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Principal class leadership aspirations: a brief overview.

This research identifies the key factors that impact on teachers' principal level leadership aspirations. I investigated factors that lead teachers in Victorian government schools to choose to apply or not to apply for principal class positions. Teachers, assistant principals and principals were surveyed and involved in focus-group discussions. I explored differences by gender and work location. I found that work motivation, and career and life planning are key factors that influence teachers in choosing to apply for principal class leadership positions. There were also significant differences in the life-planning factors by gender.

 I think it is the best job in the world. I honestly do ...

 It is challenging, it is exciting, it is frightening and it
 is the buzz.
 When you get that buzz it is worth it.

Is this how you would describe your job? During a series of focus-group interviews in 2001, primary- and secondary-school principals shared the excitement (and frustration) of their work. If this is how they described their job why has there been a significant drop in the number of applicants for principal positions? Maybe because the same principals in the same breath also described their job as:
 incredibly draining of your being and it leads to periods of
 recovery in vacations that can only be described as having to
 be endured while you wait to regenerate. It takes a hell of a toll
 on your life and family and everything else. It is something that
 is totally consuming.

Principals describe their role as similar to being on a roller coaster:
 You go from the highest highs to the lowest lows.

 Life always has its ups and downs but as a principal while the
 lows are low the highs are higher.

In the same series of interviews teachers were asked to describe what it is like to be a principal. Unless teachers had either acted in the principal role or been a principal in the past, they only described it using negative terms. The words, 'demanding, stressful and time consuming' were frequently used. Four teachers commented that:
 People are also thinking about their life and the quality of life.
 Do you really want to be in that job or do you really want to
 have a life? Is the extra money that you get worth it?

 The thing that turned me off being a principal [is that] their lives
 are constrained by long hours and there is very little sense of
 being appreciated.

 No one pats you on the shoulder and says go for it. No one says
 it is a satisfying job. All you see is principals on overload and
 stressed. The messages that you get are not ones of [people]
 enjoying the job.

 Health is an issue. The job takes a toll on your health.


The principal is a key factor in determining the motivation of teachers and the quality of teaching that takes place in classrooms. (2) Over the past decade there has been a growing acceptance that the principal plays a key role in creating and sustaining high-performing schools. Research supports the contention that effective schools have strong leadership. (3) The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), in a joint report titled The Principal: Keystone of a High Achieving School, provide an overview of the research about the principal and school effectiveness. Effective schools are seen as those schools where average student achievement is above expectations. They note that, since the 1980s effective schools research links excellent schools with excellent leaders. (4) This report also notes that observations of effective schools made in a variety of situations also support the contention that high-performing schools are characterised by effective leadership. (5)

If effective principals were seen as the key to effective schools then it follows that a shortage of quality applicants to principal positions would result in fewer effective schools. Such shortages have become apparent in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. (6) There is anecdotal evidence of a potential shortage of principals in Victoria and other Australian states. (7) In this time of reduced numbers of applicants, the role of the educational leader has never been more important. Schools are frequently the only stable factor in many students' lives and, 'have become the first port of call for many families in crisis'. (8)

Victoria has an aging teaching profession. At the end of March 2000 the average age of teachers was 43.2. This has increased from 39.3 in 1991 and 41.2 in 1995. The principal group is also aging. In March 2000, the average age of personnel in the principal class was 49.2 (Department of Education and Training, Payroll analysis). This has increased from 47.7 in 1995. The majority of principals are electing to retire between fifty-four and fifty-nine years of age. The average age of teacher resignation is 42.4 (DE&T Personnel records). Forty per cent of all teacher and principal class resignations occur at fifty-four years and eleven months. Currently, there is no information on the number of principals proposing to resign at fifty-four years and eleven months. Due to the retirement and resignation patterns of personnel, the Department of Education and Training (DE&T) anticipates a shortage of senior personnel within the next five years.

It is also concerning, that while sixty-seven per cent of teaching personnel are female, only thirty-eight per cent of the principal class are female and thirty-one per cent of school principals are female. There is also evidence that points to applicant fields that are light on both numbers and quality, particularly in country regions. Anecdotal data reveals a stunning decrease in the number of people applying for principal class jobs. You only need to speak to people who have been on panels over a number of years including principals themselves and people in regional offices. Regional office staff have commented to me that ten years ago you might have had up to 150 applicants for a principal or assistant-principal position at a particularly well-sought-after school. Now they might get twelve. In some country areas they might get only four or five.

