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Characteristics of Effective School Principals Lokman Mohd Tahir; Hamdan Said Faculty of Education Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Skudai, 81310, Johore. Hamidon A. Rahman Institut Aminuddin Baki, 69000, Sri Layang, Genting Highlands Abstract Researchers in the area of principalship have concluded that schools are effectively good as their principals.

Despite some influential work of the effective schools research, Malaysians school principals are urged by the our former Directors General of Education, Datuk Abdul Rafie Mahat to lead the schools with effective leadership to ensure that the bearing and tone of the schools are implemented successfully aligned with students’ needs, national priorities and vision. Being as the most powerful and influential individual in schools, the principal has been the focus of discussion in the initiatives to increase the effective and quality of our schools.

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With the wide array of research about the effective characteristics of school principals, various models have been introduced and tested to identify the most significant applicable effective characteristics for our multicultural ethics-based schools. This study was introduced as part of a study to determine, describe and identify the attributes of effective characteristics of school principals through the eyes and responses of the school principals and their teachers.

Specifically, this pragmatic research approach was designed in answering the following questions: what are the ideal characteristics that effective school principals must possess? ; what excellent leadership styles that influenced teachers commitment to the schools. The participants for this study were 35 principals and 1,705 teachers in the state of Johore from five types of schools namely the technical and vocational schools, religious schools, the sport school, boarding schools and normal schools.

In addition, five school principals and a senior school principal were interviewed to provide in-depth perspectives about the ideal characteristics of effective schools principals. The finding and implications of this study express fruitful evidence that more qualified and experienced teachers should be selected as school principals while personal characteristics and leadership attributes of school principals have significant impacts towards improving teachers’ commitment.

Introduction The introduction of National Educational Blueprint namely Pelan Induk Pembangunan Pendidikan marked the significant national mission and vision towards more knowledgeable, skillful, ethical, responsible and proactive Malaysians as our future workforce. In realizing the national mission, the role of school principals is considered as the first and foremost important person in ensuring the effectiveness of the school and efficiency in running the school (Rahimah 2004).

The statement remarks the accountability of the principals in managing school as an educational institution in nurturing students, instilling the values of ancestors while at the same time adjusting the demands of the present that is our mission and National Education Philosophy. Researchers in the area of principalship concluded that schools are effectively good as their principals.

Despite some influential work of the effective schools research, Malaysians school principals are urged by our former Director General of Education, Datuk Abdul Rafie Mahat (2001) to lead the schools with effective leadership to ensure that the bearing and tone of the schools are implemented successfully aligned with students’ needs, national priorities and vision (Amer and Khuan, 2004). Being the most powerful and influential individual in schools, the principal has been the focus of discussion in the initiatives to increase the effectiveness and quality of our schools.

Recent studies point to significant correlation between the effective principals and leadership with school effectiveness and achievements (Williams 2008; Leithwood et al. 2006; Cotton 2003). Earlier studies also concluded that some principals are more effective that other school principals (Bryk et al. 1998; Haberman 1999). However, to date, past research provided very little data about the characteristics, skills, knowledge and dispositions, motivations that characterize on what the ideal attributes of the effective principals.

Amer and Khuan (2004) pointed that majority of empirical studies that were conducted in Malaysia does not list detail description and comprehensive understanding the attributes of effective school principals. The objectives of this study were to identify the characteristics of effective school principals specifically in Johore and to ascertain the characteristics and leadership style that enhance teachers, commitment towards the schools. With the wide array of research about the effective characteristics of school rincipals, various models have been introduced and tested to identify the most significant applicable effective characteristics for our multicultural ethics-based schools. This study was introduced as part of a study to determine, describe and identify the attributes of effective characteristics of school principals through the perspectives and responses of the school principals and their teachers. The nature of this study is to determine and to describe the key components of effective competencies and attributes that should be possessed by the school principals through the eyes of the principals and teachers.

Specifically, the research questions were addressed: a. What are the ideal characteristics that school principals need to possess? b. Are leadership styles and attributes of school principals influenced teachers’ commitment? Issues and perceptions of Effective Leadership Much of the prior research on leadership in educational institutions has focused primarily on analyses that involve the leaders’ perception of their own performance, leadership style, effectiveness, or the perception of their effectiveness evaluated by their superiors (Rosser 2003).

Although superiors’ and subordinates evaluations are considered perceptual and may subjected to bias, learning the perceptions of those work with and for leaders is vital to understanding their effectiveness. Measuring the effectiveness of leaders in the school setting is considered as a matter of perception. There are few shared norms about appropriate outcome measure for leaders in the educational context, unlike leaders in the area of business in which their performance may be assessed based on profit and growth.

In fact, there is no commonly accepted definition of effective leadership in schools, and even less agreement about which aspect about which aspects of a definition may be most important to leadership effectiveness ( Bensimon & Newmann 1993; Rosser 2003). The issues of perceptions of effectiveness are based on what leaders say and do; that is grounded in the individual’s experience with leaders’ behavior, either directly and indirectly. From this experience, individuals determine whether their leaders are considered effective or ineffective.

Perception may even be collected from a defined group of individuals in order to evaluate the leader’s performance because its channel to a high stakes evaluation and lead to promotion and dismissal. In order to determine the leadership effectiveness, we must understand that how teachers, as well as other individuals, construct their notions of effective leadership are based on their or within the organization itself (Rosser 2003). The conceptual framework The conceptual framework for this study was derived from the four integration leadership model developed by Bolman and Deal (1998).

Bolman and Deal identified four perspectives called frames: human resource, structural, political and symbolic. The structural frames are associated with scientific management, administrative principles and bureaucracy. Thus, this frame represents a rational perspective associated with hierarchies. Leaders with structural frame solve problems by creating new rules, procedures, or processes or by restructuring the organization. The human resource frame is associated with human relations.

This frame views individuals as resources and encourages participative decision making, to meet people’ needs, to motivate individuals to realize their own goals, and to attain the goals of the organization. Leaders deal with human resource problems adjusting their organization to fit people or by adjusting the people to fit the organization. The third leadership frame is the political frame. Political leaders are realistic and pragmatic advocates and negotiators, build network, power bases and create alliance.

The last frame is symbolic frame. Symbolic leaders invent shared meaning for the organization by using symbols, myths, and rituals. Symbolic leaders attempt to solve current problems with solutions rather than comprehensive planning (White 2003). To measure the ideal characteristics of effective school principals, a theory driven code was used that identified by Goldring (1995) and later by William (2008). The researcher and two experienced researchers have analyzed a total of 20 strategies from each interview with six principals.

Based on the result of the coding, strategies and attributes are listed as four major themes which are humanistic, management, teaching and learning and individual traits. In order to code the data of the interviews, model of effective job performance developed by Boyatzis (1982) was referred. Based on his model, three factors– individual competencies, job performance and organizational environment are identified as variable that contribute to effective job performance and describe their interrelationship as a dynamic and contingent process.

Focus and methodology of the study The primary focus of this study was to identify the effective characteristics that must be possessed by the school principals from the perspectives of the school principals and the eyes of the teachers. This research was designed with relevance of effective principals’ leadership which is gaining increasing attention within the education field (Patti and Tobin 2003; Williams 2008). This empirical study utilized a criterion sample design and involved the collection and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data to identify the ideal characteristics of school principals that they must possessed.

This study was constructed to specifically focus on leadership behavior including lack of pragmatic paradigm using a multi-method approaches. The sample design for this study utilized a criterion group of 35 principals and 1,705 teachers from 35 various five types of school which were technical and vocational schools, boarding schools, religious schools, rural and urban schools and a sport school. The criterion sample was drawn from a total population of 14,000 teachers and 232 principals in the state of Johore.

The demographics of this sample were 18 females principals as compared to 26 males in the population of school principals in Johore. In addition, six principals from each type of schools in the sample were also selected on the basis that they represent each type of school. The sample of six principals included five school principals (DG 48) and one senior school principal (DG 54). Data collections were gathered from interviews that were used as the major source for exploring both aspects of the study – characteristics and competencies needed by school principals.

The interview was used to get the participant to vividly and accurately describe real experiences in his/ her job, is a well established qualitative research method for assessing individual competencies (McClelland 1998; Williams 2008). During the two hour interview sessions, each principal was asked to describe the important and ideal characteristics that school principals must possess to be an effective school principal. With the use of interview technique, it will encourage the school principals to share their specific detail the characteristics, attributes that signify an effective principal.

As for teachers, they were asked to give their responses on the attributes and leadership styles that contributed most to their commitment towards the school. The distribution of the questionnaires involved 1,705 teachers from the state of Johore involving all districts which are Segamat, Muar, Batu Pahat, Johore Bahru, Pontian, Kota Tinggi and Mersing. The 1,705 teachers were mainly from 35 schools namely the technical and vocational schools, religious schools, the sport school, boarding schools, urban dan rural located schools though stratified sampling method.

The teachers’ questionnaires were also tested in order to obtain the construct validity and reliability concerning the overall alpha values which was measured was at 0. 753. While for correlation between items with total scores, the significant value was also obtained at 0. 30 to 0. 84. Results In answering question on the ideal characteristics that must be possessed by school principals, several quotations that derived from the interviews are used to indicate the major findings.

From the interviews’ data, the main themes were identified as characteristics that must be possessed by the school principals in order to be effective school principals. While, the attributes emerged as leadership style of school principals that construct the main themes: Table I is a summary of data that was theory gathered from interviews sessions with six school principals. While in the leadership style section, responses from teachers through a checklist were also matched with the main themes.

Table I revealed that in order to be effective leaders in school, principals needed to possess four important strategies or major themes labeled humanistic, teaching and learning, management skills and individual traits. The humanistic strategies are referred to how principals try to motivate and enhance teachers’ commitment and job satisfactions. In the humanistic strategies, interpersonal and positive relation between principals and teachers are predicted will create a high-involvement school that may improve and enhance productivity of the school.

Based on this theme, teachers are important individuals who are responsible for the success of the school and it is believed that good cooperation between teachers and principals had a significant impact on the effectiveness of the school. The second main theme, teaching and learning strategies are list of characteristics of being an effective instructional leaders that were competence in managing the school curriculum, an experienced teacher, participative in teaching and learning, sensing teachers professionalism and development needs, guiding eachers to produce an innovative teaching for students. As for the management skills, school principals needed to play a role as program evaluator, able to use power and control in situational contexts, strategic planner that able to predict the achievement of the school, a good conflict manager that practice decision maker and problem solver, communicating with teachers and support staffs about the school vision and mission, striving to improve and always try meet the standard of excellence that was emphasizes by the Ministry of Education of Malaysia.

The last major themes was the individual traits referring to discipline and high commitment school leader, an ethical leader, displays proactive towards change, maintaining integrity, assertive criteria. The second research question deals with leadership styles and attributes of school principals that influenced teachers’ commitment. In order to better understand the relationship among the variables, regression analysis was calculated.

Regression based on responses from 1,705 teachers, is presented in Table II below Table 2 Predictors of Teachers’ Commitment Variables Humanistic tolerance, flexible, trusts empathy, open-minded listening inspiring others, recognizing Management skills evaluator, use power in situational contexts, strategic planner, decision maker problem solver, communicating with school vision, striving to improve, meet the standard of excellence.

Teaching and learning Competence, instructional leader, experience teacher, participative in teaching sensing teachers professionalism guiding teachers Individual traits Well discipline, high commitment, ethical leader, displays proactive, maintaining integrity, assertive. Note: * correlation is significant at the .