The Saskatchewan Principalship Study
Report One: Profile of the Principal

By Pat Renihan and Brian Whiteside

SSTA Research Centre Report #123: 55 pages, $14.

The Role: Legislated and Perceived Functions The "Saskatchewan School Principalship" is a term which would seem simple to those unfamiliar with the Saskatchewan educational context. An examination of the "variety of the species", however, illustrates the impossibility of providing a profile of the Saskatchewan school principal that can encompass the total picture and also provide a meaningful profile of the "typical" Saskatchewan principal. Given the myriad personal and contextual factors and job parameters, the role cannot be clarified in sweeping terms. The following analysis of demographic characteristics serves to illustrate this point from the perspective of a) the person, b) the school situation, and c) the working conditions.
Profile of the Principal: Summary
Profile of the Principal: The Issues

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The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use. Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.



The role of the Saskatchewan school principal has undergone, and continues to undergo, significant changes. In order to "take stack" of the position and to understand some of the changes which have taken place, we shall describe in this section the "Legislated" role of the principal and the "perceived" role of the principal (from the perspective of teachers, trustees, directors, and school principals themselves) . In addition, same broad evolutionary trends in the principalship in Saskatchewan over the past thirty years will be traced.

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The duties of the principal are specified in Section 175 of the Education Act (1978), as follows: Duties of Principal 175. Subject to the stated policies of the board of education and to the regulations, a principal, under the supervision of the director or superintendent, shall be responsible for the general organization, administration and supervision of the school, its program and professional staff and for administrative functions which pertain to liaison between the school and the board and its officials and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the Principal shall.-

(a) organize the program of courses and instruction approved by the board for the school; (b) assign, in consultation with members of his staff, the duties of each member of the teaching staff,- (c) prescribe the duties and functions of his assistants and support staff; (d) exercise general supervision over the work of a11 members of his staff and of other employees of the board whose duties relate directly to the care and maintenance of the school building and its facilities and to the well-being and good order of pupils during the period of each day ~ the pupils are under the control of the school; (e) provide leadership for enhancement of the professional development of his staff,- (f) co-operate with the universities in programs for the education and training of teachers,- (g) conduct, in co-operation with his staff, a continuing program of planning and evaluation with respect to the objectives, curriculum, pedagogy and effectiveness of the instructional program of the school; (h) define and prescribe the standards of the school with respect to the duties of pupils and give such direction to members of his staff and to pupils as may be necessary to maintain the good order, harmony and efficiency of the school; (i) administer or cause to be administered such disciplinary measures as he considers proper and as are consistent with this Act,- (j) establish, in consultation with his staff, the procedures and standards to be applied in evaluation of the progress of pupils and in making promotions; (k) develop, in co-operation with his staff, procedures for preparation of reports to parents ac guardians an the progress of pupils and establish mutually acceptable and beneficial channels far communication between the school and parents of pupils,- (1) maintain regular liaison with the director or superintendent with respect to all matters Pertaining to the well -- being of the school, the staff and the pupils: (m) advise and make recommendations to the director or superintendent with respect to staffing of the school,- (n) prepare and furnish to the director or superintendent, the board and the department such reports and returns as may be required from time to tine with respect to the school,- (o) exercise leadership, in co-operation with the director at superintendent and the board, in the promotion of public involvement in educational planning directed toward the improvement of education in the school and in the division

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Perceptions of the role of the school principal in Saskatchewan have been the source of investigation in previous studies of the principalship in this Province. Egnatoff (1968l examined changes in perceptions of the functions of the principalship between 1954 and 1965. For this purpose, he investigated eight functions. These same eight functions comprised the basis of the present study, and were defined for this study as follows:

1. ADMINISTRATION. (Refers to the office and clerical responsibilities requited in the day-to-day operation of the school.)

2. CLASSROOM TEACHING. (Refers to actual practice in the classroom.)

3. STUDENT COUNSELLING. (Refers to person-to-person relationships with students for personal or vocational counselling.)

4. SUPERVISION OF INSTRUCTION IN THE CLASSROOM. (Refers to the formal process of visitation, observation, feedback and documentation of teacher performance.)

5. FOSTERING DESIRABLE ATTITUDES ON THE PART OF STUDENTS AND TEACHERS (Refers to the quality of human relationships and morale.)


7. PROFESSIONAL LEADERSHIP OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL. (Refers to involvement in teacher and/or administrator professional organizations.)

8. COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP. (Refers to working with the community in educational and community matters.)

