Principals’ Leadership Practices and Characteristics as Predictors of Bullying

Abstract

The aim of the study is to determine whether principals’ leadership practices and characteristics influence bullying in schools. Bullying in schools has resulted to injuries and deaths on students and has always remained a matter of concern for school principals, teachers and parents besides other people. Principals however have a role to play in reduction of bullying cases in schools since they are the main decision makers of any school and are responsible for school security. The study will involve collection of data about principals’ leadership practices and other qualities such as age gender, years of experience and level of education by use of Personal-Best Leadership Experience questionnaire. This information together with reported data on bullying incidents in schools found in Florida School Indicator Report (FSIR) will be used to decide whether principals’ leadership practices influence bullying in schools. To decide this, the collected data will be analyzed by Regression and Multivariate analysis of Variance (MANOVA). This study will be carried out in two elementary school districts in Broward and Dade County.

Introduction

School violence associated with bullying has become a national occurrence. Recent international research indicates that school bullying is widely spread and a specific phenomenon of school violence which affects many schools in various parts of the world (Carney and Merrell, 2001). When children are bullied not only are their human rights being violated, but according to Abraham Maslow (1970) their need for safety is not being met either. The United Nations Charter of Rights for Children states that every child has the right to education and every child has the right to be safe. According to Sullivan & McCabe (1988) students in schools have the right to be safe and not to be bullied by anyone while they are in school.

Abraham Maslow (1970) developed a theory that human beings have certain basic needs that must be met before higher-order needs can be addressed. Our physiological needs are for food, water and shelter. Our safety needs require use of various means to protect ourselves from the world at large. Our relationship needs are for social contact, friendship and love. Maslow’s model is useful for explaining some of the possible effects of bullying. If children are bullied, then their safety needs are not met.

One of the most encompassing approaches to transformational leadership-is concerned with the process of how certain leaders inspire followers to do great things. Transformational leaders are people who should set up a good example for other people. Leaders should act in accordance with their organizations vision and should encourage their followers to make the best of every situation. Good leaders are required to act in ways that win other people trust, act with integrity and they should not be dictators and should not favor or dislike their followers (Northouse, 2010 p.200).

“In the 2008-2009 school year, about 55.6 million students were enrolled in prekindergarten through grade 12 “as stated by Snyder & Dillow (2010).Thirty eight cases of deaths(which included homicides and suicides) among youths ranging from 5-18 year reported in schools from July 2008 to June 2009 occurred due to bullying. On the other hand, during 2007-2008 academic year, eighty five percent of public schools recorded that several bullying incidents had occurred within the schools and this totaled the number of crimes committed in that academic year to about 2 million crimes resulting from bullying. This clearly proves that bullying is still common in most schools and ways of dealing with bullying should be implemented to put this bullying behavior to an end or at least reduce its occurrence in schools.

Our nation’s schools should offer favourable environment for tutoring, mentoring and studying and should be free from violence. Violence in schools affects first the school operations, teachers and other students. In certain cases bullying may affect school’s surrounding communities or other relevant people may be affected when school operations are disrupted by crimes related to bullying or of any other nature. This research is intended to contribute to an existing body of literature to gain knowledge toward helping to end bullying. According to Tucker & Codding (2002, p.252) well prepared leaders are required for proper running of any school at any given time. Competent principals are required for better school performance and improvement and bullying in schools is a drawback to school performance and improvement.

This research explores principals’ leadership characteristics and practices in schools because although the extent of bullying varies from one school to another, the research indicates that it occurs most often in areas of low social economic status. This research explores bullying in the elementary setting because according to the research this is the age in which bullying behaviors first emerge. Results have shown that bullying in primary schools if not controlled is likely to become a violent behavior in at later stages in primary school and may even be pronounced at high levels of learning (Saufler and Gagne, 2000).

Literature review

The key to school prevention and intervention programs is the Principal who is in charge of all operations within a school. Overtime the scope of the principal’s role has evolved from just manager to leader. Beck and Murphy (1993) traced the evolution of the principal’s role through metaphorical themes ranging from values back in the 1920s to Instructional leader in the 1980s. According to Beck & Murphy (1993), the principals of the eighties were encouraged to be visionary.

