Chapter III


Presentation and Analysis of Finding



           This chapter will present the analysis of the principal surveys that were sent to all women principals in Clarkston County and the data collected from a series of interviews with selected women principals.  Critique is the lifeblood of effective leadership (Brubaker, 1994) and one of the subtle dynamics involved in bringing excellence to critique is discernment.  To discern is to see clearly or differentiate the important from the less important (Brubaker, 1994).  Making such a judgment depends on the uniqueness of the context.  The researcher has chosen to discern from the surveys and interviews information that provides an understanding as to how the work requirements of principals affect their quality of life.

          The following analyses and interpretations of the interviews are based on data collected from each of the selected women principals:  1) During the initial focused interview, each participant responded to a single prompt:  ďI am interested in learning how the work requirements of principals affect their quality of life. Tell me your storyĒ; 2) Following the initial focused interview, principals were asked to reflect on an incident of special significance, which served as a catalyst for clarifying and understanding how the role of being a principal affected their quality of life.  The report was designed to heighten each respondentís awareness of a specific incident as it related to the investigation.  Each principal had full authority for the selection of the incident; 3) A second focused interview with each principal was conducted based upon the data collected.  Priority was given to corroborate certain facts previously established in an attempt to fill in the gaps.

Each interview was analyzed and interpreted: 1) intertextually, locating the participantís own points of emphasis; 2) by contrast and comparison with the other participantís interviews; and 3) intratexually, across all of the interviews in an attempt to identify commonalities and differences in each of their stories.  Quoted passages were chosen to remain as close to the actual text of the interviews as possible.  The identities of the principals and the details of their lives have been disguised, however, the researcher has sought to preserve the essence of their characters and life dilemmas within the case stories.


Overview of School System and Selected Women Principals


            The Clarkston County school district includes 62 elementary schools, 18 middle schools, 14 high schools, three special schools, and three administrative sites.  The school system includes over 2,200 acres of land, and 280 buildings with more than eight million square feet of space.  Schools within the system are both rural and urban with a current enrollment of 63,088 students and approximately 8,000 employees.  The system is the stateís third largest school district and the second largest employer in a 12-county area. 


Analysis of Principal Surveys

            The survey, Women Principals: Their Paths to Success, was distributed to all women principals in Clarkston County.  The survey was adapted from a survey about the paths to the top for women administrators in education by Gupton and Slick (1996). It gathered demographic data about each principal in addition to specific information about their personal paths to success in the principalship.  Responses to the survey were kept anonymous in an effort to allow freedom and honesty in the replies.  Based upon the information gathered in these surveys, the researcher conducted interviews with selected women principals.

 In analyzing the demographic data, the information shown in Figure 1 represents the breakdown of age and number of participants from the survey.  Fifty-four surveys were sent to all women principals in Clarkston County and twenty-six were returned for a response rate of 48.1%.  Of the twenty-six responses, six were African American and twenty Caucasian.  The data shown in Figure 2 indicates the number of principals that are single, married, or divorced.  This figure also shows the number of times the principals have been married and the number of children they have. 

When the women principals surveyed were asked why they decided to become a school administrator the responses included: wanting a new challenge, encouragement from others, a need to grow professionally, to be able to use their leadership talents to enhance the school environment for students and staff, to help teachers do their jobs more effectively, to help more children achieve academic success, higher salaries, and to serve and guide a greater number of people toward a productive life in society.  Although the average age that all of these women entered administration was thirty-eight, it was interesting to notice the difference in specific breakdowns.  For example, the average age for women entering administration between the current ages of thirty and forty-four was twenty-nine while the average age for women entering administration between the current ages of forty-five and older was forty-one years old.  There appears to be a current trend for school administrators to begin their careers at an earlier age.  The future years will indicate whether or not principals that start an administrative career early are able to maintain that career to retirement. 

When barriers were addressed in regard to securing a job as a principal, age and lack of experience were issues for younger women principals.  Overall, most women did not perceive any barriers to securing their job as principals.  The issues shifted to gender, race, and politics for women principals over fifty years of age.  Barriers encountered in educational leadership that were gender related consisted of working for predominately male supervisors, having few female mentors, handling the dual role of principal and mother, and the perception that female principals would not be tough enough for the job.  Some barriers women principals found while advancing in educational administration included changes in administrative teams and philosophies, resistance by spouses, and paying ones dues before moving ahead. 

The barrier that surfaced consistently in relation to balancing family and career and maintaining a healthy lifestyle was time constraints of the job.  It was difficult for regular exercise schedules to be maintained, nutritious meals to be prepared and most of all quality time to be spent with family.  A constant challenge became finding successful ways to address the high stress levels of the job.  Among the methods and coping strategies these women principals used for reducing stress were:  laughter, monthly massages, not taking work home, talking with close friends, focusing on positives, spending time with family, exercising, reading, listening to music, being organized, taking time off to get out of town, daily meditation, hot tub baths, gardening, keeping things in perspective, and letting go of the things that they canít control. 

Although most women acknowledged greater representation by women in educational administration and found women to be well represented in the Clarkston County system, they almost always identified the difficulty many women felt about the impact of their career on their family.  The following is a list of the best advice some of the principals gave to other women aspiring to positions of educational administration:


        Remember where you came from so you can make informed decisions about where you are going.


        Focus on your goals.  Believe in your capacity to make positive changes in education. 


        Take care of yourself so you can be at your best for yourself, your family, and your profession.


        Always do what is best for the students. 


        Treat others the way you want to be treated. 


        Work and play hard.


        Take care of your family throughout your career.  Never let them think you donít know their importance in your life.


        Women often have a hard time working for women.  Be strong, positive, caring, and true to your own values.


        You need to be open-minded, fair, and honest.  You also need to be assertive, but not aggressive.


        Be willing to work long hours.


        Have a tough skin and a heart filled with love.


        Know thyself and to thy own self be true.


        Have a personal vision and mission. 


        Be focused and be yourself.  Understand your role and learn the expectations of your school.


        View conflict as feedback and learn from it. 


        Remember you cannot accomplish anything alone.  Be a team leader and team member. 


        Value the people you lead, develop trust, and respect differences.


        Take risks.




        Eliminate doubts by sharing your success. 


        Keep everything in perspective.


        Always put your family and children first.


        Be knowledgeable about leadership, teaching, and curriculum.  Be an effective communicator.


        Women must constantly prove themselves.  The job becomes your life, so decide if you are ready to feel the conflict of needing to be at work when you are with your family and needing to be with your family when you are at work.


        Take one day at a time.


        Donít give up.


        Find strong mentors.  Network with others.


        Donít take yourself too serious and save time for yourself.


        Be aware of your strengths and areas for development.  Learn as much as possible. 


        Keep a balance in your life and keep a sense of humor.


            As the principals reflected upon their journey into administration and their life in the principalship, the statements and advice they shared were genuine and sincere.  They provided encouragement for others as they encounter the paradigm shift of leadership, which calls for a gentler, more values-oriented, integrative approach to leading.


Julie Lynne Vandiver, Ed.D., is an Educational Administrator in Greensboro, NC. She's a North Carolina Principal Fellow (Class of 2000) and a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her professional interests include best practices for educational leadership and the effects of testing and accountability on teaching and learning.  


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