Teachers appear to not want extremes and prefer
a balance in both male and female principals.
- Women are still under represented in educational
administration during the 1990's. When one compares the number
of women teachers with the number of women in hool administration
the number is disproportionate. The majority of teachers are females.
Criswell and Betz (1995) noted that 66% of the teaching force
is female. However, the percentage of women in school administration
is quite different. Women hold 5% of the superintendent positions,
20.6% of assistant superintendent positions, and 30% of the principalships
(Restine, 1993). A survey conducted by The Executive Educator
and Xavier University (Natale, 1992 ) revealed that in the 1990's
women hold 39.7 % of the elementary school principal positions,
followed by 20.5% at the junior high/middle school level, and
12% at the high school level. What factors contribute to the low
numbers of women in educational administration?
- One of the most common reasons presented in the literature for
the under representation of women in school administration is
negative perceptions of women's leadership (Tyree, 1995). Studies
of female and male approaches to leadership document a distinct
difference in the way women and men manage (Shakeshaft, 1989).
Management attributes traditionally associated with men, such
as authoritative, decisive, controlling, and unemotional, are
often more respected by potential employers in education than
a more decentralized approach to leadership which involves the
- principal as a facilitator of a shared vision and shared decision-making.
Tyree (1995) stated that the under representation of women in
educational administration is fostered through a series of myths:
" (a) women don't have what it takes, and (b) women lack
support of teachers and the community." According to Helgesen
(1990), women still must deal with the negative views of female
administrators held by peers, parents, and employees of both sexes.
Gupton and Slick (1995) quoted a female elementary principal as
saying that "even after women have obtained administrative
positions they are not afforded the status or the respect given
their male colleagues," (p. 10).
- Within the school environment, the attitudes which teachers
have toward women administrators may have a direct effect on how
well the administrators' job performance will be evaluated by
her supervisor. These attitudes may also be a deterrent to more
women seeking administrative positions.
- Recent school reform efforts which include transformational
leadership, site-based management, empowerment of teachers, and
other forms of decentralized decision-making now celebrate the
stereotypical characteristics of women school administrators.
In fact, contemporary theories and studies of leadership indicate
that the characteristics of the leadership style used by most
women are becoming the dominant model of leadership (Aburdene
& Naisbitt, 1993; Bennis & Nanus, 1985; Helgesen, 1990
as cited by Gupton & Slick, 1995). Now that collaborative,
participatory leadership styles are valued, has the attitude toward
women elementary and secondary school administrators changed to
- The purpose of this study was to examine teachers' attitudes
toward women principals. Do teachers perceive that women administrators
foster collaboration, cooperation, participation, and shared decision
making? How do women teachers perceive the effectiveness of the
female administrator? How do male teachers perceive the effectiveness
of the female administrator? Do teachers prefer a female administrator
over a male administrator?
- We developed a questionnaire to gather data relating to teacher
perceptions of women and men in the principalship. Each item on
the questionnaire was developed from a review of the literature
on women and men's ways of leading and leadership qualities principals
need in order to provide effective leadership while transforming
schools into the 21st century (Crogan, 1996; Dunlap & Schmuck,
1995; Lunenburg, 1995; Restine, 1993; Sergiovanni,1995; Shakeshaft,
1989; Tannen, 1994; Tichy & Devanna 1990; Tyree, 1995).
- The questionnaire was distributed during the spring of 1996
to 1,047 public school teachers in Missouri and Kansas. Of the
surveys distributed 479 were returned for a 45.7% return rate.
The data were analyzed by gender. There were 349 female participants
and 126 male participants. Four teachers did not specify gender.
- Describe the Qualities of a Successful Male Principal and
a Successful Female Principal ?
- Participants were asked to indicate which qualities they thought
were desirable in female and male principals. Table
1 presents the collective responses of male and female participants.
Good verbal communicator was checked by 92.5 % of the
participants for a male principal and 93.1% as a desirable quality
for a female principal. One can conclude that good communication
between principals and teachers is important regardless of the
- The least desirable quality of a male (17.3%) and female (19%)
principal was unemotional. The quality emotional
was also one of the least desirable qualities for male (23.2%)
and female (26.3%) principals. Teachers appear to not want extremes
and to prefer a balance in both male and female principals. The
low percentage of responses for the quality authoritarian,
(21.7% ) for a male principal and (19.4% ) for female principal,
indicate that an authoritative style is also an unacceptable quality
for any principal.
- There are eight qualities which were checked by 80% to 90% of
all participants for both male and female principals. Those qualities
are: good verbal communicator, good manager, good listener, problem
solver, knowledgeable of curriculum and instruction, shares power
and credit, and seeks variety of input. The researchers concluded
that these were the most desirable qualities for a principal to
possess, regardless of the principal's gender.
- It is interesting to note that the quality shares power and
credit received a higher percentage of responses, 82% for
a male principal and 83.7 % for a female principal, than did the
quality collaborative which received 74.5% for a male principal
and 76.4% for a female principal. One would think that in an era
of shared decision making "collaborative" would have
been a much more desirable quality. It was also interesting to
note that decisive was slightly more desirable in a female
principal than in a male principal. Is this because women traditionally
are perceived to be less decisive than men?