Northouse (2010) argues that leadership is a topic with universal appeal both in press and in academic literature and this justifies that leadership is a subject which has attracted a lot of people. Leadership has been focused as a trait by many studies conducted so far. Focusing leadership as a trait shows that certain people in our society have special inborn qualities that make them leaders (Northouse, 2010, p. 12). The theories that were developed were called “great man” theories because they focused on identifying the innate qualities and characteristics possessed by renowned leaders in various organizations.

These leadership traits were believed to be inborn and only few outstanding people in the society possessed such traits. As a result, most of research at the time was focused on determining the specific traits that differentiated leaders from followers (Northouse, 2010, p. 15). However, in the mid-20th century, the idea of focusing leadership as a trait was changed due to various criticisms because leadership is a universal quality as people from different backgrounds, races and geographic areas have proved to be better and reliable leaders. Stogdill (1948) points out that no consistent set of traits differentiate leaders from non-leaders across a variety of situations. Rather than being a quality that peoples own, leadership was re-conceptualized as a relationship between people in various social situations (Northouse, 2010)

Bennis & Nanus (1985) argues that leadership is something that can be learned by anyone. Leadership is the pivotal force behind successful organizations and has helped to create better performing organizations. Good leadership helps many organizations meet their goals and develop new visions for better performance. Great leaders are able to mobilize their organization to conform to new visions and reach high standards. Through the years, leadership has been defined and conceptualized in many ways (Northouse, 2010, p. 12). According to Stogdill (1948), there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are people who have tried to define it. Leadership is the wise use of this power. To describe leadership as a trait is quite different from describing it as a process. Focusing leadership as a trait is like focusing leadership as a property or set of properties possessed in varying degrees by different people. Due to that, leadership can be observed in leader behaviors.

Prior to the education reform movement, the federal government had not conceived that the principal could even play a role in regard to curriculum, instruction, and school safety. The role of the principal was originally that of manager, but as more accountability has been placed at the school level the role of the principal has shifted more toward that of leader. Studies have shown that recently, new responsibilities and obligations have been included in the already involving leadership position. Some sources include decentralization of decision making, use of collaborative decision making as well as increased accountability of principals (Tucker & Codding, 2002, p. 255). This created a paradigm shift from manager to leader, one who creates vision, inspires and is a change agent.

Until recently, the principal was often neglected in the formulation of strategies for reform. Leadership and management are different concepts that overlap. Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing as argued by Bennis & Nanus (1985).Some programs which have been developed to help prevent school violence are zero-tolerance, character education, multi-cultural awareness, anti-bullying, peer mentor, peer mediation, response-to-intervention (RTI) and whole-school approach ( Quezada & Romo, 2004).

Several evidence-based bully prevention programs have been put in place such as Bully Proofing Your School, PEACEBUILDERS, PATHS-Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, Social Decision Making or Social Problem Solving Program, and Sunsentinel-Working it out and peer mediation besides others. These programs have contributed a lot in the reduction of bullying incidents in schools (Bondy & Daniel, 2008). However, it will take more than an effective program and an effective principal to help end bullying and various parties such as teachers, parents, government and even the students themselves need to work together to put an end to bullying in schools.

Despite the fact that strong emphasis is put on various strategies during investigation of anti-bullying incidents in schools, considering the physical environment of the school can also give a lot in the investigation of bullying incidents in schools (Sullivan & McCabe 1988). Although various programs to counteract bullying have been put in place, they should be incorporated with other means because they can’t wholly solve bullying in schools. Issues to do with accountability are essential and needs to be addressed as well in the process of finding solution to bullying in schools. More and more the principal is being held accountable to stop bullying incidents happening in their schools. Based on nationwide educational reform and accountability the school principal has been assigned the responsibility of tackling school violence and ensuring that our children attend a school free of crime and violence and a calm environment is available for them to optimize their learning.

