Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Program

Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Erich W. Baumgartner

Second Advisor

Isadore Newman

Third Advisor

Janet Ledesma

Abstract

Problem and Purpose. The American K-12 school principal is responsible for providing a learning environment that is physically and emotionally safe. An abrasive teacher who displays bullying behaviors towards students is a threat to that environment, impeding student academic progress and decreasing student perceptions of safety. Principals intervene, with risk to themselves. This study sought to understand principal intervention by: (a) estimating the prevalence of abrasive teachers, (b) asking how principals identify abrasive teachers, (c) classifying situational elements that enhance or inhibit the principal’s motivation to intervene, (d) exploring the interventions principals used, (e) examining the effects those interventions had on the schools, and (f) searching for patterns in interventions that might be helpful to theorists and practitioners.

Method. A fully integrated, mixed-methods design was used in collecting and interpreting data from 515 surveys and 21 semi-structured, in-depth interviews. The volunteer sample was composed of K-12 principals from California public and private schools. Findings were based on the perceptions of the principals. Principal perception was used due to the principal’s legal and moral responsibility for the school, its students, and its teachers, and due to his/her access to all school stakeholders.

Results. The study found that four out of five (81.6%) of the schools represented in the study currently have—or in the past 3 years have had—an average of 2.9 abrasive teachers. The teachers were disproportionately distributed across grade levels, subject areas, sex of the teachers, years of teaching experience, and race. The study identified five types of teacher maltreatment of students: verbal, professional, physical, non-verbal, and social. The study found that student symptoms could be grouped under the headings of emotional states, psychosomatic manifestations, fight responses, flight responses, and asking for help. The study also categorized the various theories principals hold to explain why a teacher would use abrasive behaviors. Nearly half of the reported interventions resulted in improved teacher performance as perceived by the principal. Nearly a quarter resulted in the teacher leaving the classroom, and a little more than a quarter resulted in no change or in the worsening of the situation. Local teacher unions sometimes worked cooperatively with the principal who was striving for the professional improvement or removal of a teacher. More often, unions impeded the principal’s role of safeguarding the learning environment for each student. Due to the exploratory nature of this study, additional textual analyses were conducted, and 14 additional hypotheses and 18 sub-hypotheses were tested.

Conclusions and Recommendations. From the findings it was concluded: (a) abrasive teachers were present in a large majority of schools, (b) anxious principals were less likely to use interventions that required action with tangible outcomes, (c) schools need a systemic approach to dealing with aggression on all levels within the school community, and (d) principals and unions should develop ways to maintain teacher protections without sabotaging student learning. Implications for practice include six recommendations for school stakeholders, three themes that should be included in professional development for principals, and 12 pieces of advice that veteran principals wished to give to rookie principals. The study ends with six specific recommendations for further research.

Subject Area

Teachers--Complaints against, Teacher-principal relationships, Bullying in schools, Bullying in the workplace.

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