Lorraine Devereaux
 Holy Redeemer Elementary School
 Winter 1997


 This article centers around a research project involving fifteen schools based both in Canada and in Europe.  It brings awareness of the basic power shifts considered essential for effective site-based management.  It conveys knowledge that training in site-based management theory when combined with exposure to site-based management in practice does make a difference to the success of this contemporary management system.  This difference was especially evidenced in the area of leadership approach, which requires particular and immediate training focus prior to implementation of site-based management.

 There appears to be a growing realization of the need for change in the educational system among researchers (Barth, 1990; Fullan, 1993; Sergiovanni, 1994).  Numerous calls from society for increased school effectiveness and advanced student achievement implies that a cooperating management team within schools is a fundamental ingredient for school improvement.  Site-based management, in which principal, teachers, parents, community members and students are given autonomy to effect educational change, is accentuated as a credible change mechanism that has the capacity to revitalize today's educational system (Herman & Herman, 1992; Hill, Bonan & Warner, 1992; Midgley & Wood, 1993).  Site-based management requiring school-based decision making and increased stakeholder involvement presently engulfs schools in many regions of the western world.  For example, Australia, New Zealand, more than forty states in the United States, as well as all European countries (with the exception of Portugal and some areas of Germany), have already placed their faith in this contemporary management system.  In addition, Canadian provinces such as Nova Scotia and  Newfoundland and Labrador have recently joined Alberta, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island in their quest for shared decision making in school management (Nova Scotia Department of Education, 1994).  In their advocacy for school-based decision making, The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Delivery of Programs and Services in Primary, Elementary, and Secondary Education (Royal Commission, 1992, p. 222) suggest that schools flourish when groups that collectively pursue a common goal are given the power to initiate change and face together the complex forces that are influential in teaching and learning.  Currently in its formative years of site-based management, Newfoundland and Labrador's recent reduction in the number of school boards adds fuel to the necessity for increased school-based decision making in this province.

Deterrents to Site-Based Management

 This mostly mandated structural change, however, presents educators and researchers with a major concern.  As educational practitioners confront implementation of this blanket government policy, there is fear that not all site-based management participants may be sufficiently informed about consensus decision making to ensure effective change in such a vital area for school improvement (Collins, 1995; Devereaux, 1995; Sheppard & Devereaux, 1997).  It is a widely held belief that without sufficient training for school council participants, a move to site-based management may be superficial, simply changing the power base from one group setting to another (Conley & Bacharach, 1990; Fullan, 1993; Nova Scotia Department of Education, 1994; Sergiovanni, 1994).  The Steering Committee for School Council Implementation (1994, p. 7-8) suggested that "resistance to sharing power is perhaps the greatest barrier to change," while Collins (1995) reiterated concerns expressed by The Royal Commission (1992) that it is quite possible that school councils may be dominated by principals.

 Contemplating this anxiety, The Royal Commission (1992, p. 211) suggested that, "competent leadership is critical for any major restructuring to work, but it will need to be developed and nourished and steps will have to be taken to identify appropriate leadership models, skills and potential leaders." In Newfoundland and Labrador, The Schools Act 1996 clearly places responsibility for establishment of legislated school councils among the duties of each and every school principal in this province.  Since the essential role of the school principal as change agent is widely recognized (Mahon, 1991; Hannay, 1992; Haughley and Rowley, 1991; Keedy and Finch, 1994), training and professional development are vitally needed for adoption of site-based management (Bailey, 1991; Bolman and Deal, 1991:  Peeler, 1991; Thurston, Clift and Schact, 1993).

 Many researchers recognize that the transformational leadership approach is steadily emerging as the preferred form of leadership for change (Bass, Waldman, Avolio and Bebb, 1987; Brown, 1994; Leithwood, 1992).  Kouzes and Posner (1995) report similar sentiments as they recount findings based on a sample of more than 36,000 managers and their subordinates that stress challenging the process, inspiring a shared vision, enabling others to act, modeling the way, and encouraging the heart as effective leadership practices in a site-based management environment.

Purpose and Methodology of Study

 This study was initiated specifically to identify the appropriate leadership approach required for the successful implementation of school councils.  It was undertaken to ascertain approaches to leadership and power that were perceived to exist in schools and to determine if leadership and power positions varied with involvement in school councils.

