Supporting first-time middle leaders in New Zealand primary schools

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Shaw, Nicholas
Author ORCID Profiles (clickable)
Master of Educational Leadership and Management
Unitec Institute of Technology
Bassett, Martin
Marshall, Steven
Masters Thesis
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
New Zealand
primary schools
middle level leaders
educational leadership
Shaw, N. (2016). Supporting first-time middle leaders in New Zealand primary schools. An unpublished thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Educational Leadership and Management, Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand.
Middle leaders in New Zealand primary schools play a substantial part in the teaching of students and leadership of staff yet there is little understanding of how they are developed and supported when first taking on such a role. My research sought to identify the expectations of first-time middle leaders, the challenges they face, and the support and leadership development they received. As the information I was seeking existed in the minds and experiences of primary school middle leaders I adopted an interpretive approach as my epistemology. This approach provided substantial descriptive and subjective data,analysed using a qualitative methodology. A focus group of four primary school principals was employed to gather their expectations of first-time middle leaders as well as the challenges and development middle leaders have from a senior leadership perspective. I conducted semi-structured interviews with six first-time middle leaders to gather their experiences. A documentary analysis was also used to help confirm the data from the interviews and focus group. My research found that first-time middle leaders were expected to carry out a wide range of responsibilities and they were not always best prepared to carry out their often ambiguous roles. Several first-time middle leaders were also found to have self-doubt regarding their leadership performance and felt the need to prove themselves. This was apparent even though the support the first-time middle leaders received from their principals and deputy principals was sizeable and appreciated. The limited understanding of leadership development by both organisations and individuals was also evident and this was reflected in the leadership development practices. Middle leaders play an important role in the operations of a school and the learning of students. It is essential then that they are prepared, supported and developed for the role both prior to taking it on and ongoing throughout their practice. A mentoring programme similar to that of a Beginning Teacher or the First-time Principals Programme would go a long way towards providing first-time middle leaders with the preparation, skills and understanding of leadership required for such a role.
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