Several questions relating to the perceived role of the school principal have same considerable significance for the way in which he performs the role:

* What degree of consensus is there between various groups concerning perceptions of the functions of the principalship * What degree of congruence exists between what people perceive to be actually happening and what should be happening in the role

What are perceived to be the more important and less important functions of the principalship These questions are examined in the sections which follow. The discussion is based upon data collected by means of questionnaires and interviews during 1983.

A summary of the mean scores of rural teachers, principals, directors and trustees concerning their perceptions of the real and ideal frequency of performance of the principal's functions is contained in Table 4.

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The data contained in Table 4, it appears that there was a remarkable consensus among the four groups concerning the actual role which the principal performs. There was also a fair amount of consensus as to the role which the principal should perform. There was quite a considerable difference between rural principals and rural trustees in their perceptions of the community leadership function. Principals perceived that they are doing much more in this area than trustees seemed to think they are doing. Trustees believed principals to be doing more supervision of classroom instruction than did any of the other groups, particularly teachers and principals. All of the rural groups of respondents seemed to be in agreement that administration is a necessary function which should receive a significant proportion of the principal's time. However, groups also agreed that classroom teaching by principals should be done less frequently than it is at present. Principals themselves were most emphatic as a group about this point.

THE IDEAL ROLE. -- Groups agreed that student counselling by principals should be a more frequently performed function.

The greatest discrepancy between what is and what should be, occurred in perceptions about the supervision of instruction by principals. All groups perceived that it should be performed considerably more frequently than is currently the case, although teachers did not perceive the need for as great a frequency of this function as did the other groups. In regard to leadership outside the school, groups were in agreement that professional leadership outside the school should be exercised more frequently, while trustees in particular perceived that community leadership should be performed significantly more than it is currently performed by rural principals.

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Perceptions of urban teachers, principals and trustees responding to questionnaires about the functions of the principalship are summarized in Table 5. Their perceptions are reflected in mean scores for each group as to the frequency of performance of the principal's functions. The following major points are evident in the data contained in

THE ACTUAL ROLE. -- Teachers perceived principals to be doing less classroom teaching than other groups perceived them to be doing. -- Teachers perceived principals to be doing less student counselling than principals perceived themselves to be doing. -- Teachers perceived principals to be doing significantly less supervision of classroom instruction than other groups perceived them to be doing.

-- Directors perceived less to be taking place in the fostering of desirable attitudes than did the other respondents.

-- Trustees seemed to believe principals to be involved in extra-curricular activities more than teachers indicated.


There was a noteworthy consensus among groups as to how frequently classroom teaching and student counselling ought to be performed. In particular, groups agreed that student counselling ought to be performed by principals significantly more than it currently is. Classroom teaching for the urban respondents should be performed slightly less than it is at present.

As was the case with rural respondents, all groups agreed that supervision of classroom teaching should be performed more frequently by principals. However, teachers again were not so strong as the other groups on this issue. They felt that, while principals should emphasize supervision more frequently, they should not be in teachers' classrooms too frequently. There was a strong indication across groups that principals should concern themselves with climate-development within the school (fostering desirable attitudes on the part of teachers and pupils). All agreed that it should be emphasized as a deliberate function by principals much more frequently and consistently than it currently is being exercised.

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Table 6 contains a simple rank ordering of the principal's functions as perceived by the total group of respondents. The functions were ranked by totaling the mean scores for the four groups of respondents on the basis of their perceptions of "actual" performance of the functions and the "ideal" performance of the functions. This provides a general indicator of the "conventional feeling" as to what is happening and what should be happening in the role. The contrasts between "actual" and "ideal" and between urban and rural groups are evident from the rankings in Table 6.

From the information in Table 6, Several points of significance can be identified: Classroom teaching, as a function of principals, received a high degree of prominence in regard to actual demands upon the principal's time. However, educators gave this function a much lower priority when its ideal frequency of performance was considered relative to other functions.

* The principal's involvement in extracurricular activities was also perceived a function which should ideally receive less emphasis, relative to other tasks, than it currently does. Educators felt that student counselling, staff supervision and the general activity of fostering desirable attitudes should ideally receive greater prominence relative to other functions than they actually do receive. Administration, it seems, is an important reality in the principal's job -- whether it is performed in a rural oz an urban setting. The indication seems to be that this function receives more attention than most other tasks, and that this should rightly be the case. The noteworthy similarity in the "ideal" column between rural and urban groups suggests that there exists a "conventional wisdom" Concerning what the role of the principal should be, and which does not seem to be influenced by situational factors. The major disparities between rural and urban groups lie in the actual role which the principal performs.