Senior Victorian DE&T personnel have also indicated that they believe that there are adequate personnel to meet current demand but these people are choosing not to apply for principal class positions. There is a concern that within the next five to eight years the number of appropriately skilled and experienced applicants to principal positions may also drop as the number of teachers applying for leading teacher and assistant principal positions drops. The aging teaching population (9) and teachers consciously refusing promotions to principal positions have been cited as impacting on the number and quality of applicants. (10)

This research investigated the factors that impact on the career decisions of teachers in government primary and secondary schools in the state of Victoria, Australia. In particular, I examined the factors that influence teachers in choosing to apply for principal class positions and the factors that influence other teachers to decide not to apply for such positions. Data was collected from current principals, assistant principals, classroom teachers with leadership responsibilities, and classroom teachers with no additional leadership responsibilities. Within the teacher and assistant principal groups, data were also sought from those who were aspiring to principal roles and those who were not aspiring to such roles. The purpose of the research was to understand the factors that influenced teachers (including those in leadership roles) in their decision making to apply or not to apply for principal class leadership roles.

The research methodology included both qualitative and quantitative data sources. I decided to use a survey and focus-group interviews, as the combination of these provided breadth and depth of insights into the complex social phenomenon of aspiration. The survey was the initial data source. Its design and construction was based on a conceptual framework developed by me following a review of literature relating to aspirations, work motivation, and career decision making. I used the results of the survey when constructing the focus groups and deciding on focus-group questions. The interviews confirmed and clarified themes and patterns raised by the survey data and explore aspects of the conceptual framework that were not included in the survey. The findings formed the basis of my PhD thesis.

I wanted to answer two key questions:

(1) What are the leadership aspirations of Victorian government school teachers?

(2) What are the factors that impact on leadership aspirations?

I constructed a conceptual framework to provide the lens through which leadership aspirations could be explored and developed the following hypothesis:
 Work motivation, career and personal life planning, and values
 alignment are key factors that influence teachers in choosing to
 apply for principal class leadership roles.

Policy and planning implications have been drawn from the identification of the teachers' leadership aspirations and the factors that impact on these leadership aspirations.

In 2000, I analysed the data from a survey of two thousand teachers in Victorian government schools. There were 1344 respondents (sixty-seven per cent) to the survey. A representative sample of teachers, assistant principals and principals from primary, secondary and P-12 schools from metropolitan and country regions responded. Both the gender and age profiles of the respondents matched those of the total teaching population.

In 2001, I conducted a series of focus-group interviews. Fifty per cent (673) of the survey respondents indicated a willingness to be interviewed. The focus-group participants comprised volunteers from the survey. Nine focus-group interviews were held, with each interview including a representative group of males and females and participants from country and metropolitan regions. Separate interviews were conducted with primary and secondary teachers, leading teachers, assistant principals and principals. As none of the focus-group participants were younger than 40, I organised a ninth focus group. This group comprised teachers younger than thirty-one years. Fifty-one people attended the focus-group interviews.


For the purposes of this research, aspiration has been defined as the level and type of position that teachers ultimately hope to attain. People's individual career decisions and aspirations are influenced by many factors. These factors include work motivation, values and career and life planning. (11) Each of these three factors is influenced by personal and organisational factors.

I deconstructed the key hypothesis into a number of related hypotheses. These related hypotheses have been grouped into three sections--work motivation, career and life planning, and values alignment.


Prior to the late 1980s there do not appear to have been any studies of the supply and demand trends for school leaders. Studies of these trends begin to become apparent from 1989 (12) but concerns over a potential shortage do not become apparent until the mid-1990s.

In 1997, Barker noted a drop in the number and quality of principal applicants in Washington State. (13) Barker identified a number of recommendations aimed at increasing the number of applicants for principals and for central administrators. The recommendations for principals included a more systematic approach to succession planning through coaching, mentoring, 'talent-spotting', job sharing and promoting the benefits of the role. She recommended that central administrators provide increased coaching, mentoring and internships; lobby for increased salaries for principals; and delineate a clearer role for assistant principals with a career path towards principalship. (14)

Studies into the factors impacting on teachers' and assistant-principals' decisions not to apply for principal positions first appeared in 1998. James and Whiting conducted research through a survey and interviews with primary and secondary deputy head teachers in two Local Education Authorities (LEA)--one in England and one in Wales. (15) They were surprised to find that 'fewer than half of the respondents were actively seeking, or regarded themselves as potential aspirants for, headship'. (16) James and Whiting identified six factors that had influenced the career decisions of these deputies not to seek headship. These included the role overload, contentment with current job, negative impact on the individual's family, self-doubt, concerns over public accountability, and external factors such as inadequate funding for schools and the scale and pace of bureaucratic initiatives.