 To accomplish this objective, a two-phase research study was conducted.  In phase one, a group of research participants in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, were selected and were invited to respond to two survey type questionnaires:  the Leadership Practices Inventory (Kouzes and Posner, 1989) and The Relationship Between Principals and Members of School Councils (Chapman, 1982).  The composition of the sample population for this quantitative non-experimental investigation included 207 principals, teachers, parents, community members and students from thirteen schools.  From this sample, seven schools were involved in school councils, while involvement with site-based management in the remaining six schools was nil. 

 The second phase of the investigation was conducted in two site-based managed European schools.  Claims that this environment has one of the most highly evolved types of site-based management, as well as accessibility to schools having several decades of involvement in self-management, attracted the researcher to this specific setting.  Through this qualitative component of the study, data were gathered using taped interviews, journal keeping, principal shadowing, and analysis of school policy and other school-related documents. Opportunities for participant observation in various work situations, including both staff and school council meetings, were provided to the investigator spanning a period of one month.  Approximately two weeks of data collection was conducted per school.  During this time two interview schedules that were grounded in the questionnaires already used in Canada were administered.

 Due to the composition of participants in the qualitative section of the study, extra caution was applied to ensure confidentiality in data presentation. There was one male and one female principal; therefore one principal was labeled as male gender and referred to as Principal One; the other principal was designated female gender and referred to as Principal Two (the gender may or may not be accurate).  All teacher and school council member participants in this study were referred to as female (again, the gender may or may not be accurate).


 The image of fifteen schools sprawled throughout sparsely populated rural areas and densely populated urban areas in parts of Canada and Europe conjures up diversity.  Equally diverse is their exposure in varying degrees to site-based management.  In Canada noninvolvement and involvement in the initial stages appeared to be the norm.  In Europe, however, excitement mounts as the researcher discovered the possibility to study site-based management that spans decades and, further still, to investigate completely autonomous site-based management.  In the totally site-based managed school, contact with school boards had been eliminated, thereby giving the school council complete control over how the funds they received directly from government were dispersed.  An unveiling of these site-based management structures in the Spring of 1995 allowed rich insights into the site-based management world of principal, teachers and parents.

 Findings from the European aspect of this study indicate that even though structural change has occurred and involvement in site-based management is afforded them, some school principals continue to practice a "top down" traditionalist approach to leadership, maintaining "power over" other school council members and thus capitalizing on their positional power. Genuine stakeholder involvement in shared decision making which accompanies effective site-based management appears non-existent.  The primary site-based management goal of improved student learning becomes secondary to the struggle for power.  The expertise of school council members remains dormant and their varying perspectives on school-related issues are not reflected upon; consequently there is maintenance of the status quo.  This is evidenced in the following comments gathered from interviewed principals and their school council representatives.  One school principal expressed the belief that leadership "should be enabling."  However, in reference to a school council member's contribution the principal contended:

 I find it irksome for the school council to be run through elementary ways of doing things. ...The school council members have recognized that I am prepared to take on the management role in the fullest extent. ...I recognize that it can be seen as a block, a stitch up, I recognize that, but it hasn't been challenged.  My school council members seem to be happy with the way we operate.  (Devereaux, 1995)

 A council member at this same school suggested that the principal had almost the full balance of power on school council and that as a school council member, she believed she should be given a little more leeway, stating:

 I feel restricted. ...Even if we have something to say we get knocked down... We all have our little pigeon holes. ...We just do what the principal tells us all the time.  (Devereaux, 1995) 

 In reference to whether the principal of another school used her expertise to influence school council members, a school council representative declared:

 The principal just has her say.  She doesn't try to lay down any laws.  (Devereaux, 1995)

 The principal of this school expressed her leadership beliefs, contending, "it's got to be democratic."  Conversely, when addressing the issue of the principal's influence on school council, she declared:

 I think most school councils, and I'm speaking for my own, they do listen to the principal.  I mean 99.9% of the time the principal has her way.  (Devereaux, 1995)

 Neither of these principals practiced the transformational leadership approach that is compatible with site-based management.  Both principals either directly or indirectly used their influence on school council.  The principal who opted for total self-management for his school used expertise and positional power to completely dominate school council members.  The principal at the school board controlled site used manipulation, subtly maneuvering school council members into following her agenda.  Thus, these principals left school council members powerless to effect change in the educational systems of these particular schools.  Although no generalizations can be made from these two schools, these findings suggest that involvement in site-based management does not guarantee that principals' leadership approaches are in alignment with the site-based management philosophy. Legislated structural change does not ensure acceptance of the shared  decision making necessary for effective school councils.