The two more obvious areas of difference are in the functions of classroom teaching and staff supervision. Classroom teaching was perceived to be actually receiving much more emphasis, relative to other functions, by rural principals than by their urban counterparts. Similarly, supervision of instruction was perceived as receiving eighth greatest "actual" emphasis by rural groups, as opposed to second greatest actual emphasis by urban respondents.

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A common source of concern, which has received same considerable attention in literature on the principalship, is the question as to whether the principal should be predominantly a "teacher" or predominantly an "administrator". Perceptions of the four groups of respondents were solicited by means of a "forced choice" question which was put to them in the questionnaire. These perceptions are summarized in Table 7. The data in the Table illustrates quite strongly the ambivalence which existed within group on the question of whether the principal should be an "administrator" or a "teacher". In particular, teachers and principals themselves were quite evenly divided on the issue. It is interesting to note that a greater proportion of principals saw themselves in the "teacher" category than did any of the other groups. A greater proportion of the trustees and directors (63.5 percent and 68 percent respectively) saw the principals as an administrator than was the case with teachers' and principals' groups. The urban directors were strongly inclined toward the "administrator" side of the question, 87 percent of them selecting this choice. Apart from this latter finding, there was little disparity between urban and rural respondents on the question of whether the principal should predominantly be a teacher or an administrator. The dichotomy is in many respects an unrealistic one, as it forces a choice between two vital functions of the principalship. However, the major indication is, perhaps predictably, that trustees and directors lean toward the administrator role, while principals, and, to a lesser extent, teachers, favour the "teacher" side of the question.

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At one group interview involving principals, the point was made that living with the "teacher-administrator dichotomy" presents a "schitzo" problem for principals. On one hand, they are teacher colleagues, part of the teaching team, while on the ether, they must supervise staff and cape with the "aura of evidence-collecting" which accompanies the function of supervision. This interview group pointed strongly to the need for principals to acquire supervisory skills and to be prepared and knowledgeable in the area before they can develop the strong "helping rapport" required for effective supervision. It was noted that new principals in particular require skills, training and equipment to do a good job of supervision. From the information in this and other interviews, the suggestion which emerged strongly was that living with the teacher-administrator dichotomy requires consistent "backup" from central office, and specific attention to preservice and inservice programs designed to equip principals to assume administrative responsibilities effectively.


An examination of verbatim responses of students to the question: What is the Role of the Principal?, provides a general indication of what students perceive to be the functions which receive greatest emphasis by principals. Figure XIX provides a variety of statements of third year university students and grades 5 and 6 students who were asked to respond to the question.

From the comments in Figure XIX, it is evident that these students attributed managerial responsibility to the principal much more so than such responsibilities as instructional leadership and supervision. The younger students in their comments were mare than 70% oriented toward a "managerial" concept of the principal, while a few perceptions referred to the teaching role, as might be expected from students in an elementary school setting. Comments from the university students reveal at least same recognition of the instructional supervisory role of the principal, helping and motivating teachers and exercising curriculum leadership. However, these students also mentioned managerial-type roles quite frequently, an indication that, for these people also, the management function is a significant reality in the principalship which demands a large and very visible proportion of the principal's time. Another common role ascribed to the principal by students was that of arbiter in school-related conflicts, keeping the peace within the school, and acting as mediator between teachers, parents and students.

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"I feel that principals who don't teach at all (even a little bit] really lose touch with the classroom situation."

"Should be more concerned with people than forms, agendas, statistics, publications, etc."

"Our principal is excellent in the classroom, and does a fine job of looking after the paperwork, etc. But our staff morale is law, and our principal is incapable of dealing with us professionally.

In his own words "who am I to tell anyone how they are doing -- they know as much as me". True or not doesn't matter -- what we need is support. Our principal should know what we are doing, acknowledge our strengths, help us work on our weaknesses. God knowsit's a tough job. I would welcome feedback of any kind from him instead. of this total vacuum. I suspect our principle is not at all comfortable with that aspect of his job. I think he abhors it."


"If I had my druthers, I would have a school run by an educational leader or master teacher with an administrative or managerial assistant."

"A principal is the centre of the total function of the school community. Must gain the respect of the parents...politic them well!"

"I don't really think a person would have to know how to teach in order to be a good principal. More of a coordinator. Must have his own confidence and inspire it in others to do their best also."


"Principals should establish and maintain a goad working atmosphere for job satisfaction and self development."

