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In an effort to learn more about the utilization of best practices of business management by principals and the perceived impact on teacher engagement of the implementation of these practices in schools, the purpose of this qualitative study was to discover principals' perceptions of the practices used by managers of businesses that a) increase profitability, b) increase productivity, c) enhance customer service, and d) reduce employee turnover through engaged workplaces; and examine principal perceptions on the impact of these practices on teacher engagement. In essence, the study will determine whether these business oriented practices, the 21 identified in chapter two, have an impact on teacher engagement as reported by the principals in this study.
Principals participated in an online survey that asked for their opinions on the effectiveness of 21 business practices that have been shown to raise employee engagement. The same group of principals that participated in the online survey had the opportunity to respond to five open-ended questions. From the participants in the online survey, principals had the opportunity to volunteer for further research and nine were interviewed. This chapter discusses in detail the setting, the participants, the design of the study, the procedures, and the data analysis.
Restatement of Research Questions
The purpose of this study was to analyze principals' perceptions of business management practices and determine the impact of implementing these practices on the level of teacher engagement. Surveys, open ended responses, and interviews of principals will be used to gather perception data. The following questions guided this study:
What business management practices do principals find valuable to raising the level of teacher engagement?
What does the principal do to implement his or her top five business management practices in order to raise the level of teacher engagement?
From the principal's perspective, how does teacher engagement impact student performance?
Superintendents from thirty-three public school districts representing an area of six counties in Central Pennsylvania agreed to allow their principals to voluntarily participate in the study. The participating districts employed a minimum of two building level principals and a maximum of ten building level principals.
Principals of 64 elementary schools, 19 middle schools, and 21 high schools participated in the survey portion of this study and had the opportunity to answer open-ended questions. Seventy-three of these principals classified their schools as suburban, two described their schools as urban, and 29 classified their schools as rural. The schools that these principals lead have small percentages of non-white students (less than 22% for all schools) and the size of the student bodies ranged between 300 and 2500 students.
The settings for the interviews were three elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools. These schools had between 27 and 176 teachers. The school student bodies ranged in size from 354 to 2166 with the percentage of non-white students in these schools ranging from less than one percent to 21.7%.
Whitaker (2003) and others have documented the power and importance of the principal in leading effective schools. Therefore, for this study, only building level principals were invited to participate. No assistant principals or other building level administrators were invited to participate. Thirty-three superintendents granted the researcher permission to invite principals in their districts to voluntarily participate in an online survey and answer open-ended questions. Of the 198 potential principals in this pool, 104 completed the online survey. Each of the 104 principals that completed the online survey had the opportunity to complete open-ended questions. Participants in the online survey were given the option to provide additional information by answering five open-ended questions. Between 51 and 87 principals completed the open-ended questions. From the 104 online survey participants, volunteers from varying school levels were sought for interviews. With additional permission from the superintendents of record, three elementary school, three middle school, and three high school principals were interviewed.
There was no restriction placed on the gender or ethnicity of the principals. All information for these schools will be confidentially coded to protect the identities of the participants. Elementary School A is noted as ESA. Middle School B is noted as MSB and so on. Additional demographic information is listed in Table 3.1.
Note. 3 Elementary, 3 Middle, and 3 High School Principals were interviewed
The following instruments were used to collect data:
Online survey - Appendix A
Open-ended response questions, included in the online survey - Appendix B
Interview script - Appendix C
Online Survey - Appendix A
An online survey, using Survey Monkey (see Appendix A), was developed by the researcher and included confidentiality protocols: anonymous responses, coding, and recording. The purpose of the online survey was to gather information from principals regarding their perception of the positive impact on teacher engagement when utilizing 21 best practices in business that have been shown to raise employee engagement. Each of the 21 questions in the survey related to one of the 21 business practices that have been shown to raise employee engagement. Participants were asked to respond using a five-point Likert scale: 1 strongly disagree, 2 agree, 3 neutral, 4 agree, and 5 strongly agree. For example: to assess a principal's perception of "employees are more engaged when they know what is expected of them at work," principals were asked, "When employees know what is expected of them at work, they feel more engaged?" Participants were asked to respond 1 to 5 as described above. This was repeated for 20 additional business practices.
While the software allowed the researcher to see which principals have completed the survey, the researcher had no ability to connect individual responses to any specific principal. Individual responses include security protocols that prevented email addresses or IP addresses from being connected to individual responses, thus assuring complete anonymity. SSL (Secure Socket Layer) enhanced encryption was utilized, making the server link between the respondent and the data server secure. Also, survey results were not displayed to the respondent at the completion of the survey. Finally, IP security settings assure that only one survey could be completed by the respondent.
All online protocols were enabled to assure anonymity of responses to the survey. In order to further assure anonymity, a system test was conducted with five random individuals asking each to reply in a specific fashion in order to determine if individual responses in anyway could be connected with the individual respondents. No part of the principal online survey was used in this test. No potential participants in the research study participated in this test. This allowed the researcher to verify that the responses to the principal survey would be completely anonymous.