School districts across South Florida, along with other districts across the nation, responded to America’s outcry against violence occurring in and around public schools. In the midst of the educational reform movement the Federal Government led the way in establishing the principal’s role in regards to bullying. The Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act was developed to cut the number of violence cases in schools, to cut down drug, alcohol and tobacco use in schools to make sure students grow up into responsible people (California Department of Education,2010). This Act, along with Goals 2000, and other such legislature has changed the role of principals throughout America from that of solely instructional leader to that of behavioral leader as well.

In 2010, Florida state legislature enacted an anti-bullying and harassment law, FL.Stat.1006.147. According to FL. Stat.1006.147, the statute itself can be “cited as the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act. Jeffrey Scott Johnston was a sixteen-year old male, son of Debbie and Robert Johnston, whose death on June 29, 2005 was a direct result of bullying. Broward County Public School’s (BCPS) has now formed a district-wide Anti-bullying policy as part of the legal mandate under FL. Stat.1006.147. In a top-down manner, BCPS defines bullying the same as FL.Stat.1006.147 (2010).Bullying has been defined as the process of habitually inflicting physical and psychological harm to students. This process may involve actions like teasing, social exclusion, threats, and destruction of property or use of any other form of harassment on students (FL.Stat.1006.147, 2010).

The instrument which is normally used for assessing leader’s practices and characteristics is Leadership Practices Inventory which was developed by Kouzes and Posner (1995).Leadership Practices Inventory involves the use of Personal-Best Leadership Experience Questionnaire (PBLEQ). Practices that emerge from personal-best leadership cases include challenging leadership process, enabling others to act. Other qualities of good leadership assessed by personal- best leadership questionnaire include modeling the way as well as inspiring a shared vision and lastly encouraging others as stated by Kouzes & Posner (1995, p.19). Overall, the Kouzes and Posner (1995) model focuses more on student behaviors and provides recommendations on what anyone who aspires to be a leader would do to became a great leader. People’s personal-best experiences are usually generated by conceptual framework which consists of the above mentioned leadership practices. The actions that concern these five practices are translated into behavioral statements. Bass, Avolio & Atwater (1996) suggests that leadership can be taught to people at all levels and this gives way to transformational leadership as a behavior.

Another prominent instrument for assessing peoples’ leadership practices and characteristics is the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ). Programs designed to develop transformational leadership usually need leaders or their associates take the MLQ or a similar questionnaire to gauge the leader’s particular strengths and weaknesses in transformational leadership. Use of MLQ helps leaders know areas in their leadership which needs to be polished (Northouse, 2010, p. 190).

Transformational leadership can be assessed through the use of Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ). MLQ measures a leader’s behavior in various areas. The leadership practices assessed by MLQ include contingent reward and idealized influence. Other practices assessed by MLQ include intellectual stimulation, exceptional management and individualized consideration, laissez-faire and inspirational motivation. A leader who scores high in individualized consideration and in inspirational motivation is considered to have good transformational leadership qualities as pointed by Northouse (2010, p. 200).

Problem statement

Bullying in schools has remained a matter of concern for many years. Various ways can be used to cut the number of bullying incidents in schools. One of them is ensuring security within the school and better school administration. Principals are the main decision markers in any school and have recently been assigned the accountability task in the reform movement of improving school safety. Principals have a legal responsibility to make sure schools runs well and are safe places for schooling. The purpose of this study is to investigate the differences in principals’ leadership practices and characteristics to the number of bullying incidents across elementary school settings.

Justification of the study

Studies about various causes of bullying and ways of reducing bullying incidents in schools have been conducted while others are underway. Parents, teachers and principals can play a role in the reduction of bullying in schools. However, a more quantitative empirical research which explores the relationship of the role of the principal’s leadership practices and the occurrence of bullying is warranted.

Hypothesis

  • Ho: Principal leadership practices and characteristics do not influence bullying in elementary Schools
  • HA: Principal leadership practices and characteristics influence bullying in elementary Schools.

Objectives

General objective

To determine the influence of principals’ leadership practices and characteristics on bullying incidents in elementary schools.

Specific objectives

  • To evaluate principals’ leadership practices and characteristics in two school districts of Broward and Dade County.
  • To determine the number of reported bullying incidents in the two school districts of Broward and Dade County.

