The nature of rural school administrators work
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The Nature of Rural School Administrators’ Work. D. Cameron Hauseman, Ph.D. Candidate OISE/UT Dr. Katina Pollock, Associate Professor Asma Ahmed, Patricia L. Briscoe, Michael Mindzak & Donna Hazel-Swapp Western University CCEAM/CASEA – June 7, 2014. Purpose.

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The Nature of Rural School Administrators’ Work

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The nature of rural school administrators work

The Nature of Rural School Administrators’ Work

D. Cameron Hauseman, Ph.D. Candidate


Dr. Katina Pollock, Associate Professor

Asma Ahmed, Patricia L. Briscoe,

Michael Mindzak & Donna Hazel-Swapp

Western University

CCEAM/CASEA – June 7, 2014



  • Using the revised Ontario Leadership Framework (OLF) as a guide, this paper seeks to document how rural principals spend their time and describe any challenges and possibilities their work presents to them.

  • The perceptions of 18 rural principals are compared and contrasted with those of 52 principals from urban and suburban population centres who also participated in this study.

  • This research is designed to deepen the collective understanding of the current nature and characteristics of school principals’ work in rural contexts.



  • Data is from phase one of a larger, three-phase study. Phase one involved conducting 70 interviews with 70 school principals. was completed in April, 2013.

  • This paper focuses on comparing responses from 19 rural principals interviewed as part of that initial phase and 51 urban and suburban principals who participated.



A diverse sample of principals participated:

•10 of the 19 principals interviewed self-identified as female, 9 self-identified as male.

•12 had at least five years of experience, 7 were new to the role.

•All rural principals were employed in elementary schools.

•All rural, urban and suburban principals self-identified as white.

•Rural school sizes ranged from ~175 – 500 students.



Three parts:

  • Understanding of the term, “rural”;

  • The notion of work; and

  • Ontario Leadership Framework (Leithwood, 2012; IEL, 2008) - five domains:

    • Setting Directions;

    • Building Relationships;

    • Developing the Organization;

    • Improving the Instructional Program; and

    • Securing Accountability.

Findings setting directions

Findings - Setting Directions

  • Principals in rural regions indicated they set directions by:

    • Encouraging staff to work together and building morale;

    • Using of student achievement data to identify shared short-term goals and pinpoint gaps in understanding at the school-level; and

    • Targeted PD for teachers

    • Differences between urban/suburban and rural principals:

    • Creating an environment conducive for collaboration and modelling were important strategies for all principals, though to a much lesser degree for those working in rural settings

Findings building relationships

Findings – Building Relationships

  • Principals indicated building relationships using the following strategies:

    • Supporting personal and professional needs of staff;

    • Being visible and available; and

    • Transparency

  • Few differences between rural principals and the rest of the sample, though urban principals spoke more about building relationships by fostering a positive learning environment.

Findings developing the organization

Findings – Developing the Organization

  • All principals interviewed spoke of modelling collaboration to develop the organization at their schools.

  • Responses were similar across the sample, though urban principals indicated allocating resources to support student monetary needs, which was not mentioned by any of the suburban or rural principals interviewed.

Findings improving the instructional program

Findings – Improving the Instructional Program

  • Rural principals cited the following strategies as key to improving the instructional program at their schools.

    • Observing instruction;

    • Analyzing data; and

    • Providing instructional support for staff

  • There were few differences between these responses and those offered by the urban/suburban principals who participated.

Findings securing accountability

Findings – Securing Accountability

  • Build a sense of personal or internal accountability amongst staff by:

    • Visibility, transparency and maintaining open communication with staff.

  • Meet the demands of accountability from external stakeholders (district, parents, guardians, community) by:

    • Disseminating results of student achievement measures, such as large-scale assessments.



  • Surprising that population of the community surrounding the school had little influence on the leadership practices enacted by principals in rural, urban and suburban contexts

  • “Checklisty” nature of the OLF has meshed with other reforms to lead to a perceived erosion of power and decision-making authority for some principals.

  • Insight into PD needs for rural principals:

    • Communication, emotional intelligence and collaborating leadership would assist rural principals in building relationships.



Directions for future research:

  • Explore whether these similarities in the leadership practices enacted by rural and urban/suburban principals extends to other potentially moderating factors, such as:

    • Gender;

    • Level of education;

    • Panel (elementary or secondary school); and

    • SES of the community surrounding the school

    • Observations of principals’ work in all of these different contexts to add legitimacy to the interview data.



  • Despite prior research highlighting differences in context, there were few differences in the leadership practices and work content enacted by rural principals and their urban/suburban counterparts.

  • The OLF has combined with changes in the external environment and policy shifts to slowly chip away at principals’ autonomy and limit the role of professional judgment in their work

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