"Be involved in the community. It benefits your school."


"An onsite manager."

"A principal should ideally be an excellent teacher with strong leadership skills."

"A teacher of teachers"

"Organization for effective and, efficient use of personnel and time."

The foregoing comments represent a small proportion of the verbatim responses concerning the principal's role which was received from the questionnaires. The total verbatim comments, as with the above, did point to a general concern that the principal be involved to a greater extent than at present, with the exercise of "professional Staff leadership" within the school. The above comments, and many others called for an increased attention on the part of principals to the role of "teacher leader".

In addition, community involvement and leadership seemed to receive prominence in verbatim responses, as did the public relations and "Politician's" roles which seem to accompany this function.

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Egnatoff's (1968) comparative study of the principalship in 1954 and 1965 provided an interesting basis for subsequent studies of changes in perceptions of the principal's role. Building upon Egnatoff's earlier research, therefore, the present study of the principalship in 1984 has, in addition to the description of the current status of the role, an additional dimension: the ability to trace changes in perceptions of the functions of the principalship. Through this process, major trends in various aspects of the principalship may also be extrapolated into the future.

Figure XX summarizes the broad shifts in emphasis over the period 1954 to 1984. For each of the three focal years, the perceptions of trustees and school principals were totaled far each of the eight functions of the principalship, and these were subsequently ranked from "least important" (8) to "most important" (1). The major perceptual "shifts" are marked in Figure XX by the arrows.

The information contained in Figure XX suggests that there indeed. have been several significant changes, or "shifts in emphasis", in the principal's role during the time which has elapsed between the 1954 and 1984 studies. Undoubtedly, the marked increase in the perceived importance of the supervisory role of the principal represents the most dramatic change in emphasis. Two forces, a) provincial Legislation; and b) changes in administrative theory would seem to be the major accounting factors in explaining the phenomenon. (The former mandating the function, the latter highlighting its desirability and providing methodologies.) A second area which seems to have increased in importance to trustees and principals is that of community leadership.

The principal's role in working with community groups is accorded greater significance now than it was in the 1954 and 1965 studies. The literature during the past decade has played a significant part in this development, by bringing into higher profile the relationship between the school and the community. In addition, there has been a heightened concern on the part of school administrators for the impact of the community on the school and the implications which this has for the public relations function. The verbatim comments on the questionnaire are further evidence of this concern. The level of importance of this area to the Principalship study is also reflected in the fact that one entire sub-report (Report 03) is devoted to the principal's role in school-community relations. The most significant downward shift in perceived importance has been the teaching function. In fact, the decline of this function as part of the principal's role seems to have taken place prior to 1965. The relative increase in importance of the supervisory role and the community leadership role together with the proliferation of new tasks and responsibilities has forced the principal to reduce the teaching function. School boards in many locations have responded by budgeting for more time free from actual teaching so that principals may cope with these additional and changing responsibilities. Administration remains a high priority function of principals, although there has been a slight drop in the perceived importance of this function since 1965. As indicated earlier in this report, the office and clerical responsibilities required in the day-to-day operation of the school continue to be perceived as a reality which is part and parcel of the principal's job.

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"There' s more accountability than in the past. The Principal is becoming far more involved with being right more often."


"More responsibility is being placed on the principal. The principal is being regarded as a leader outside and inside the School."


"People are recognizing the leadership importance of the principal. A school runs as its principal runs."


"A lot of responsibility is being passed from directors to principals, specifically in teacher supervision."

"There is also a need for the principal to be more flexible in scheduling for evening occasions, becoming more involved with parents, and encouraging parents to be involved in the school."


"The principal used to be the disciplinarian, then he became the manager, and now he is taking on the role of the educational leader."


"Because teachers have grown in their own professional development, the principal must do the same. Today there is greater emphasis on the need to be knowledgeable and to possess better skills."


"There has not been a visible change in the principal's job as I see it."


"In the past, the principal was the 'super teacher', a leader, often senior, and well educated compared to the staff. Today, teachers are also highly qualified, with experience, and so the principal must be more accommodating.

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Age. The average age of the Saskatchewan school principal is 43.7 years, the average age of female principals being slightly higher than that of male principals. In addition, there is a significantly higher representation of over 45-age principals among the urban than among the rural group. The Provincial trend between 1974 and 1984 has been for an increase in the number of principals in the over 45-age category and a dramatic drop in the numbers of under-35 age principals.