Materials and Methods

Data will be collected in two major school districts in Broward and Dade County. The researcher will give all required documentation to Barry University’s Institutional Board (IRB) prior to submission for approval in the two school districts. In an effort to collect data, the research will identify a gatekeeper at the two major school districts who will then issue the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) to survey to all elementary school principals.

The Leadership Practices Inventory will be accompanied by a flyer delineating all pertinent information of the study, as well as the Informed Consent Form which the principals must sign should they wish to complete the LPI. A sample of convenience will be used to target all school principals across two major school districts. Principals who choose to complete the survey will return these to the researcher in a self-addressed stamped envelope.

The researcher will have access to the number of bullying incidents for the two school systems of Broward and Dade county involved in this study as reported in the Florida School Indicators Report (FSIR), which is public domain and thus accessible to the public through the Florida Department of Education website.

Data analysis

A regression analysis will be used to determine the predictive effects of principals’ leadership practices on the number of bullying incidents. Multivariate analysis of variance(MANOVA) will be used to decide if there are differences for the principals’ characteristics gender, age, years of experience, and level of education of the principals (Pallant,2001).

Five percent confidence level will be used as the criteria to reject the null hypothesis. The internal validity is considered strong based on Cronbach’s Alpha measurement. Their five practices of exemplary leadership as described in the Leadership Practice Inventory. The Leadership practice inventory is based upon responses to the Personal-Best Leadership Questionnaire (Kouzes & Posner, 1995, pp.341 & 342).

Limitations of the Study

School principals will be responding to an instrument based on their own perceptions and views of leadership practices. As a result, self-reporting can be one limitation which will affect this study because the principals may give inaccurate results based on personal feelings. Another limitation for the study is relying on reported data from the Florida School Indicators Report (FSIR) which is a domain available to everyone and the information contained in FSIR may be inaccurate because it may have been obtained using non-standard means. Lastly convenience sampling can be another limitation to this study because only a portion of principals available in the two school districts of Broward and Dade County will be used. Due this, the results obtained will only be a representation of the two school districts or generally a representation of Broward and Dade Country but will not make good inferences for a large population.

References

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Beck, L.G., & Murphy, J. (1993). Understanding the principalship: Metaphorical themes 1920s-1990s. New York: Teachers College Press.

Bennis, W., & Nanus, B. (1985). Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers.

Carney, G. A., & Merrel, W.K. (2001).Bulling in schools, Perspective on understanding and preventing an International problem. School Psychology International. The University of LOWA, 22(3), 364-382. Web.

California Department of Education. (2010). Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. Web.

Daniel, Y., & Bondy, K. (2008). Safe schools and zero tolerance: Policy, program and practice in Ontario. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 70. Web.

Florida Statute 1006.147. (2010).Bullying and Harassment Prohibited. Web.

Kouzes, J.M., Posner, B.Z. (1995). The leadership Challenge. Second Edition.San Fransisco.Jossey-Bass.

Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and Practice, Fifth edition, Thousand oaks: Sage.

Pallant, J. (2001). SPSS Survivorship Manual: A Step by Step Guide to Data Analysis. Open University Press. Maidenhead. Philadephia.

Quezada, R. & Romo, J. (2004). Multiculturalism, peace education, and social justice, Multicultural Education, Spring, 2–11. Web.

Saufler, C., Gagne, C. (2000). Maine Project against Bullying. Maine State Department of Education. Web.

Snyder, T.D., Dillow, S.A., & Hoffman, M.C. (2009). Digest of Education Statistics 2008. National Center for Education Statistics, Washington DC.

Stogdill, R. M. (1948).Personal factors associated with leadership: A survey of the literature, Journal of Psychology. 25, 35-71. Web.

Sullivan, K., & McCabe, D. (1988). The Missing Factor for Effective Instructional Leadership. Texas study of secondary research, 42. Web.

Tucker, M. & Codding, J. (2002). The principal challenge: Leading and managing schools in an era of accountability. San Francisco, Jossey Bass.