By 1999, articles began to appear in the United States press regarding the lack of applicants for principal positions. In both the United States and the United Kingdom, the number of articles appearing in the press increased over the next few years. By 2001 there were at least twenty-six articles in the major US press. The same level of interest has not been apparent in the Australian press. Articles do not appear in the press until 2000, with one article appearing in 2000 and two in 2001.

Until 2001, research continued to focus on the factors that influenced current principals to choose to become principals (17) and the perceptions of principals and superintendents as to the factors that discouraged potential applicants. (18) There was a paucity of research seeking data from the non-aspirants themselves.

This previous research, particularly by Van Cooley, Whitaker, and the Education Research Service (ERS), while not directly based on data from non-aspirants provides a number of useful findings. Similar themes emerged from these three studies. All three studies revealed that current principals and those currently aspiring to the role believed that the principal's salary is not commensurate with the level of responsibilities that the job holds. Respondents also stated that the demands of the role have a negative impact on a person's home life. A third common finding was that prospective applicants are only interested in particular principal positions, such as those that are close to their current residence and those where there is a positive relationship between the current school board, administration and teachers and a supportive local superintendent. Van Cooley and the ERS study also found that the 'demands of a modern society have complicated and intensified the administrator's work responsibilities'. (19) Insufficient compensation compared to the responsibilities was a key factor in both Van Cooley and the ERS study. It was the second most influential factor out of ten factors in Van Cooley's study, exceeded only by the importance of the relationship among the school board, administration and teachers. Sixty per cent of respondents in the ERS study identified it as a key factor discouraging potential applicants. This was the strongest disincentive identified in the ERS study.

Coleman, in a study of the reasons for the shortage of female headteachers in secondary schools in England and Wales also based her findings on data from current female secondary heads 'who had beaten the odds'. (20) Coleman identified a number of constraints for women associated with their domestic and family commitments and constraints imposed by the organisation. This study revealed external barriers to the career progression of women such as overt and covert discrimination, access to informal opportunities and development and selection and promotion processes. (21) These external barriers discriminate against women being selected for head-teacher positions. Coleman's study also revealed career constraints that act as disincentives for women to apply for head-teacher roles. These included women's domestic and family commitments and a number of organisational constraints such as the predominantly male culture in secondary education, and confidence and career planning.

In 2002, Beaudin, Thompson and Jacobson (22) examined the perceived attractions and detractions of administrator (principal) positions, also seeking data from current administrators and teachers holding administrator qualifications but not yet in administrator positions. Using a survey, they asked administrators and teachers to list the factors that attract or detract educators from considering first or new public-school administrator positions. They also asked respondents to identify policy initiatives that state and local districts could use to attract and retain a more diverse pool of candidates for administration. (23) This research is significant. It is the first study that explicitly identified the attractions of the job as perceived by aspirants and current administrators as well as aspects of the work that act as detractors--again as perceived by both groups. Findings confirm that an inadequate salary and benefits for the level of responsibility act as detractors for a large number of people. Forty-five per cent of potential aspirants and forty-four per cent of current administrators noted it as a detractor. However, salary also appears as an attractor. Sixty-two per cent of potential aspirants and sixty-nine per cent of current aspirants indicated that 'a salary and benefits commensurate with the amount of time, both the length of workday and length of school year, and level of responsibilities were critical factors in their decision to pursue new positions'. (24) In addition, two factors acted as both an attraction and a detraction. These were the length of the commute and the political climate of the school. Both current teachers and potential aspirants are only interested in applying for schools that are close to their current residence and where there is a supportive political climate. These findings confirm the findings from Van Cooley and Jianping Shen, (25) Whitaker (26) and the ERS study, (27) all of which only sought data from current principals or superintendents.