Survey question number one, the only required question, was a consent to participate and confidentiality statement. Question Logic, a feature of the online survey that automatically directs the survey participant to specific pages based on responses, was utilized. For example, if a respondent answered "yes" to question one, which grants consent, they were directed to the survey. If they answered "no," they were directed to a page that thanks them for their time disqualifying them from the survey. By answering "yes" to question one, the principals granted consent to participate in the survey portion of this study. Participants were given two weeks to complete the survey before it was closed.
Principal individual open ended responses - Appendix B
Each participant who completed the online survey was asked to respond to five open-ended questions. The principals were shown a list of the 21 business practices that are shown to raise employee engagement. The principals were then asked to give their perceptions of these business practices and assess their impact on teacher engagement as they perceive it in their school. Principals were asked: a) how would the usage of effective management practices listed above impact teacher engagement in your building, b) what are the benefits of the listed business practices in school leadership, c) what are the limitations to using the listed business practices in school leadership, d) besides the benefits and limitations as you perceive them to be, are there any other issues or considerations that you would like to share regarding the utilization of business practices in school leadership, and e) how does having highly engaged teachers impact student performance? The answers to each of these were collected and analyzed for similarities and differences.
Principal interview - Appendix C
Finally, three elementary school, three middle school and three high school principals were interviewed, which allowed for more breadth and depth of data. All of these principals completed the survey and through that process, volunteered for an individual interview. Permission to interview the principal was requested from and granted by the superintendent of record. The questions contained in the interview were designed to determine the principal's perception of business practices in leading schools and when implemented, whether they have an impact on teacher engagement. Each principal was asked demographic information that included: a) size of school, b) percentage of non-white students, c) number of teaching staff, d) experience levels, and e) length of service at their current placement. The principals were asked to respond to the question, "how does the level of teacher engagement in your building impact student learning and performance?" The answers provided anecdotal information and gave the interviewer the capacity for clarification and interpretation. Principals were shown the same list of 21 best business practices that have been shown to raise employee engagement and asked to respond to the question, "how would the implementation of these practices increase or raise the level of teacher engagement in your building?" In addition, the participants were asked which five practices would have the most impact on teacher engagement and which three would be the most difficult to implement. Data was transcribed for analysis.
Design of the Study
This qualitative study investigated the perceived efficacy of using business management practices in school leadership. According to Merriam (1998) qualitative researchers "seek to discover and understand a phenomenon, a process, or the perspectives of the people involved" (p.11). This study used qualitative data generated by an online survey, responses to open-ended questions, and individual interviews. The data gathered will be anonymous and kept confidential. This data formed a baseline for comparison.
Marshall and Rossman (2006) defined triangulation as the act of bringing more than one source of data to bear on a single point. In order to ensure validity, this study achieved triangulation through the utilization of surveys, open-ended question responses and interviews. Merriam (1998) defines reliability as the "extent to which research findings can be replicated" (p. 205). The multiple data types provided evidence of reliability for the results.
Schools districts were selected based upon their proximity to the home and school of employment of the researcher in Central Pennsylvania. Fifty school districts were identified as potential places for research to occur. The superintendents of these school districts were asked to grant permission to survey the principals in their district via email. The email contained an attached formal request to conduct a study in their district. The email also included an orientation to the purpose of the study, information about the researcher, and the university (see Appendix D). The superintendents were asked to reply to the email granting consent for their principals to participate in the online survey. After two weeks, a reminder email request was sent to the superintendents who had not yet responded. Thirty-three superintendents granted permission for participation via email.
Once consent was received from the superintendents, a list of building principals in the approved districts was generated by the researcher. The principal information was gathered from district websites. This list contained the name of the principal, the name of the school district of employment, and the professional email addresses of the principals. One hundred ninety-eight principals were identified. This list represented the potential participants in the study. The study was presented to and approved by the Research Ethics Review Board which granted permission to conduct research (Appendix G).
Each principal from the list of potential respondents was sent an email, generated by Survey Monkey, introducing the researcher and briefly outlining the purpose of the study. The email included a link to the online survey, which included multiple choice and open ended response questions. The email also included an optional link that would automatically remove the principal from participation. After one week, principals that had not completed the online survey were sent a reminder request to participate in the study. The Survey Monkey software confidentially facilitated this by sending a reminder email to everyone who received the initial email but had not responded.
The open-ended questions were also integrated into the SurveyMonkey system. All participants in the survey had access to the open-ended questions. After completing the five-point Likert style survey questions, the software automatically directed the participants to the open-ended questions. The software allowed participants to answer or not answer any of the questions. If a participant chose to answer an open-ended question, they entered their responses in a text box in the survey. The software collected all completed responses and kept a running total of the number of participants that had completed each individual open-ended question.
