Principal Preparatory Programs: From Perceptions to Reality
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Principal preparation programs often leave aspiring leaders with misaligned perceptions of the role. The knowledge, skill set and attributes taught within preparation programs should accurately mirror the reality of the position. Because perceptions are developed from experiences, the following research question guided this study; are leadership preparatory programs equipping aspiring leaders with the knowledge, skill set, and attributes applicable to the real-world experience of school leadership? Principal preparation programs aim to give aspiring leaders the quality experience needed to feel ready for campus leadership, but often leave them with perceptions that vary from reality. The purpose of this study was to examine aspiring leaders’ preservice perceptions of the principalship based on their preparation programs, and compare those perceptions to their actual experiences as principals. This was a qualitative study with ten participants, comprising a convenience sample of nine assistant principals and one principal within their first through fifth year of the role, from ten elementary schools in a large suburban school district in Texas, Gavin ISD (pseudonym). The data were gathered through ten recorded one-on-one cognitive interviews, during which five questions were asked of the participants. The content analysis technique was utilized to transcribe the interviews for accuracy and the responses were analyzed for trends and commonalities relating to their principal preparation programs, which guided their perceptions of the role. The results of the study revealed that the preparation programs attended by the school leaders interviewed for this study, did not provide real-world experiences, were not rigorous and were misaligned with the realities of their current position. In conclusion, the cognitive interviews and research revealed that principal preparation programs are in need of revamping to become more aligned with real-world skills that will be applicable to the daily responsibilities of the campus leader.