Interest in, or evidence of, a real or potential shortage of principal class applicants does not emerge in research literature in Australia until 2000. D'Arbon, Duignan, Duncan and Goodwin (28) surveyed newly appointed Catholic school principals to identify factors that had encouraged them to promote. D'Arbon et al., surveyed all assistant principals, subject coordinators, and religious education coordinators in the 564 Catholic schools in New South Wales (NSW). Their survey explored the reasons why teachers would not apply for principalship in Catholic schools in NSW and what factors would encourage them to apply. D'Arbon et al.'s study is the first Australian study of this type to gather data from such a wide range of potential aspirants. However, a significant difference between d'Arbon et al.'s study and my research is the religious aspect of d'Arbon et al.'s findings. My study explored the factors impacting on the career decisions of teachers in government schools. Nonetheless, d'Arbon et al.'s findings that are not related to the religious aspects of the school's culture, are pertinent to my study.

The study identified that the highest-ranking disincentive to applying for promotion was the impact that the job would have on the person's family and personal life. The second-highest ranked factor was an unsupportive external environment. D'Arbon et al. contend that 'the job of being a principal in today's society has grown beyond what one person can do'. (29) Their study also confirmed previous studies, which indicated that a number of potential aspirants are too content with their current role to consider applying for a role that they see will reduce the time that they have with their families, and will not provide adequate remuneration for this increase in responsibility and workload. D'Arbon et al.'s study also revealed that the selection process is perceived to be too complex and intrusive.

Tasmania appears to be the only state that has taken active steps to address any of the issues that have been identified as disincentives to promote. Rootes (30) notes that over the last few years there has been a decline in the number of male applicants for principal and assistant-principal positions, to the point that short-listing results from most applicants who have been interviewed. Interestingly, the number of female applicants has remained steady. (Rootes does not comment on the proportion of male and female applicants compared to their relative proportion in schools in Tasmania.) To address the problem, the Tasmanian Education Department piloted a change in the application process--which previously consisted of a three-thousand-word narrative-style application addressing six selection criteria, two written referee reports and a selection interview with a common set of questions for each applicant. There was a concern that this process was too codified and panels were unable to gain a true picture of the applicants. The narrative application has been replaced by a two-part pro forma. In Part A the applicant uses a narrative style to demonstrate their capacity with respect to specified criteria. In Part B the applicant responds to specific selection criteria by listing one or more tasks in dot form and outlining specific activities and roles that demonstrate their skills and experiences. They must specify at least one referee to verify each claim. The interview has moved away from a formulaic set of questions to a more conversational style about each applicant's unique experiences. As yet, no research about the effectiveness of these changes has been conducted. Following d'Arbon et al.'s findings that the selection process for teachers in Catholic schools in NSW is perceived to be a disincentive to promotion, this Tasmanian initiative could support an increase in the number of applicants.


This research project identified a number of significant answers to each of the research questions. The following is a brief overview of some of these findings.


Career aspirations for teachers have traditionally been defined as moving up a hierarchy. (31) Such a definition describes the career desires of people who do not aspire to promotion as lacking aspiration. This type of definition does not view aspiration in terms of the quality of the job held or its relationship to the person's life outside work. (32) For the purposes of this research, I have defined aspiration as the level and type of position that teachers ultimately hope to attain.

This study provides new insights into teachers' career aspirations. Teachers' current career aspirations have been compared with what they stated their aspirations were at the commencement of their career. Differences in career aspirations between males and females, teachers in primary and secondary sectors and younger and older teachers have been identified.

The findings showed a distinct and important difference in leadership aspirations towards principalship and assistant principalship. Survey data indicates a significant increase over time in the number of teachers aspiring to the assistant principal position. During the focus-group interviews, teachers described the strong appeal of the assistantprincipal role.

This research also revealed a difference in the intentions to leave the education sector and seek work elsewhere from teachers in Victorian government schools and from Catholic and independent sectors across Australia.


These factors were explored through the sub-hypotheses described in Figure 1.


