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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Watch this space: forthcoming research on leadership aspirations of Australian teachers

Kathy Lacey and Peter Gronn

Over the last decade there has been escalating concern in the education community about the decline in the number of teachers aspiring to principal class positions. Evidence suggests that Australian government schools are experiencing difficulties in recruiting principals (Gronn and Rawlings 2003), a problem exacerbated by an ageing workforce.

This is not a problem confined to Australia, for similar difficulties are being experienced in the USA, Canada, the UK and New Zealand.* It may well be that current recruitment patterns are evidence of a new phenomenon: teacher disengagement from leadership.

In 2002, Kathy Lacey completed a major study for the Victorian Department of Education and Training. Dr Lacey is now working with Professor Peter Gronn at Monash University on two projects that promise to extend her findings.

Project one

The first project is designed to track the experience of recent graduates from professional development programs in school leadership at Monash University. The project will seek to establish why some teachers aspire to principalship, and to identify the factors that trigger, block or stifle aspirations. The findings will have implications for policy-makers in identifying and nurturing future principal aspirants.

Since 1997, Monash University's Faculty of Education has provided a suite of professional development leadership programs for three metropolitan regions of the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DE&T). These programs are designed to link with the Faculty's Master of Education (School Leadership) degree and other M.Ed. degrees. The 2003 and 2004 programs attracted applications from primary, secondary and specialist teachers, and from males and females. In both years about 80-90 expressions of interest were received, from which approximately 30 teachers were selected for the courses.

A wide range of teachers from each program have volunteered to take part in the current research. They include male and female teachers from primary, secondary and P-12 settings, and range in age from 30-50, with 10 to 30 years of teaching experience.

The project will be run in three phases during 2004. In Phase one, each participant will take part in a one hour taped interview that will cover their career aspirations and planning, their involvement in the principal aspirant professional development program, and their perception of the program's impact on them.

Following their interviews, each principal aspirant will be asked to maintain a professional journal, recording factors such as their participation in professional development activities, discussions with their principal or assistant principal, observations of leaders and events at school, personal life incidents, community incidents and meetings with a mentor. These journals will be maintained for the four terms of the school year, with weekly entries.

Phase two, beginning in July, will comprise a series of focus group interviews that will explore further the data from the first interviews and the journal entries. Late in 2004, the final phase will conclude the data gathering stage, with a second round of one-to-one interviews with each participant.

Project two

The focus of the second project will once again be on teachers' leadership aspirations, in particular their aspirations for the principalship. Professor Peter Gronn has been awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant to investigate school principal recruitment. Building on Lacey's (2003) earlier research in Victoria, the project will be conducted in the government school sectors of three Australian states.

Qualitative and quantitative methods will be used to ascertain whether the principalship is part of teachers' professional goals. The research will identify subjective and objective factors that support or inhibit teachers' principalship aspirations. In particular, it will establish the positive and negative impact of teachers' career profiles and the impact of their own perceptions of leadership on the pursuit of principalship.

The research will investigate factors such as age, differences in the career intentions between various groups of teachers, and the factors that triggered recently-departed principals to resign. The research will include focus groups, survey and interviews. Data collection will take place in three States during 2004-2005.

During term two 2004, focus group interviews will be held involving primary and secondary assistant/deputy principals, and leading teachers or their equivalents. To maximise the participation of teachers in remote locations, a number of these interviews will utilise teleconferencing.

Later in 2004, teachers in the three States will complete an online survey. This survey will specifically target assistant/deputy principals, leading teachers or their equivalent, and other teachers. The survey respondents will be given the opportunity to participate in phase three of the project. During this phase, a series of in-depth tape-recorded interviews will be conducted.

The project team is keen to contact two sub-types of respondents. First, there are potential principal 'refusers' i.e. teachers who either identify themselves or are perceived by their peers/superiors as embodying the profile of principal, but who disavow the role. Second, there are 'late bloomers', particularly women in their mid-40s, such as those identified by Lacey (2003) as having experienced a latent career awakening, perhaps due to the influence of a mentor, who now wish to pursue the principalship.

The project team is also keen to contact other interviewees whose views might shed light on why the principal role appears to be increasingly unattractive. This group might include those members of the teaching service who left suddenly, either involuntarily through illness or for other 'well-being' related reasons, or when the incentive to continue in the role waned.

The findings are expected to provide a firm evidence base for future leadership succession planning and strategies. Findings will also assist in the design and tailoring of professional development programs for the strengthening of leadership capacity.

* See the special issue of the Australian Journal of Education, vol 47, no. 2, 2003, guest-edited by Professor Gronn, for a summary of global developments.


Gronn, P. and F. Rawlings (2003). 'Principal Recruitment in a Climate of Leadership Disengagement.' Australian Journal of Education 47(2): 172-184.

Lacey, K. (2003) Factors that Impact on Principal-Class Leadership Aspirations PhD University of Melbourne

Subject Headings

Professional development
School principals