The silenced voices of principals : a narrative case study of principal perspectives throughout complex crises and their resilience.

Abstract

K–12 school principals experience multiple crises throughout their careers, ranging from natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic, threats of violence, and school shootings. As the face of the school, principals must navigate these crises while maintaining the everyday responsibilities of being a principal. These crisis events disrupt the learning environment and place principals in situations that they may not understand how to overcome. Unfortunately, principal preparation programs and district principal professional development provide little support for principals’ well-being, including their mental health and level of resilience. This narrative, multiple-case study personified the principal’s journey through complex crises, illuminating the support necessary for principals to develop resilience to overcome adversity. Five K–12 principals in Texas shared their unique experiences and personal journeys through crises and reflected on their resilience throughout the process. Each of the five principal case descriptions aligned with the resilience cycle framework of deteriorating, adapting, recovering, and growing (Patterson & Kelleher, 2005). Weaving the story of each principal’s experience with a complex crisis using a thematic narrative analysis allowed alignment with the framework’s cycle and helped identify additional issues with the support needed for crisis leadership. Moreover, principals identified their own levels of support that strengthened their well-being as they experienced their school-related crisis events. The thematic narrative analysis and cross-case analysis highlighted three key themes that supported principals as they lived through their crisis, made decisions throughout the crisis, and eventually overcame their crisis experience: (a) deteriorating and adapting: teamwork is a necessity, (b) recovering: self-awareness is crucial, and (c) growing: the show must go on. These three themes supported the framework’s cycle as each participant described their crisis experiences as they related to the resilience cycle. Finally, five assertions about the ways in which principals navigate complex crises offered an understanding of the support needed before, during, and after the crisis event.

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