Survey data and focus-group interviews strongly supported the hypothesis that principal class (principals and assistant principals) leadership roles provide a source of job satisfaction. When comparing teachers, leading teachers, assistant principals, and principals, the data indicated that assistant principals, followed by principals, have the highest levels of job satisfaction. Survey data, confirmed by focus-group interviews, indicated that principals and assistant principals find high levels of job satisfaction from the interpersonal relationships that form an essential part of their work:
 There's a sense of satisfaction that you are having a positive
 impact with a lot of people.
 (Primary female principal)

In schools, the work itself relies heavily on the strength of interpersonal relationships involving students, staff and parents. Paradoxically, the work of the principal, which relies heavily on interpersonal relationships, provides high levels of job satisfaction while the same interpersonal relationship simultaneously provides high levels of job dissatisfaction.

The sources of job satisfaction for principals are intrinsic, invisible and unknown to most teachers. Whereas, the sources of job dissatisfaction are extrinsic, visible and well known:
 The positive things that we do are more long term. The negative
 things that we do are instant and easily recognised--like
 declaring people in excess, when you talk to people about
 unprofessional behaviour. All these things are overt and people
 talk about them. When you come out of an interview having
 been mauled by parents, all of the teachers know about these
 incidents. [Teachers] gossip about them because they are
 interested in them. It is pretty overt really. Whereas the positive
 things they don't see.

 (Secondary male principal)

However, the work of the assistant principal provides high levels of job satisfaction that are visible and recognised by other teachers:
 The principal has become distant to the classroom. The AP has
 more power and involvement in the classroom and learning
 program. (Primary female teacher)

This study found evidence to support the hypothesis that seeking a job that provides a personal challenge is a motivating factor for some people:
 The personal challenge would encourage me [to apply].
 (Primary female teacher, younger than 31)

The principal role was seen as a job that provided enormous challenge. The challenges provided by the job were at times overwhelming, causing high levels of stress. There was also evidence to suggest that some individuals may not wish to remain in this sort of challenging role for lengthy periods of time. Other younger teachers also indicated that although motivated by challenge, they were eager for this challenge to be provided early in their careers:
 I want to move now. I want to be taken seriously now. I don't
 want it to be ten years before I have enough wrinkles to move
 up. (Secondary female teacher, younger than 31)

Data from this research indicate that there is strong evidence to support the hypothesis that perceptions of incentives and disincentives to promote to principal class positions influence teachers' career decisions. This research confirmed that incentives to promote tend to be factors related to the outcomes of the work, whereas the disincentives tend to be related to the nature of the work and external influences such as the impact of societal problems. The personal factors tended to be either strong incentives or disincentives, depending on the individual's life situation and personality.

Teachers' perceptions of the principal's job satisfaction are key factors in influencing teachers in choosing to apply for principal class positions. Teachers make judgements based on the appeal or otherwise of leadership positions from their perception of the visible role played by the principal and assistant principal. A lack of understanding that principals feel a sense of job satisfaction is having a major impact on leadership aspirations:
 No-one says it is a satisfying job. All you see is principals on
 overload and stressed. The messages that you get are not ones
 of enjoying the job ... the thing that turned me off being a
 principal--their lives are constrained by long hours and there
 is very little sense of being appreciated.
 (Secondary male leading teacher)

Career and personal life-planning factors significantly influenced women aspiring to move into principal class leadership roles. The effect that the principal role would have on their family is viewed as a strong disincentive to promote by all teachers but females indicate the effect on their family as a significantly greater disincentive to promote than males. Family responsibilities impact on the development and timing of women's leadership aspirations:
 Women are the primary caregiver for children even if they are
 not single mothers. Things fall back on me. Family is a very big
 consideration when you are applying for promotion.
 (Primary female teacher)

There is strong evidence to support the hypothesis that the organisation's succession planning processes influence teachers' leadership aspirations. The Department of Education and Training (DE&T) has no coordinated strategic overview for succession planning within the organisation. Very few schools plan for leadership succession. The identification of potential leaders within the DE&T is ad hoc. Selection processes are seen as a strong disincentive to promote, particularly by women. Women believe that they are further disadvantaged by a lack of recognition of multiple career paths to leadership.

