Although many school districts provide inservice professional development to build the capacities of novice principals, some of these supports are proving inadequate in recruiting or retaining qualified leaders. Research on capacity development for novice principals is scarce, yields mixed results, and employs methodology which has invited participant response bias. Reflecting the school level, gender, and Title I experience of novice principals within a large school district in the mid-Western United States, a sample of 24 novice principals respond to semi-structured interview questions. Iterations of transcription coding, member-checking, and analysis yield findings that help school districts better understand the capacity development process of novice principals studied. Novice principals in this study identify facing managerial problems more than instructional or student-related demands. While addressing various demands they face, novice principals draw less on their knowledge or skillsets, but rely much more on their dispositional capacities. In citing sources that developed their capacities to meet these various professional demands, principals ascribe professional sources only slightly more than personal sources in having built their capacities. Further inspection reveals that the sources of capacity development are not as influential as the types of capacity-building through which administrators learn: regardless if the capacity source came from their personal lives or professional careers, principals ascribe their capacities being built primarily from experiential learning, and the constructed learning from passively observing competent models. This preference of certain types of capacity development greatly influence how new principals learn, and has greater effect over capacity development than the source of that capacity, or where the capacity gained that capacity. This held true even when considering all types of demands to which administrators apply these capacities. A principals job requires skillsets beyond instructional leadership alone. This is especially true as districts embrace an emerging conceptualization of school leadership that posits a principals influence on student learning is greatest when applied through intentional, learning-driven organizational management. In focusing solely on principal skillset and knowledge development during trainings, districts neglect the capacity domain that principals utilize most often in addressing demands, which is also the capacity domain through which their knowledge and skills are operationalized: their dispositions. Knowing that principals ascribe certain types of capacity building as the key factor in their development rather than the sources of their capacities, school districts can better embrace, systematize, and leverage these types of capacity development. Such adjustments will more directly and effectively target the capacity development of novice principals, enabling them to address the professional demands they face.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Educational Leadership and Foundations

Date Submitted


Document Type





principal development, leadership development, capacity building, professional development, principal inservice, school districts