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Principals’ social interactions with teachers: How principal-teacher social relations correlate with teachers’ perceptions of student engagement

Heather E. Price (Basis Policy Research, Milwaukee, WI, USA and University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




The purpose of this paper is to link the social interactions between principals and their teachers to teachers’ perceptions of their students’ engagement with school, empirically testing the theoretical proposition that principals influence students through their teachers in the US charter school environment. The mediating influence of latent beliefs of trust and support are tested in this process.


By analyzing pooled network and survey data collected in 15 Indianapolis charter schools using stepwise, fixed-effects regression techniques, this study tests the association between interactions of principals and teachers, on the one hand, and teachers’ perceptions of student engagement, on the other. The extent to which latent beliefs about teachers – in particular, trust in teachers and support of teachers by the administrators – mediate this relationship is also tested.


Direct relationships between principal-teacher interactions and latent beliefs of trust and support are confirmed. Direct relationships between latent beliefs and perceptions of academic and school engagement are also confirmed. There is a relationship between principal-teacher interactions and teacher perceptions of student engagement, but the mediating effect of latent beliefs of trust and support accounts for much of the direct association. The reachability of the principal remains a significant and direct influence on teachers’ perceptions of academic engagement after accounting for trust and support.

Research limitations/implications

Moving beyond principals’ personality dispositions in management and turning to the social relationships that they form with teachers adds to the understanding of how principal leadership affects student learning. Empirically distinguishing between the actual interactions and social dispositions of principals helps inform practical implications. Focussing on how principals’ social interactions with teachers influence teachers’ perceptions of students’ engagement provides a theoretical link as to how principals indirectly influence student achievement.

Practical implications

The relationships that principals build with teachers have real implications on the beliefs of trust and support among teachers in a school and have a ripple effect on teachers’ perceptions of student engagement. These findings therefore suggest that frequently moving principals among schools is not an ideal policy.


This study tests the theoretical boundaries of school organization research by using a within-schools design with charter schools. It also links leadership research to outcomes typically restricted to research on school culture and climate.



Price, H.E. (2015), "Principals’ social interactions with teachers: How principal-teacher social relations correlate with teachers’ perceptions of student engagement", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 53 No. 1, pp. 116-139.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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