome of the study, including existing research studies having no set qualitative standards for measuring recruiting and hiring of principals, and the fact that educational researchers are frequently connected to their research participants and/or systems.

Key findings

Results and conclusions of Atherton’s research include:

  1. As many as 75% of the job descriptions for principals in Oregon school districts that were studied lacked the necessary information for a candidate to make an informed decision about the position. Atherton cites reliance on traditional formats in a changing job climate.
  2. Interview committee preparation and bias greatly affected the validity and reliability of the interview as a method of candidate selection.
  3. School districts in the study inconsistently provided information necessary for applicants to establish whether the position was a good fit for their experience and personality.
  4. Atherton concludes that “if a district does not clearly communicate necessary contextual variables, applicants are not able to form a realistic job preview (RJP), trust between the district and the applicant could be compromised, leading to a poor selection pool or finalists without the knowledge, skills, and characteristics necessary to be successful.”
  5. Timelines for the principal hiring process were often incomplete, with many districts leaving out a critical piece of information from the application process.
  6. Recruitment strategies relied heavily on posting services or professional organizations, with only one district citing job fairs as a method used to find suitable candidates.
  7. According to Atherton, “a discerning applicant would not have been easily able to form an RJP from many of the job postings collected in the study.”
  8. Atherton cites several researchers who encourage the act of training hiring committees before beginning interviews. However, only one district in the study specifically discussed systematic steps related to training the hiring committee.

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