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Abstract: This paper presents an international perspective on successful principals. Data from the International Successful School Principals' Project, now in its sixth year and presently in eight nations and over sixty schools, along with a critical review of the international literature on successful principals provide the basis for a discussion of both similarities and dissimilarities across nations. A strong values orientation relating to clear instrumental and broad moral purposes, along with other similar attributes, qualities, and strategies, recur as common denominators. Five combinations of these are identified. However, the relative emphases which are placed upon their use varies according to the principals' or their schools' phase of development and the demands of the broader policy and demographic contexts.
In conducting research into the school principalship over a number of years, it is possible to identify the ways in which social and policy contexts that affect the learning and working conditions in schools change and, with these, their effects upon the leadership roles of principals. The ways in which successful principals and their staff respond to the challenges of continuing to focus upon engaging students in learning while planning for and implementing an increasing number of changes related to external change or reform agendas reflect professionalism of a high order. For such principals and their staff, both moral and instrumental purposes and successes are defined more by internal accountability (Elmore, 2006) for high standards than by the often temporary and ill thought out ideologies of policy makers. This is not only true in the United Kingdom, but in most other countries around the world. These successful principals and their staff are not obdurate, inflexible resisters to change. On the contrary, they embrace it, so long as in their professional judgment, it adds value to the education of all the students in their schools. In doing so, they demonstrate sustained commitment and passion for their work under what are often intellectually and emotionally challenging circumstances. More importantly, they demonstrate resilience over time (Giles, 2006; Day & Gu, 2007).
This discussion of what we know about the ways in which successful principals lead and manage forms the substance of this short, critical overview of what being a successful principal (really) means right now. These data come from two key sources: (i) the International Successful School Principals' Project (ISSPP), now in its sixth year and involving more than sixty schools in eight countries (Day & Leithwood, 2007); and (ii) a critical international literature review of the research on successful principal leadership (Leithwood, Day, Sammons, Harris, & Hopkins, 2006). The discussion will build upon these by proposing that there is no one model for the successful principalship. Rather, successful principals possess a strong and well articulated values orientation that is related to clear instrumental and broad moral purposes where not only is the functional for the sake of the personal, and the personal achieved through the functional, but the influence of the personal on the functional is transformative of it (MacMurray, 1961). In achieving success, principals draw upon a range of qualities, strategies and skills and apply combinations of these differentially according to their values, diagnosis of current contextual needs and future aspirations in order to ensure that their schools are both morally and instrumentally successful.
Successful Principals: The Limits of Research
Successful principals exist in all countries. Yet even now relatively little is known about what constitutes success (as distinct from effective ness) and how success is achieved and sustained in different cultures and in different socio-economic contexts.
Success includes, but is more than, effectiveness. Whereas the latter (associated with observable behaviors and outcomes which are quantifiable), is always part of the former, the former is not necessarily a part of the latter. In general, we may say that "effectiveness" is associated with instrumental outcomes of students (tests, examination results), whereas success is associated with these in addition to positive personal and social outcomes, well-being, and equity. In others words, success is more all encompassing, more complex to discern than the sets of bullet points, good advice, and other indicators so readily available from the plethora of school effectiveness research, policy documents, and training and development …