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With all of the pressures placed on public schools today including competition from school choice, charter schools, and vouchers, as well as achievement gaps, state testing, sanctions, growing negative press, changing demographics, social demands placed on schools, etc., one might wonder why anyone would choose school leadership as a career. Interesting questions are raised. The purpose of this study was to determine what motivates teachers to aspire to school leadership. A review of over 80 written responses to the prompt ‘ Why Me? ’ provided insight into their reasons.

Knowing what motivates teachers to consider leaving their classrooms to pursue administrative credentialing has practical implications and significance. Understanding their motivation provides insight for administrative preparation programs as they prepare aspiring school leaders. In order to maximize the appeal of the administrative credential program to current classroom teachers who may be considering a future leadership role, studying the motivations of former and current students has the potential to contribute to program improvement.

Context for the research

Although closely aligned with motivations to become teachers (Lortie, 2002; Sinclair, Dowson,&McInerney, 2006)), the reasons provided by teachers for considering a move to the dark side or into the light by entering school administration are position-specific. Many teachers are drawn to careers in education because they enjoy working with children and want to make a difference in their lives; school leaders are often drawn to administration to broaden that span of influence (Lortie, 2009; Malone, Sharp,&Walker, 2001). The domains of research considered in this study were (a) motivators and incentives in pursuit of school leadership; (b) inhibitors and disincentives in pursuit of school leadership; (c) shortage of principals, and (d) responsibility to prepare and recruit future leaders.

Motivators and incentives in pursuit of school leadership

Several studies have been conducted with the purpose of ascertaining why teachers choose to leave the classroom aspiring to become leaders or at least apply for school leadership positions. In reporting motivations, some researchers found what they referred to as encouraging factors (Adams&Hambright, 2004; Cooley&Shen, 1999; Cranston, 2007), while others studied motivations (Bass, 2006; Hancock, Black,&Bird, 2006; Howley, Adrianaivo,&Perry, 2005; Malone, Sharp,&Walter, 2001). Sinclair, Dowson,&McInerney (2006), expanding on the work of Marsh (1990), proposed that motivation itself could be categorized as internal or external - internal or intrinsic motivation referring to those things inside oneself (values, beliefs), and external or extrinsic motivation referring to factors outside of oneself (altruism, calling).

Adams and Hambright (2004) polled their teacher leadership students to determine what factors might encourage them to become principals; the anonymous survey results indicated that 35% could be encouraged by salary, with the opportunity to initiate change and provide leadership skills being the next most frequent responses. Cooley and Shen (1999) surveyed 189 educational leadership master’s students regarding what factors they would consider in making the decision to apply for an administrative job; among the top 10 factors were: money, location, reputation of the superintendent, and community support. Bass (2006) asked 860 students from 28 states who were enrolled in principal preparation programs what would motivate them to become school leaders. Their responses included: the chance to make a difference; an opportunity to have an impact; a personal challenge; to initiate change; and salary. In their study of 329 students enrolled in a master’s in school administration program, Hancock, Black, and Bird (2006) asked about factors influencing their decision to become school administrators; they found that personal/professional benefit/gain, altruism, challenge, and leadership ranked highest on their lists of factors. In a study comparing the perceptions of 435 teachers who held administrative licenses to 433 teachers who did not, Howley, Adrianaivo, and Perry (2005) studied the incentives and disincentives to becoming a principal, as well as the opportunities and challenges of leading a school. Among those factors teachers anticipated would be satisfying were: making a difference; affecting more children; implementing creative ideas; having a greater impact; and making more money.

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Source:  OpenStax, Educational leadership and administration: teaching and program development, volume 23, 2011. OpenStax CNX. Sep 08, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11358/1.4
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