- Table 2 presents the
desirable qualities of male and female principals by gender of
the participants. Women selected good communicator, good listener,
knowledgeable of curriculum and instruction, personable, good
manager, problem solver and seeks input as the top seven qualities
for both male and female principals. Being a good communicator
was the most desirable quality. Of the women participants, 92%
thought being a good communicator was a desirable quality in a
male principal while 94% thought this was a desirable quality
in a female principal.
- Male participants' responses differed slightly. Men selected
good communicator, good listener, knowledgeable of curriculum
and instruction, good manager, problem solver, and seeks input
as desirable qualities in both male and
- female principals.
- However, men felt being decisive was more important than being
personable. Of the male participants, 82% selected decisive as
a desirable quality for male principals and 81% selected it as
a desirable quality for female principals. Personable was selected
as a desirable quality by 75.4% of the male participants. The
data on Table 2 substantiates the data on Table 1.
- Do Male Principals have Legitimate Authority?
- The majority of female participants (63.9%) responded yes, that
males do have legitimate authority (See Table
3). Slightly more than half of male participants responded
that men do not have legitimate authority. This suggests that
men are not in agreement amongst themselves as to whether men
step into the position of principal without having to earn their
- Do Female Principals Have Legitimate Authority?
- The information on Table
4 overwhelmingly says no female principals do not have legitimate
authority. Female and male teachers equally say that women have
to work to earn their authority. Female principals in the 90's
still have to prove themselves. Comments on the surveys stated
that this authority has historically been given to males in the
- By Whom Would You Prefer to be Supervised?
- Although participants in this study were limited to the choices
of male or female for their replies, many chose to add an extra
line indicating either. As a result, the category of either
was added as part of the data analysis. Female and male teachers
stated that gender of the principal did not make a difference.
They had no gender preference for their supervision. Comments
such as the following were made by participants: "I respect
the person and the job he/she does - not gender." The data
raise several questions. If teachers have no preferences for whom
they work, why do female principals still have to prove themselves?
To whom do they need to prove themselves? Are teachers contradicting
- The primary purpose of this study was to examine teachers' attitudes
toward female principals. The results show that female and male
teachers want the same qualities in a principal regardless of
the principal's gender. Teachers want principals who are good
communicators, good listeners, knowledgeable of curriculum and
instruction, personable, problem solvers and who share power and
credit as well as seek variety of input. This study strengthens
the contention that in the 1990's characteristics traditionally
attributed to women's ways of leading are desirable today in male
administrators as well.
- Several questions arose as a result of the responses to legitimate
female authority: Why do women still not have legitimate authority
stepping into a leadership position? Why must women earn the authority?
If teachers are receptive to female principals, to whom must female
principals prove themselves?
- The question still remains, Why are women under represented
as educational leaders? The answers may be within the responses
to the questions above. A follow up study examining this issue
and the questions above is warranted.
- Criswell, M. & Betz, L. (1995). Attitudes toward administrators
among school board members: A current perspective. In B. Irby
& G. Brown (Eds.), Women executives: voices and visions
( pp. 28-35). Austin Texas: The Texas Council of Women School
- Grady, M. (1995). Building a network for women in educational
administration. In B. Irby & G. Brown (Eds.), Women executives:
voices and visions (pp. 121-126). Austin, Texas: The Texas
Council of Women School Executives.
- Gupton, S. L. & Slick, G. A.. (1995). Women leaders: who
are they and how do they compare. In B. Irby & G. Brown (Eds.),
Women executive: voices and visions
- (pp. 6-14). Austin, Texas: The Texas Council of Women School
- Helgesen, S. (1990). The female advantage: women's ways of
leading. New York. Doubleday.
- Lunenburg, F. C., (1995). The principalship: concepts and
applications. Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
- National Center For Education Statistics (ED). (January, 1994).
Public and private school principals: are there too few women.
- Papalewis, R. & Yerkes, D. (1995). Fe/Male: the role of
communication. In B. Irby & G. Brown (Eds.), Women executives:
voices and visions, (pp.15-21). Austin, Texas: The Texas council
- Women School Executives.
- Restine, N. L. (1993). Women in administration: facilitators
for change. Newbury Park, California: Corwin Press, Inc.
- Sergiovanni, T. J., (1995). The principalship: a reflective
practice perspective. Needham Heights, MA: Ally, and Bacon.
- Shakeshaft, C. (1989). Women in educational administration.
Newbury Park, CA.: Corwin Press, Inc.,
- Tannen, D. (1994). Talking from 9 to 5 women and men in the
workplace: language, sex and power. New York: Avon Books.
- Tichy, N. M. & Devanna,M. A., (1990). The transformational
leader. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
- Tingley, J. C. (1994). Genderflex: men & women speaking
each other's language at work. New York: AMACOM.
- Tyree, C. L. (1995). Women in education: are we perpetuating
societal attitudes by moving toward an androgynous leadership
style. In B. Irby & G. Brown (Eds.), Women executives:
voices and visions ( pp. 22-26). Austin, Texas: The Texas
Council of Women School Executives.
- Dr. Johnetta
Hudson is a West Distinguished Professor in
educational leadership at Midwestern State University. Wichita
- Dr. Dorothy Rea
is a principal of Don Bonjour Elementary School
in the Shawnee Mission School District , Lenexa, Kansas.
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