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School context and individual characteristics: what influences principal practice?

Ellen Goldring (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
Jason Huff (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
Henry May (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Eric Camburn (University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 9 May 2008




As they operate in complex schools principals must allocate their attention to numerous responsibilities. This paper seeks to ask three questions: how do principals allocate their attention across major realms of responsibility; to what extent do principals in different contexts emphasize different realms of responsibility; and to what extent do individual attributes affect how principals allocate their attention across realms?


A cluster analysis is applied to data from a daily log of principal practices to identify principals who allocate their attention across major realms of responsibility in similar ways. With the three groups identified in the cluster analysis a discriminant analysis is then used to examine the individual attributes of the principals and the contexts within which these groups work to identify those individual characteristics and contextual conditions that best predict each principal's cluster membership.


The data from the log indicate that principals are not as fragmented across numerous realms of responsibility as previous research suggests. Some principals do spend considerable time on instructional leadership. The cluster analysis revealed three groups: “Eclectic” Leaders (their activities are distributed more evenly across different activities); Instructional Leaders (they focused most on Instructional Leadership); and Student Leaders (they emphasized student affairs). In the paper's discriminant analyses no individual attributes distinguished amongst the three types of principals; only contextual conditions predicted membership.

Research limitations/implications

The results point to the influence that context plays on school principals' practice; principals appear to prioritize and focus their actions under more challenging contextual conditions. The next step in the analysis is to determine how the leadership clusters and principal practices relate to important school outcomes.


The paper provides useful information on influences on school principals' practice.



Goldring, E., Huff, J., May, H. and Camburn, E. (2008), "School context and individual characteristics: what influences principal practice?", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 46 No. 3, pp. 332-352.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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