When Teachers Talk – Intro

In March, 2014, I began the two-year journey of writing my dissertation for my doctorate in Organizational Development from the University of St. Thomas. Actually, our cohort (Cohort 5) started our first coursework in May 2008. My doctorate degree was awarded in March 2016, so the entire journey was just under eight years. There were times that I thought I’d never finish this “four-year” program. To be honest, the thought of NOT finishing was as big a motivator as finishing. I’m glad I stuck with it.

I went through a number of possible topics before I landed on this one. I am quite interested in negotiations, so that topic dominated my preliminary ideas. I wanted a topic that was meaningful, doable, and personal. I spent time with a veteran principal as he transitioned from a middle school to an elementary school. The teacher union president kept telling me good things about what this principal was doing and how much the teachers liked what he was doing. So it made sense to ask them about their experience during this transition. So I titled the research, Transitioning to a New Principal From the Teachers’ Perspective: An Interpretive Case Study. And I was off and running.

I chose  the methodology of interpretive case study. If you want to read more about it, refer to Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research.  To summarize my approach, I wanted readers to say to themselves after reading my dissertation, “Ah, that was what it was like to be a teacher in this school during this principal transition.”

I set out to answer these two research questions:

  1. What was the experience of teachers in a Minnesota elementary public school during the transition to a new principal, a transition which was reported to be positive?
  2. What was the perception of teachers about the principal’s role in making the transition a positive experience?

A few things to note:

  • This was a single case study; it involved only one school in Minnesota. A broader study would have involved multiple cases in other schools. For my research, I wanted to go deep into one case, and make the research doable, so I stuck with one.
  • The subject of the research was the teacher experience during a principal transition, not the principal. This is important to note, as you will see that teachers wanted to talk more about the principal and what he did than their own experience.
  • The transition was reported by the teachers to be positive. I believe that this makes the case exceptional, because the high degree to which teachers reported liking what happened was rare.
  • Last, I did not try to assert a cause-and-effect relationship between what the principal did and how that affected teachers. I merely reported what the teachers perceived about the principal’s role.

I will leave you with this thought, which we’ll pick up on next time. Chapter Two of my dissertation was dedicated to an extensive literature review. The most relevant thing I discovered was this: I found NO research to date that focused on the teacher experience when a new principal is hired. That itself is significant. I believe this is because educators have accepted the fact that we really don’t want to know (or we think we already know) what teachers go through. Teaching is a difficult profession.

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