Principal Sensemaking of Inclusion: A Multi-Case Study of Five Urban Principals

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This study examined how five principals working in one urban school district made sense of inclusion. I employed a multi-case study guided by the theoretical framework of sensemaking. Weick's sensemaking theory was useful in examining the way principals made sense of inclusion. Each of the seven characteristics of Weick's sensemaking theory was present throughout the data. The findings from this study revealed that principals were heavily constrained by their organizational environment and that identity construction took a lead role in influencing the way principals enacted their environments and made sense of inclusion. Principal attitudes and values around inclusion were often ignored as principals struggled with the constraints of budget shortfalls and severe behaviors from students with disabilities. The findings from this study have implications for policy, school leadership, and future research. Policymakers must be aware of the constraints within urban schools in order to effectively motivate principals to implement inclusion. Professional development for principals can utilize sensemaking theory to analyze case studies and help principals establish habits of mind to better make sense of their perceived constraints and organizational environments. Principals can learn from these case studies to budget and staff schools in ways that support inclusion and to construct alternative meanings to information they select from their school. Finally, future research on principal sensemaking of inclusion should include an assessment of principal knowledge and expertise of inclusion, a program evaluation of inclusion to determine the relationship of sensemaking to inclusion implementation, and the influence of gender, race, age, and experience on principals' identity construction.