This study found contradictory evidence concerning the influence of an alignment of personal and organisational values as a factor influencing teachers to choose to apply for principal class leadership positions. There was evidence that large-scale change in policy direction and organ-isational values can have a significant impact on the leadership aspirations of some older teachers. This lack of alignment between personal and organisational values is a factor in influencing some teachers to choose not to apply for principal class positions:
 You have to compromise yourself to aspire. You can't voice
 criticism. (Secondary female teacher)

However, younger teachers believed that given appropriate professional development, they would be able to develop the competency necessary to manage these inevitable tensions.
 If I was going to move into it [a leadership role] I would move
 into it. It [major changes in policy] wouldn't stop me but it
 would definitely be a monkey on my back.
 (Primary female teacher, younger than 31)

Evidence was found that principals developed strategies for managing the personal stress created by a clash in organisational and personal values.
 I don't think that changes in government policy make a
 difference now ... at the start it was but now you just think oh
 here's another hit. You become resilient, which sounds a bit silly,
 but you adapt.
 (Primary male assistant principal)


Education systems and schools have not developed comprehensive succession frameworks or strategic plans for the management of educational leadership. (33) This study provides recommendations for a succession-planning framework for Victorian government schools. The policy and planning implications from this study have been grouped against the four aspects of a strategic succession plan. These include a strategic overview, recruitment, development and retention.

Succession planning needs to be more than just job replacement. A strategic approach to succession planning aligns organisational thinking, the external environment and developmental needs of individuals within the organisation. It is the deliberate and systematic effort made by an organisation to recruit, develop and retain individuals with a range of leadership competencies capable of implementing current and future organisational goals. (34) Currently, the DE&T does not have a strategic succession plan.

Recruitment comprises two key elements: attracting high-quality applicants, and selection processes. (35) In attracting applicants the position needs to not only provide job satisfaction but also be perceived as providing job satisfaction. The job will also become more attractive if the incentives to promote are increased and the disincentives reduced. As many teachers, particularly women, do not consider leadership roles until it is suggested to them by someone else, the identification (and development) of potential leaders needs to be formalised, rather than being left to chance. Teachers make decisions on the appeal or otherwise of leadership based on the role modelled by current leaders. Processes need to be put in place that will inspire leadership aspirations.

Selection processes need to be structured so that they encourage and support the organisation in its attempt to locate and appoint highly qualified and appropriate applicants to leadership positions. The selection processes also need to encourage and support, rather than deter leadership aspirants. This study revealed that currently, the DE&T principal class selection processes are seen as a strong disincentive to seek to promote, particularly by women. There is a perception that selection processes do not recognise multiple career paths.

Career development of current and potential leaders is now considered to be an essential element of succession plans. (36) However, it is not only the organisation's responsibility. It is the dual responsibility of both the organisation and the individual employee. From the organisation's perspective, career development ensures a match between the career plans, interests and capabilities of individual employees and specific organisational opportunities. Career development processes need to provide opportunities to develop the leadership capabilities of potential leaders. Development opportunities also need to be provided to ensure that current leaders continue to develop the leadership capabilities that will be required to meet future organisational goals.

To increase the pool of high-quality applicants for leadership positions organisations need to retain high-quality employees. A shortage of teachers will inevitably lead to a shortage of potential leaders. DE&T needs to ensure that it maintains an adequate supply of teachers and identifies potential leaders from within this pool. Young teachers are more likely to change employers than their older colleagues did in the past. Succession planning strategies will need to be implemented to retain these potential young leaders. Organisations also need to include strategies to retain experienced leaders in their succession planning processes. My research revealed that experienced principals, particularly women, have career plans that do not include remaining a principal until retirement. The DE&T will need to consider strategies to maintain motivation and challenge for experienced principals. Retention strategies need to maintain the attraction and challenge of leadership for future and current principals.


Teachers' career decisions and leadership aspirations are influenced by many factors. This study has revealed a number of factors that develop and support principal class and principal level leadership aspirations.

Factors that develop and support leadership aspirations include increased opportunities within the principal role for individual growth and self-actualisation. Teachers with leadership aspirations seek jobs that provide a personal challenge but the increased stress level that results from increased personal challenge needs to be counterbalanced with increased job satisfaction.

Aspects of the job that provide high levels of job satisfaction need to be not only retained but enhanced. These include the interpersonal relationships with students, staff, and parents, and the opportunity to have an impact on the learning environment.

While high levels of job satisfaction are real for most principals, teachers who have not spent time either acting in the principal role or working as a principal themselves, are not aware of these high levels of satisfaction. Staff who have an appreciation of the balance between job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction inherent in the role of principal, are more likely to aspire to the role than those who only perceive it to be demanding, stressful and time consuming.

