TO THE EXTENT FEASIBLE: PERSPECTIVES OF PRINCIPALS ON STUDENTS
Bissonnette, Daniel J.
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The purpose of this study was to develop a grounded theory to understand the perspectives, attitudes, and actions of secondary principals about students with alcohol, tobacco, and other drug issues. Building on Theoharis' (2004) pivotal work on social justice leadership as a theoretical framework, and using the influence of culture as a secondary fundamental concept, my overall aim was to understand what influenced these principals in their work with these students. The study was guided by three research questions: (1) What has enabled principals who demonstrate particular care and concern for students with alcohol, tobacco, and other drug issues? (2) What resistance do they face and what are leadership consequences for their actions? (3) How do they convey their leadership to others and sustain themselves as they face leadership pressures with regards to these issues? I used a grounded theory qualitative research design with interviews and positioned subjects as the methodological basis for the study. Themes that emerged in the analysis of the data include (1) background, (2) perspectives of their leadership, (3) actions of their leadership, and (4) challenges to their leadership. I discovered five major findings concerning perspectives these principals have about students with alcohol, tobacco, and other drug issues. They include findings on (1) social justice leadership for students with alcohol, tobacco, and other drug issues, (2) the impact of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs on their own lives; (3) preparation to do this work; (4) empathy and compassion for these students; and (5) the resilience of these principals. The findings resulted in grounding a theory that principal leadership for social justice seems to be rooted in life experiences stemming from childhood. Implications for action, practice, and/or policy are listed. Results of this research add to the body of knowledge about social justice leadership and perspectives educational leaders have that contribute to opportunities for academic success of students with non-academic barriers to learning. Further research is needed to explore the impact of social justice leadership on student attendance, dropout, and academic success; and the role of pre-service preparation coursework for these and other non-academic barriers to student learning.