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From Preservice Socialization to Role Exit: Exploring Early-Career Principal Attrition Open Access

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With up to 50 percent of principals exiting prematurely in some localities, based on research-established norms, there is an immediate need to explore and understand principal attrition. While principals have an indirect role in student achievement, mediate by others such as teachers and other instructional leaders, the role is important. The principal is a potential leverage point that policy makers, local and otherwise, can utilize to have the greatest impact on teaching and learning and thus student outcomes, particularly with financial and human resource decisions. This grounded theory study used snowball sampling to identify and engage with ten former principals in the United States with semi-structured interviews. The aim was to explore the experiences and exit decision-making process of former educators who served five years or fewer as principal. There were four major findings in this research: (1) knowledge constructed during anticipatory socialization plays a key role in the later decision to exit the role; (2) educators rely heavily on personal interactions with peers and supervisors to create an idealized image of the role and expectations for day-to-day functioning as a principal; (3) there is no single cause for exit, rather educators experienced a series of compounding, unanticipated tasks they were unprepared for; and (4) exit from the principalship follows a linear path found in the pre-established role-exit process.

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