An Examination of Principals' Leadership Practices: Perspectives of Those Who Teach the Academically Gifted and the Academically Challenged in Inclusion Classrooms

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Today, President Obama's "Blueprint for Education Reform" places the principal as the key player in raising academic standards and improving learning for all students. Research has been done on the role of the school principal in school effectiveness and school improvement at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. However, very little research has focused on the judgments of teachers who teach students from opposite ends of the academic spectrum in inclusive classrooms. The focus of this study was to learn about the teachers' judgments of the principal's role in school leadership and the impact that the principals' leadership practices have on the academic program for gifted and challenged students.

Literature regarding leadership practices from the perspectives of teachers who teach the academically gifted or the academically challenged is limited; however, over the past decade it has been reported that the practices of principals exert a powerful influence on teacher quality and student learning (Cotton, 2003; Quinn, 2002). For this study, the data were collected using a mixed-method approach that included both quantitative and qualitative methods. The data were gathered through the use of a survey and focus groups.

The conceptual framework of this study is grounded in the belief that principals make a difference in school effectiveness, student achievement and school improvement. This theoretical perspective was developed by Powell (2004) who concluded that principals make a significant and measurable contribution to the learning process as well as the school's direction, vision, mission, curriculum and classroom instruction. Powell argued that leadership behaviors and practices fall within five domains: Vision, Mission, and Culture; Curriculum and Classroom Instruction; Collaboration and Shared Leadership; Family and Community Involvement; and Effective Management.

The findings were as follows: In Domains 1, 3, 4, and 5, there were statistically significant differences in teachers' views of the principal's leadership. The teachers of the gifted students believed the principal was more helpful than did the teachers of the academically challenged. In Domain 2, there was no statistically significant difference in their judgments. Qualitative findings from the focus groups supported the conclusions of the quantitative part of the study.