Connecting Principals' Professional Development to Practice: The Mediating Roles of Context and Phronesis
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The purpose of this qualitative case study was to build on a prior study that examined how principals acquired and applied new knowledge from professional development (PD). Findings from the prior study suggested a three-part model of principals’ learning: (1) learning in a social context facilitates knowledge development, (2) a principals’ context of practice influences learning, and (3) the application of PD learning is mediated by a principal’s phronesis, or practical wisdom, about their context. A purposive sample of five elementary school principals from rural areas in a northern Midwestern state were interviewed and observed in their practice. Principals were asked to reflect on how they processed new knowledge during and after PD sessions. Principals were asked if they applied PD learning in practice and how. Finally, principals were asked what aspects of PD experiences were most useful and why. Data were analyzed using the model that emerged from the prior study as the conceptual framework. Results from this study supported the prior study model of principals’ PD learning. Additionally, results from the present study found principals engaged in a sensemaking process as they acquired and considered new knowledge in light of their contextual constraints and supports. Results also provided a deeper understanding of the contextual considerations that mediated principals’ new learning. Additionally, results confirmed that application of new knowledge occurred as small changes in principals’ practices mediated by principals’ phronesis about their school community gained from experiences in their context. This study has added to the body of knowledge about how principals acquire and apply learning from PD. That body of knowledge can be useful in informing the assessment, design, and delivery of PD programs for principals. Additionally, future research in other contexts of practice can build on this study in an effort to develop a theory into practice model representing how principals learn during PD and apply their learning in practice. As a part of future research, further probing of how and why principals apply learning in practice can help determine to what extent current PD is helping principals become more effective leaders.
Schroeder, Patricia Anne (2013). Connecting Principals' Professional Development to Practice: The Mediating Roles of Context and Phronesis. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from