Conceptions of Time and Competing Priorities in the Principalship: The Challenge of Staying Focused on Learning

Open Access
Taylor, Catherine Freiday
Graduate Program:
Educational Leadership
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 09, 2007
Committee Members:
  • Paul T Begley, Professor Of Education, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Susan C Faircloth, Committee Member
  • James F Nolan Jr., Committee Member
  • Jacqueline A Stefkovich, Committee Member
  • Pennsylvania
  • No Child Left Behind legislation
  • New principals
  • Leadership in education
  • Instructional leadership
  • Instruction
  • Expectations
  • Email
  • Elementary schools
  • Elementary principal
  • Education
  • Decision making
  • Curriculum and instruction
  • Conceptions of time
  • Best interests
  • Availability or absence of time
  • Assessment results
  • Administration of schools
  • Achievement
  • Accountability in education
  • Pennsylvania System of School Assessment
  • Principal
  • Priorities
  • Qualitative research
  • Rural schools
  • Students
  • Student learning
  • Suburban schools
  • Technology
  • Time
  • Time management
  • Teachers
  • Theories and principles
  • Urban schools
The accountability associated with the No Child Left Behind legislation has increased principals’ responsibilities and affected principals’ use of time. This study examines strategies principals use to manage their time so as to maintain a focus on instruction when time is in short supply, priorities compete, and there are multiple expectations. Specifically, the researcher was interested in discovering how principals maintain a focus on instruction while mediating multiple expectations. A review of three categories of representative literature was made: the principal’s evolving role in instruction, conceptions of time, and the instructional leader acting in the best interest of learning and the learner. Prior to the carrying out of the research, a conceptual framework was designed based on the literature review. The framework was amended after the research was conducted. The initial conceptual framework portrayed time in a linear fashion and intersecting with perceptions of instructional leadership, which were impacted by three influences: personal, school and community, and policy and mandates. The revised conceptual framework portrays time moving in a linear fashion and intersecting with principals’ perceptions of and role as instructional leader, which were impacted by four factors: personal attributes, professional influences, human interactions, and instructional context. Qualitative data collection methods allowed for rich and in-depth illustration of principals’ perceptions about time usage in support of instructional leadership. Semistructured, open-ended interviews were conducted to encourage participants to share their own stories, ideas, and observations; the interviews provided rich, descriptive examples of respondents’ perspectives. Data were collected from 22 principals working in public elementary schools across Pennsylvania. The first research question investigated the ways Pennsylvania elementary public school principals think about and speak of time. Time in the principalship is spent in meetings, discussions with teachers, dealing with students with special needs, observations, students’ arrival and dismissal, and announcements as well as on budget areas, discipline issues, environment checks, classroom visits, paperwork, parent organizations, assessment results, unexpected situations, and e-mail. Principals’ view of time has changed based on experience as a principal, change in position, No Child Left Behind legislation, and not having enough time. Principals defined time by using metaphors, a clock, and body time perspective, as well as in geometric terms. The second research question looked at strategies principals employed to manage their time. Principals managed their time by using a calendar or scheduled events, prioritization, their secretary, extra hours put in, technology, lists and notes, color coding, paperwork management, delegation of responsibilities, and literature. The third research question looked at what principals considered the most important and least important uses of their time. The most important uses of time involved people, curriculum and instruction, and having a presence in the school. The least important uses of time involved dealing with parents, paperwork, meetings, and e-mail. The fourth research question looked at how principals define instructional leadership and how the context of accountability changed the definition. Principals defined instructional leadership based on the learner, learning, and professional development. Based on literature and feedback from participants in research study, a definition of instructional leadership was developed. An instructional leader serves the best interests of the learner and learning, of professional development, and of instructional decision making. Serving the best interest of the learner, an instructional leader focuses on teaching and learning, involved in curriculum development that promotes an instructional program conducive to successful learning by all students. Serving the best interest of learning, an instructional leader considers learning a central role of schooling; encourages instruction to follow academic standards; promotes instructional technology, teaching skills, differentiated instruction, and inclusionary practices; does scheduling to provide maximum time for learning; locates resources to support learning; observes teachers to ensure that curricula are being implemented; and provides feedback for improvement of instruction. Serving the best interest of professional development, an instructional leader creates a school culture of continuous learning for all adults (self, faculty and staff, parents) that is tied to student learning and other school goals. This adult learning culture emphasizes study of teaching and learning, collaboration and coaching relationships, program redesign, and action research. Serving the best interest of instructional decision making, an instructional leader uses multiple sources of data as diagnostic tools to assess, identify, and apply instructional improvement. The fifth and sixth research questions looked at the extent to which and the ways principals perceived the availability or absence of time as having an impact on their professional practices as an instructional leader and the contextual forces and influences facilitating or hindering their use of time specific to instruction, student learning, and achievement. Half of the principals were impacted by the absence of time, but the other half of the principals’ role as instructional leader was not impacted by the availability or absence of time. Forces hindering time usage included meetings and people. However, principals who were not impacted by the availability or absence of time felt they controlled their own time and that instructional leadership was important. When discussing time for curriculum, principals mentioned being knowledgeable about the reading, writing, and mathematics curricula and having information, being aware of concerns, supporting teaching, and making decisions. When discussing time specific to student achievement, principals discussed results of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), improving student outcomes on the PSSA, and pressures, tensions, and stress. Findings from this study show there are specific implications for practice and future research within the areas of time, instructional leadership, and leadership. Related to time, future research might examine how ethnicity or geographic location affects an individual’s definition and use of time. Related to instructional leadership, future research needs to confirm the instructional leadership definition developed through review of the literature and research. The study provides practitioners with a list of 10 areas of advice for new principals and 10 time management strategies for practicing administrators.