Principals and assistant principals identify the outcomes of the work--the opportunity to shape an educational vision, the opportunity to motivate others and the opportunity to impact on the learning environment--as strong incentives to promote to principal. All groups ranked these three items as the strongest incentives to promote to principal. However, with the exception of those younger than 31, teachers do not perceive that the principal has an impact on the learning environment. This is seen as the role of the assistant principal. Principals, on the other hand, state that a major source of job satisfaction for them is shaping an educational vision and having a long-term impact on the learning environment of the whole school. Teachers and assistant principals are more likely to aspire to, and subsequently apply for, principal positions if the strong link between the principal role and the learning environment is made explicit.

Strategic succession planning at an organisational and at a school level will increase leadership aspiration and application rates. A succession plan at the organisational level should include strategies to recruit, develop, and retain a large pool of effective principals and assistant principals. It would recognise that the young teachers of today are likely to change jobs and careers several times before they retire. The promotion process within schools would allow for them to move back into education at senior levels after having gained leadership experiences elsewhere. At the school level, principals would continue to develop leaders within their schools and many opportunities for acting in leadership roles would need to be provided. Schools need to be encouraged to provide increased opportunities for part-time and shared leadership roles.

The study also revealed a number of factors that inhibit principal class and principal level leadership aspirations. Paradoxically, while the nature of the work is one of the sources of satisfaction for principals and an incentive to promote to principal, aspects of the nature of the work are simultaneously strong sources of dissatisfaction and disincentives to promote. The interpersonal relations, particularly with teachers and parents, provide enormous challenges and frustrations. Personal factors, such as time required by the job, the stress level of the job and, effect on family are strong disincentives to promote, particularly for women. Many teachers believe that the current role expectations of principals would not allow them to balance the demands of their personal life and their work life. The administrative demands and community expectations of the role are seen as too demanding.

A major inhibiting factor for teachers' leadership aspirations is their lack of an understanding of the high levels of job satisfaction that counterbalance the stresses of the principal role. Until the job satisfaction of principals becomes as explicit as their job dissatisfaction, few teachers will aspire to this role.

The lack of succession planning at an organisational and school level inhibits teachers' principal class leadership aspirations. Yet the DE&T has no documented succession plan and there is no coordinated strategy to recruit, develop and retain leaders. Consequently, the identification of potential leaders is ad hoc. As has been demonstrated, few teachers regard principal level positions as attractive. Both men and women describe the selection process as difficult, time consuming, demanding and traumatic.

To create a climate that encourages leadership aspirations and increases actual application rates, it is important that both incentives and disincentives to promotion are addressed. As such, schools and education systems need to ensure that they implement strategies to both develop and support aspirants and simultaneously implement strategies to reduce or remove factors that inhibit leadership aspirations.


(1) Principal class is a position classification used by the Victorian Department of Education and Training and specifically refers to both principals and assistant principals, depending on the size of the school. The principal of a small school may be classified at a lower principal-class level than an assistant principal in a larger school.

(2) Christopher Day, Alma Harris, Mark Hadfield, Harry Tolley & John Beresford, Leading Schools in Times of Change, Open University Press, Buckingham, 2000.

(3) Samuel Carter, No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools, Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC, 2000; Thomas Sergiovanni, 'Leadership and excellence in schooling'. Educational Leadership, vol. 41, no. 5, 1984, 4-13; W. van de Grift & A. Houtveen, 'Educational leadership and pupil achievement in primary education', School Effectiveness and School Improvement, vol. 10, no. 4, 1999, 373-89.

(4) ERS, The Principal, Keystone of a High-Achieving School: Attracting and Keeping the Leaders We Need Education, Educational Research Service, Arlington, 2000, 6.

(5) ERS, 7; NAESP, Press Release, 'Study Confirms Powerful Link between the Principal and School Success', NAESP, available: www.naesp. org/comm/prss4-12-00.htm, 12 April 2000.

