Holding it together: an explanatory framework for maintaining subjective well-being (SWB) in principals

PhD Thesis


Carter, Susan. 2016. Holding it together: an explanatory framework for maintaining subjective well-being (SWB) in principals. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.
Title

Holding it together: an explanatory framework for maintaining subjective well-being (SWB) in principals

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorCarter, Susan
SupervisorAndrews, Dorothy
Dawson, Mark
McIlveen, Peter
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages406
Year2016
Abstract

Principals’ health and well-being has been recognised as a concern at National and State levels in Australia (Riley, 2012) and internationally (Pont, Nusche, & Moorman, 2008). Whilst this concern is well documented within the literature there is little research into how principals are actually maintaining their Subjective Well-Being (SWB). This study sought to investigate and explore the strategies that experienced principals utilised in order to maintain their SWB. Diener’s (2006, 2009) work on SWB formed the basis for the concept of SWB used in this study.

This study used an interpretive case study methodology. The focus of the case was principals’ SWB and within the case there were multiple participants. The model used in the design of this study was ‘An Interactive Model of Research Design’ (Maxwell, 2009). Data were gathered from a purposive geographical sample of school principals in one Australian state (N = 11) using two semi-structured interviews each approximately 60 to 90 minutes in duration. Four specific steps (referred to by Cohen et al., 2007) were used to analyse the data in order to: generate units of meaning; classify, categorise and order these units of meaning; structure narratives to describe the interview contents; and interpret the interview and survey data.

Data revealed that the participants in this study were constantly evaluating their own performance (action) against what they perceived a competent principal would do, given the circumstances. Each principal had a unique perspective as to what constituted competency. When the participants evaluated the moments alongside their perceived standard of what a competent principal should do and the evaluation was positive, it had a positive impact on their SWB. The impact was positive because the participants experienced positive affect, and/or experienced low level negative moods, and/or felt satisfied with life. Therefore principals saw themselves as doing a good job because of their actions (i.e., making a positive difference in the lives of students and others) and this contributed to their positive SWB.

Analysis of the data revealed that participants were utilising previous experience (i.e., tacit knowledge), and then surfacing this knowledge to inform particular ways of
working (i.e., tacit knowing) to maintain their SWB. Analysis of the data illuminated that this way of working involved three processes:
1) Fuel It (FIT) Process;
2) Awakening, Thinking, Enacting, Reflecting (ATER) Process; and
3) MegaPositioning.
Processes were selected based upon the principal’s evaluation of the moment, and their preferred way of working. The findings show that tacit knowing is strongly linked to the maintenance of SWB.

The study is significant as it highlights the process and strategy selection that experienced principals make in order to maintain their SWB and continue to effectively work in their role as principal. The process of maintaining SWB appears to be learnt and underpinned by experiential knowledge and the surfacing of this knowledge in the self (i.e., tacit knowing). The study makes three new contributions to the field; one is methodological (i.e., the use of methodology for investigating SWB) and the other two are theoretical (i.e., a process for maintaining SWB, captured in the explanatory framework; and tacit knowing informs evaluations linked to SWB).

Three recommendations are made as a result of this research: (a) principals need to engage in professional learning throughout their career around improving their own SWB: (b) principals should be provided with safe and supportive opportunities to improve their competency; and (c) principals need an appropriate reporting system for principals with low SWB and the signs of not coping.

The findings from this study allow the reader to explore how some Australian principals maintain their SWB. It is suggested that the research could be used in three ways: firstly to provide school principals with current research regarding ways of working that are being utilised in the field to maintain and enhance SWB; secondly to inform principals’ supervisors regarding these ways of working; and thirdly to share these practices with policy makers.

Keywordsschool principals; health and well-being; subjective well-being
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Linguistics, Adult and Specialist Education
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