With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Navigating Through Year One of the Principalship

Angela M Reyna, University of Texas at El Paso


Given the intense pressures, expectations, and public scrutiny, school principals now undertake even greater roles and responsibilities than their predecessors (DuFour & Mattos, 2013; Kellough & Hill, 2014; Hale & Moorman, 2003; Fullan, 2003; Deal & Peterson, 2010; Koozes & Posner, 2012). New, or neophyte, principals are expected to step in and maintain or increase test scores while navigating intricacies of the new position and school. The socialization experience into a new work environment, which can be magnified for neophyte principals, is a large indicator of principal success (Shaver, 2007). Developing trustworthy relationships with the school community has direct impact on the period of socialization experienced by all new principals (Shaver, 2007). Understanding these unique challenges and working conditions faced by neophyte principals can inform efforts to promote school improvement and principal retention; however the research on neophyte principals’ experiences is limited (Burkhauser, Gates, Hamilton, & Ikemoto, 2012). Throughout this study, I define “neophyte principal” as an individual who is new to the principal role. For this study, “first year” refers to the first fifteen months where the principal is in his or her new role. This includes the promotion and the transition period into the new school. Most neophyte principals have been exposed to various administrative roles, to varying degrees, relevant to the principalship. Modeling collaborative behaviors for classroom teachers and building capacity within key staff are vital practices aspiring school leaders develop over time. However, philanthropic organizations, such as The Wallace Foundation (2007) have reported that without professional guidance and reinforcement, neophyte principals may quickly feel the long-held sink-or-swim mentality, as they begin to feel the pressure to prioritize problems and develop strategies for fast results. “There are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader” (Leithwood, et al., 2004). Improving public schools means addressing a broad set of complex issues and while school reform efforts are well underway across the country, only one area of policy focus, strengthening school leadership, can exert control over all of the challenges encountered in public schools in this era of accountability (Beatriz, Deborah, & Hunter, 2008). This qualitative study examined the challenges, personal experiences, and extent of provided support, if any, for neophyte principals as they transition into their new role. The objective of this study was to provide insight into the role of the neophyte principal and specifically, how neophyte principals can be effectively supported, in order to meet all the expectations and challenges they encounter during their first year and beyond. The findings of this study will be of interest to policymakers in school districts, state education agencies, principal preparation programs, and most importantly, to principals themselves. For the success of their leadership, it is crucial that differentiated support is provided to principals through collegial, collaborative, and silent mentorship. The complex and high-stakes accountability system that determines the success or failure of neophyte principals is much more demanding that in years past. It is the intention of the researcher that the results of this study will add to the increasing focus on the much-needed support for principals, so that they may facilitate increased student learning and success.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Educational administration

Recommended Citation

Reyna, Angela M, "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Navigating Through Year One of the Principalship" (2017). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10619970.