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Spirituality in principal leadership and its influence on teachers and teaching

Spirituality in educational leadership has received renewed interest in the past decade. A growing body of literature claims that spirituality can make a difference in leadership practice. Spirituality is a complex and controversial human phenomenon, the meaning of which may be shaped and re-shaped by diverse perspectives and experiences. It includes personal, social-cultural and transcendent connectedness, meaning making about life and living, and a desire to move towards greater authenticity between beliefs, moral-values, attitudes and actions. My interest in spirituality in educational leadership relates to my professional background as a primary school teacher, lecturer in teacher education, and because of who I am as a Christian. The focus of my research inquiry was, ‘What might the phenomenon of spirituality in principal leadership and its influence on teachers and teaching be perceived to mean, in three public primary school contexts? Based on my literature review I decided to take an open position on the definition of spirituality. I chose an interpretive constructivist paradigm and a singular case study to explore my research question. My field work involved twelve participants, comprising three principals and nine teachers from three public primary schools in the North Island of New Zealand. This qualitative and triangulated research design enabled me to explore spirituality in principal leadership from the lived experiences of the participants. Data was gathered through three procedures across a one year period, namely semi-structured interviews, supported by overt non-participant observations, and principal reflective journals. A cyclical, inductive and reflexive method of analysis was applied to the data resulting in four key themes being identified. The findings showed that the principals believed their personal meanings of spirituality were integrated, filtered and fitted into a range of professional tasks, the modelling of leadership styles and contributed to their resilience. They also believed their spirituality was reciprocally influenced by their school contexts. Teacher participants affirmed that spirituality in principal leadership could be positively influential when expressed appropriately and accompanied with integrity, quality care for others and professional competence. Teacher participants attributed predominantly positive emotional and practical effects to spirituality in their principal’s leadership with some teachers expressing ambivalence and a few describing incidences which resulted in some negative feelings. These findings affirm claims in the literature regarding the integrated nature of spirituality and its positive contribution to leader resilience. The findings also reveal nuanced insights into the effects of school contexts and the ways that spirituality in principal leadership was perceived by teachers to be influential. Identified through the research process was the difficulty teacher participants had in apportioning influence to spirituality in principal leadership as an integrated dimension of the person who leads. One implication from the findings is that educational leaders might find spirituality useful as another lens or learning tool through which they can critically examine their professional practice. The thesis concludes with a recommendation that further research be conducted into exploring the meaning of teachers’ spirituality and the influence this might have on their teaching.
Type of thesis
Gibson, A. R. (2011). Spirituality in principal leadership and its influence on teachers and teaching (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5176
University of Waikato
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