From the blueprints of student architects: Specifications for building effective principals

Karen L Dunlap, University of Texas at El Paso


The primary purpose of this qualitative study is to examine, through the eyes of high school students, attributes and characteristics of effective campus principals. Five broad research bands form the study's foundation: (1) writings recognizing the role of the student voice in decision making, (2) principal preparation program reviews, (3) writings on high school reform, (4) leadership theory, and (5) role theory. ^ Traditional methods of creating frameworks to guide leadership development are often derived from the focused input of recognized experts in the field—specifically practitioners, professors, members of professional organizations, and policy makers. While viewpoints and expertise of acknowledged craftsmen are certainly essential; certain stakeholder groups are typically absent from discussions concerning the ideal qualities and proficiencies of school leaders. Input from other constituents with vested interests in how principals approach their jobs is also warranted. This study examines the perceptions of effective campus leadership from the vantagepoint of students, one group whose opinions on the matter have not traditionally been sought. ^ As primary consumers in the educational system, students can provide insights into making schools more effective if their opinion is considered in the decision-making process. Students envision an effective school as one led by a principal who believes they are more than passive recipients of knowledge and potential disrupters needing to be controlled. Indeed, the support of the principal is seen as the pivotal factor in the reconfiguration of schools with students involved in mainstream decision making. Students state successful principals interact with students, build an optimal learning environment, foster meaningful relationships, communicate effectively and use input solicited from students. Therefore, students, as members of the high school community, enhance the effectiveness of principals who not only recognize their leadership potential, but nurture and support it as well. ^ Eleventh and twelfth grade students from three high school campuses in a large urban southwestern city provide the participant pool for both individual and focus group interview sessions. From coded transcriptions of the audiotaped interviews, critical themes and issues identified by study participants at each individual campus are presented in addition to a cross-case analysis of themes emerging from all high schools participating in the study. ^

Subject Area

Education, Administration

Recommended Citation

Dunlap, Karen L, "From the blueprints of student architects: Specifications for building effective principals" (2000). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI9970433.