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Context matters: principals' sensemaking of teacher hiring and on‐the‐job performance

Kyle Ingle (Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA)
Stacey Rutledge (Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)
Jennifer Bishop (Lexington, Kentucky, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 16 August 2011




School principals make sense of multiple messages, policies, and contexts within their school environments. The purpose of this paper is to examine specifically how school leaders make sense of hiring and subjective evaluation of on‐the‐job teacher performance.


This qualitative study drew from 42 interviews with 21 principals from a mid‐sized Florida school district. Two rounds of semi‐structured interviews (one to two hours each) were conducted with the informants over two summers (2005‐2006). The multi‐year study allows the authors to assess the consistency across principal participants.


Principals' personal beliefs, background, and experiences were found to shape their conceptions and preferences for teacher characteristics. School type (e.g. elementary, secondary, levels of poverty) also influenced principals' perceptions of and preferences for specific applicant and teacher characteristics. Principals in the sample, however, showed surprising consistency towards certain characteristics (caring, subject matter knowledge, strong teaching skills) and job fit (person‐job). Sampled principals reported that each vacancy is different and is highly dependent on the position, team, and individuals. Regardless of the position or school setting, federal, state, and district mandates strongly influenced how principals made sense of the hiring process and on‐the‐job performance.

Practical implications

The findings underscore the complexity of the human resource functions in education and raise important questions of how school leaders reconcile personal preferences and building‐level needs with demands from the district, state, and federal levels.


The authors' findings offer important insight into the complex conceptualizations that principals hold and the balances that must be struck in the face of policy and hiring constraints. How principals make sense of teacher quality, however, has not been examined. This study contributes to the extant research and makes a theoretical contribution to studies using a cognitive frame to understand school leadership.



Ingle, K., Rutledge, S. and Bishop, J. (2011), "Context matters: principals' sensemaking of teacher hiring and on‐the‐job performance", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 49 No. 5, pp. 579-610.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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