The construction of a public face as a school principal

Jorunn Møller (Department of Teacher Education and School Research, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Publication date: 15 June 2012



The purpose of this paper is to examine how successful school leaders in Norway frame their public identity and how their narratives may be understood in relation to different discourses on leadership.


The approach draws upon a theoretical perspective which asserts that there is a profound connection between identity and practice, and between identity and the construction of a number of narratives (Wenger; Bourdieu and Wacquant). The author has combined analyses of public discourses on school leadership with findings based on the International Successful School Principalship Project (ISSPP) to analyze the school principal's construction of a public face.


The study demonstrates how the public identity and face of a school principal is multiple, subjectively constructed and intersects with public discourses. Moreover, it highlights why principals need greater capability to lead their schools in a dynamic context by being the figure head and representing the organization (Mintzberg). The ISSPP study has constructed many accounts of principals’ thinking about successful leadership and achievement. The principals’ stories partly intersect with public narratives of heroic leadership, but by highlighting their work in teams, they primarily intersect with the notion of distributed leadership. A striking feature was the principals’ commitment to making a difference for the kids and their hard work within the system to balance all of the demands placed on their shoulders in order to ensure more equitable learning environments for all students.

Research limitations/implications

The study indicates the importance of principals being reflexive about their own positions. There is a need to locate personal experience within wider relations of power. The creation of educational biographies may serve as an approach to helping principals understand how and why they learned in the past and what motivates them to pursue new educational opportunities.


A focus on identities and their development can tap the complexity of school leadership in a tumultuous, high‐stakes environment of accountability.



Møller, J. (2012), "The construction of a public face as a school principal", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 26 No. 5, pp. 452-460.

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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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