 At the time when this study was undertaken, site-based management was a new educational concept in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Because it was a pilot project, financial resources were provided to train involved principals and school council members in site-based management theory and practice. Quantitative data collected from this phase of the research study suggest that others perceived that a more transformational approach to leadership was exhibited by principals involved in piloting the school council project, while those who were not involved were perceived to be less open to change and therefore not inclined to readily adapt to site-based management.  An R-square of 0.124 was obtained when multiple regression analysis was applied to determine if there was a relationship between school council members' perceptions of the principals' leadership approach and the schools' involvement in the school council pilot project.  Thus, 12% of variance in leadership approach is explained by involvement in school councils (DF=1, 190; F=26.88; P<0005).  These findings may appear contradictory to those found in the  European environment; however, the significant training and support pilot school council members were given must be taken into account.  Also, it should be noted that these particular principals may have already been interested in working in a shared leadership setting, since school council involvement had not been legislated at that time and principals' involvement in school councils was totally voluntary.


 Principals are entrusted with school council implementation and are expected to become advocates for shared decision making.  Consequently, movement toward management at the local school setting heightens the level of principal involvement making the principal's role in a site-based managed school even more critically related to a school's success.  This changing role also requires a change in leadership approach and use of power.  The new leadership approach required for successful site-based management is not innate and can be learned (Kouzes & Posner, 1995); therefore professional development for principals and other school council members is imperative for the success of site-based management (Wood & Caldwell, 1991; Levin, 1992; Tucker-Ladd, Merchant & Thurston, 1992).

 One Principal of a site-based managed school forewarns us of dangers associated with site-based management when there is lack of adequate funding for resource materials and professional development resources at the school level, stating:

 If the government doesn't realize it can't expect primary education to lift itself to the standards required without more resources, we're all done for. ...We are at busting point and the big risk is that we've got all these plates spinning and we won't be able to keep them all going and, you know, the possible disaster is they'll all crash to the floor. ...Now, that's a cry from the hearts of principals and it's a cry from the heart of teachers, everybody, maybe school council members too, but I think those, in a sense, are not yet close enough to see what's happening.  (Devereaux, 1995)

 Through site-based management training, stakeholders are prepared for striving in unison toward the common goal of elevating student performance to the highest possible level in each particular school.  Working together they develop school policies, formulate the essential skills and knowledge required by today's students, review and pursue personnel and curriculum resources needed for effective school operation, and draft an action plan on how to best offer students distinctive quality preparation in all growth areas.  Then, site-based management participants share accountability and responsibility for decisions that are made.  Equipped with a clear focus on the primary goal, while being supported and encouraged by the other school council members, teachers are empowered and challenged to promote higher standards of achievement and to raise student outcomes.  Hence, site-based management affects teaching and learning in the classroom in a positive way and provides a pathway to the delivery of the best possible schooling for our children.  Emerging theories of The Learning Organization, in which school-based management is an integral component, have already been shown to make inroads in the educational change process, contributing to improvements in teaching, learning and student outcomes (Sheppard, 1995).

 Provision of the necessary resources to properly train school council members will give site-based management a fair chance for success.  Through professional training, those who are closest to schooling will be equipped with the knowledge of how to implement and maintain effective site-based management.  Only then can the potential of school councils, as a means to bring about the changes in student achievement that society considers vital for the workforce of today and tomorrow, be truly realized. 


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Lorraine Devereaux is a teacher and is Acting Vice-Principal at Holy Redeemer Elementary School, Trepassey, NF, A0A 4B0.  She is also a School Council Consultant in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.  Contact:  Lorraine Devereaux at the above address. Telephone:  (709) 438-2377, Fax:  (709) 438-2245, E-mail: