This evaluation provides external feedback on a national induction programme, the First Time Principals (FTP) Programme. The University of Auckland Principals Centre was contracted by the Ministry of Education to offer this programme to all newly appointed principals in New Zealand primary and secondary schools. The evaluation was required to provide information on principals’ perceptions of the relative strengths of the different components of the induction programme, the extent to which it catered for their differing needs, and how it fostered the development of principal leadership. It focuses on principals who took part in the programme in 2003 and provides a snapshot of their experiences. The programme continues to evolve in response to new research, Ministry of Education priorities, and feedback from participants.
The FTP programme emphasised approaches to principal leadership that promote on-going personal and organisational learning focused on the improvement of outcomes for students. It had three main components: 12 days of residential sessions held in the first week of the first three school holidays; on-going mentoring on site, (including unlimited phone and email contact); and a confidential website (New Principals Online). All principals received a laptop computer.
The sample comprised 34 principals from the 186 members of the 2003 cohort, from eight geographical areas, and a wide range of schools. Data sources for the evaluation were primarily face-to-face interviews with the principals and either face-to-face, on-line, or telephone interviews with 16 mentors in November 2003, and follow-up phone interviews with principals in August 2004, one year after the end of the induction programme. Other data sources included analysis of ERO reports and the planning and reporting documentation submitted to the Ministry of Education by schools. Milestone reports from the University of Auckland First Time Principals Induction Programme Project Team also contributed to the evaluation.
A key finding of the study was the diversity of the sample, both in terms of previous professional learning and backgrounds in leadership positions. A number of principals brought little knowledge and relevant leadership experience to their new roles, while others had spent several years preparing for the position, both professionally and academically. Principals also came from widely different school types, from tiny one room rural schools to large urban secondary schools. The majority of participants considered that the induction programme had been successful in addressing the diverse needs of the group, and in including participant voices in the content, process and evaluation of the programme. Principals appeared to have grasped the importance of leadership for learning, although a number were constrained by particular school contexts, and the match between their current abilities and leadership requirements. An additional and on-going benefit for participants has been the opportunity it has provided for networking with other principals.
Mentors felt well prepared for their roles, and in most cases, principals appreciated their support. Some principals with well established networks, particularly in large cities, had little need for the mentoring component, while more isolated principals came to depend on their mentors for help with day-to-day challenges. One aspect of the mentor’s role was to guide principals with the identification of a school-wide learning goal, and to track progress towards it in the form of a professional portfolio. Few mentors or principals appeared to appreciate the utility of this, seeing it as an externally initiated “extra”, of less importance than their immediate challenges. It appeared that a number of principals required more assistance to identify and address key learning needs in their schools, and that those who were engaged in whole school professional developmentcontracts that focused strongly on the use of evidence to inform teaching were able to demonstrate more valid and meaningful approaches in their planning and reporting documentation.
The on-line component was shown to have little impact on the principals’ learning and behaviour.
Overall the evaluation concludes that the 2003 programme was well conceptualised, well delivered, and well aligned with Ministry of Education goals to improve outcomes for students, and reduce disparities in achievement in New Zealand schools. The First Time Principals Induction Programme appears to be an initiative with the potential to impact significantly over time on principals’ knowledge and approaches to learning-focused school leadership.