(6) John Howson, 'Head count troubles for primary schools', Times Education Supplement, 10 December 1999. Available: www.tes. [22 May 2000]; Stephen Jacobson, 'Future educational leaders: From where will they come?', in S. L. Jacobson & J. A. Conway (eds.), Educational Leadership in an Age of Reform, Longman, New York, 1990, 160-80; Daniel Jordan, Huey McCauley & Jill Comeaux, 'The Supply and Demand Trends of Public School Principals and Administrators in Southwestern Louisiana 1993-1997', ERIC document, 1994; Lynne Olson, 'Demand for principals growing but candidates aren't applying', Education Week on the Web, 13 March 1999. Available: (2000, 6 April); George Pawlas, 'Supply and Demand Trends for Elementary School Administrators in South Carolina from 1977 through 2002', Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the South Regional Council on Educational Administration, Columbia South Carolina, 1989; Nicholas Pyke, 'The shortage of deputies sparks crisis fears'. Times Educational Supplement, 6 June 1997; Jacques Steinberg, 'Nation's schools struggling to find enough principals--US', New York Times on the Web. Available:, 5 September 2000.

(7) Patrick Lawnham, 'Role call for head teachers', Weekend Australian, 5-6 August 2000, 13; Trevor Rootes, 'Declining applicants for the principalship: The Tasmanian response', Principal Matters, vol. 47, 2001, 14; VPF, vol. 5/2000 unattributed article in newsletter, VPF, Melbourne, 2000.

(8) Senate Employment Education and Training References Committee, A Class Act: Inquiry into the Status of the Teaching Profession (Committee report), Canberra: Senate Employment, Education and Training References Committee, 1998, 132.

(9) Lawnham.

(10) Viv Garrett & Bob McGeachie, 'Preparation for headship? The role of the deputy head in the primary school', School Leadership and Management, vol. 19, no. 1, 1999, 67-81; Rootes, 9.

(11) Nancy Leonard, Laura Beauvais & Richard Scholl, 'Work Motivation: The incorporation of self-concept-based processes', Human Relations, vol. 52, no. 8, 1999, 969-97.

(12) Pawlas, 1989.

(13) Sandra Barker, 'Is your successor in your schoolhouse? Finding principal candidates', NASSP Bulletin, vol. 81, no. 592, 1997, 85-91.

(14) Barker.

(15) Chris James & Denise Whiting, 'The career perspectives of deputy headteachers', Educational Management and Administration, vol. 26, no. 4, 1998, 353-62; Chris James & Denise Whiting, 'Headship? No thanks', Management in Education, vol. 12, no. 2, 1998, 12-14.

(16) James & Whiting, 'Headship? No thanks', 13.

(17) James & Whiting, 'Headship? No thanks'.

(18) ERS; Kathryn Whitaker, 'Superintendent Perceptions of Candidates for Leadership--Executive Summary, School Leadership--Victorian and International Perspectives', Hilton on the Park, Melbourne, 2000.

(19) Van Cooley & Jianping Shen, 'Who will lead? The top ten factors that influence teachers moving into administration', NASSP Bulletin, vol. 83, no. 606, 1999, 75-80.

(20) Marianne Coleman, 'Achievement against the odds: The female secondary headteachers in England and Wales', School Leadership and Management, vol. 21, no. 1, 2001, 75-100.

(21) Coleman, 83.

(22) Barbara Beaudin, Judith Thompson & Larry Jacobson, 'The administrator paradox: More certified fewer apply', American Education Research Association, New Orleans, 2002.

(23) Beaudin, et al., 14.

(24) Beaudin, et al., 24.

(25) Cooley & Shen.

(26) Whitaker.

(27) ERS.

(28) Tony d'Arbon, Patrick Duignan, Deidre Duncan & Kim-Maree Goodwin, 'Planning for the future leadership of Catholic Schools in New South Wales', BERA 2001 Annual Conference, Leeds, UK, 2001.

(29) d'Arbon, et al., 11.

(30) Rootes, 14.

(31) Charol Shakeshaft, Women in Educational Administration, Sage Publications, California, 1989.

(32) Shakeshaft.

(33) Kelvin Canavan, 'Leadership succession in Catholic schools: Planned or unplanned', Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, vol. 5, no. 1, 2001, 72-84.

(34) Michael Leibman, Ruth Bruer & Bill Maki, 'Succession management: The next generation of succession planning', Human Resource Planning, vol. 19, no. 3, 1996, 16-29.

(35) Brian Friedman, James Hatch & David Walker, Delivering on the Promise: How to Attract, Manage and Retain Human Capital, Simon & Schuster Inc, New York, 1998.

(36) Friedman, et al.; Leibman, et al.
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Title Annotation:EDUCATION
Author:Lacey, Kathy
Publication:Traffic (Parkville)
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Date:Jan 1, 2003
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