To remove any connection between the data collected and the individual respondents, question 42 directed willing volunteers to a page that described how to volunteer for an interview. This page of the survey informed principals who wished to volunteer for an interview how to contact the researcher via email outside of the SurveyMonkey software. This created a pool of potential principal interview candidates. The researcher ascertained the level of each potential principal interview candidate; elementary, middle, or high. From this pool of potential principal interview candidates, three elementary, three middle, and three high school principals were selected randomly from the entire list of volunteers. Those not selected for an interview were notified via email that they were not selected and thanked for volunteering.
A second official consent to interview a principal (Appendix E) was sent to the superintendents in the nine districts where the principals were employed via email. Upon attaining consent from the superintendents, all principals who were selected to participate in the individual interview were sent an email requesting a time for the interview. Upon reaching an agreeable time and confirming the location, an interview was scheduled for each of the nine participants. A form granting consent to interview (See Appendix F) was completed and signed by the principal and the researcher before the interview took place.
Interviews were held on site at the principal's school in the principal's office. The principals of these schools were personally interviewed by the researcher who asked them a battery of questions (Appendix C) designed to analyze their perceptions of best practices in business management. The interviews were digitally recorded and the electronic recordings were transcribed for analysis. Each interview was conducted to last less than one hour. To maintain anonymity, for example, interview participants were referred to as Middle School Principal C (MSC) or High School Principal A (HSA). The recordings, transcriptions, and any notes will be securely stored in a fire-proof filing cabinet at the researcher's residence for at least five years. All data that is electronic will be stored in the same cabinet on a thumb drive. Once data is analyzed, all online data produced from the survey will be placed on the thumb drive and online content will be erased.
The researcher will ensure the destruction of all survey data gained from the study through the use of an incinerator after at least five years following the conclusion of the study. Recordings of the interviews will be destroyed in a similar fashion.
Validity and Reliability
Research that is valid and reliable is critical to the field of education. Trustworthy results from studies help improve management of schools. Ensuring validity and reliability in qualitative research requires the researcher to conduct the study in an ethical manner.
Merriam (1998) states that internal validity will address the question of how the research findings match reality. A researcher can use six basic strategies to enhance internal validity:
Triangulation - using multiple investigators, multiple sources of data, or multiple findings to confirm the emerging findings.
Member checks - taking data and tentative interpretations back to the people from whom it was derived.
Long-term observations - gathering data over an extended period of time.
Peer examination - asking for colleague comments.
Participatory or collective modes of research - involving participants in all parts of the research.
Researcher biases - clarifying the researcher's assumptions. (p.204-205)
For this study, triangulation was utilized to enhance the internal validity of the study.
External validity is concerned with how this study can be applied to other situations. Merriam (1998) claims research into human behavior is hard to replicate because human behavior is never static.
Merriam (1998) suggested that "reliability in research design is based on the assumption that there is a single reality and that studying it repeatedly will yield the same results" (p. 205). According to Gronlund and Linn (1990), the ideal circumstance for determining reliability would be to collect two sets of data from identical situations and compare the results. The inability of researchers to provide identical circumstances result in the development of several methods for estimating reliability including: a) test-retest reliability, b) alternate forms reliability, c) alternate forms and test-retest reliability, d) inter-rater reliability, and e) internal consistency reliability. This study incorporated internal consistency reliability to determine how consistent the results are for different items for the same construct within the same measure.
Data was collected and correlated to determine if comparable practices impact teacher engagement. Survey responses were used to generate descriptive statistics. Mean scores were calculated. Top and bottom responses were calculated. Responses to survey questions were analyzed in percentage and numeric form. Median scores were also calculated for the responses to open-ended questions. Responses to open-ended questions were also grouped to determine the most popular similar answers to each question.
Interview notes and the recordings were labeled with an identifying letter as described. The identities of each of the interviewed principals are only known by the researcher and possibly the superintendent through the process of elimination. The researcher will record data so that all participants remain unidentifiable. Responses to the interview questions were classified and grouped for content similarities.
Interviewed principals are identified as Elementary School Principal A (ESA) and so on (ESB, ESC, MSA, MSB, MSC, HSA, HSB or HSC). Principals who completed the online survey are not identified in any manner and are referred to generically. The researcher accessed and assessed the online information in a secure area in East Petersburg, PA. Subject names were not included in the data gathered from the survey and open-ended responses. Interview notes and recordings exclude the names of participants. Anecdotal information was analyzed for similarities and differences.
The interview with the principals was thorough and yielded similarities. The survey data and the interview data was analyzed together looking for perceptions of effective practices that are similar. The qualitative data collected in the principal interviews helped confirm the perceptions of the principal's practices and their impact teacher engagement. There is a perceived link to student performance on standardized tests when teaching staffs are highly engaged. This study documents principals perceptions of business practices emerged that have impact on teacher engagement and thus student performance. As a result this study, intuitive administrators will be able use the information gathered to make site-based adjustments to the school system.