As they are portrayed: principals in film

A. Ross Thomas (University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Publication date: 1 April 1998


This paper reports on the analysis of the principalship as portrayed in a sample of 48 films. The analysis reveals that, unlike the timid, obsequious pastor in the Western and the bullying marine sergeant in a war movie, for example, there is little that is stereotypic about the role of the school principal and the types of leadership practised; there is no single model of the “successful” (or, for that matter, “unsuccessful”) principal. Success, however defined, has been achieved by some but it has eluded others. Admittedly, one can readily identify common themes associated with the principalship, for example, the vesting of authority, the exercise of power, relationships with teachers, students and community, and so on. And yet, against this common backdrop, countless scenes have been enacted in which the role of the principal has been one of great variation. Portrayals of roles are, of course, the outcome of the interaction of author, scriptwriter, actor, director ‐ to name but some of those involved in the production of a film. Nevertheless, they provide at times quite extraordinary insights into others’ perceptions of both the role and the exercise of leadership in schools and school communities. For those involved in programs designed to prepare educationists for the principalship, considerable satisfaction is to be found in the variety of representations of this office that are displayed per medium of film. Films provide a legitimate basis on which to analyse leadership behaviour and from which a greater sensitivity to the role may be developed.



Ross Thomas, A. (1998), "As they are portrayed: principals in film", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 90-100.

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Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited

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