Sex. The proportion of females in the principalship in Saskatchewan (14.7 percent) remains quite law when this proportion is compared to the proportion of females in the total teaching force (51 percent) .

Education. Although there has been a steady improvement in the level of qualifications of principals in this Province since 1954, there remains only a modest proportion of the Province's principals (13 percent of them) who have completed a graduate degree. This situation is more marked among the rural principals and the female principals (33 percent of wham have no degree) .

Experience. The rural principals, apart from being younger than their urban counterparts, are less experienced and more mobile. The average experience with the present board is 9.8 years for rural, and 17.9 years for urban principals. A significantly higher proportion of rural than of urban principals have had less than ten years experience with their present board. A similar picture exists when total teaching experience is analyzed. In regard to administrative experience, 78 percent of the urban and 48 percent of the rural, principals have had experience as a vice-principal.

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Location. About 66 percent of Saskatchewan's principals work in rural schools. School Size. According to same (U.S.) definitions of "small" schools with fewer than 599 students, over 95 percent of Saskatchewan's schools could he categorized as "small". Over 70 percent of Saskatchewan principals work in schools with fewer than 250 students, and 79 percent of this Province's schools have 15 or fewer full time teacher equivalents. System Size. School systems are also characteristically small in

Saskatchewan. Ninety-four percent of Saskatchewan school systems have fewer than 14 principals, and 58 percent of the systems have principals' groups of 7 or fewer. Grade Structure. here is a wide variety of schools according to grade structure. There are 43 combinations of grade patterns the more frequent being K-B schools, K-12 schools and K-6 schools. Denomination. Separate schools account for almost 33 percent of the urban, and 2 percent of the rural schools in Saskatchewan.

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Administrative Time. Of the 125 principals who have no time set aside for administrative purposes in this Province, 120 are principals of rural Schools. The figures indicate that administrative time is better provided in urban than in rural schools. Only 27 percent of the rural principals, as opposed to 78 percent of the urban principals have mote than 50 percent administrative time. Quite predictably, administrative release time was perceived as inadequate by a greater proportion of rural than of urban respondents to the principalship questionnaire. Principals and directors perceived greater inadequacies in this regard than did teachers and trustees. Hours of Work. Over half the responding principals in this study

indicated that they work in excess of 46 hours per week, while 40 percent of the principals indicated that they work two to three days during Christmas holidays, and 24 percent indicated that they work two to three days during Easter vacation. Perceived time devoted to the job was slightly higher for rural than for urban principals. Administrative Assistance. Over 50 percent of rural schools and 36 percent of the urban schools have no provision for a vice-principalship. Support Services. Provision of clerical assistance did not Seem to be a major area of concern to Saskatchewan principals, both rural and urban. There seemed to be general satisfaction with the clerical assistance provided.

Salary. There was a predictable difference in the perceptions of principals, trustees and directors concerning the adequacy of principals' salaries. Principals perceived that they were paid less adequately than did trustees and directors.

General Level of Satisfaction with Working Conditions. Over 70 percent of Saskatchewan principals are generally satisfied with their working conditions. Of those who expressed dissatisfaction, the greater proportion were rural principals.

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The Legislated Role. The major prescriptions in The Education Act (19781 for the principal's role are found in Section I75 of the Act. The most frequently mentioned. concerns expressed. by principals with regard to the Act will be outlined in Report $2 of the Principalship Study.

The Perceived Role.

Rural Principals. There was a strong consensus among teachers, directors, trustees and principals concerning the actual role which the principal' performs. Groups were agreed that classroom teaching should be done less frequently than at present, and that the supervision function should be carried out more frequently. Rural trustees perceived a need for the increased performance of the community leadership function by principals.

Urban Principals: All groups agreed that classroom supervision Should be performed more frequently by principals. They also agreed that the teaching function should be performed slightly less than it is at present, and that Student counselling should receive greater attention by principals. C. General Priorities: The consensus was that classroom teaching and extra-curricular improvement should receive less emphasis by principals, while student counselling, supervision and fostering desirable attitudes should be engaged in more frequently. Administration continues to be perceived as a vital function by all groups. There was a significant similarity between rural and urban groups in their perception of the "ideal" role of the principal. Group were ambivalent on the question of whether the principal should be a teacher or an administrator. Trustees and directors saw the principal mainly in the "administrator" camp, while teachers and principals leaned more to the "teacher" side of the dichotomy. The situation presents a "schitzo" problem for the principal, which should be addressed in in-service and pre-service training. D. Shifts in Emphasis: During the period 1954-1984, there have been several significant changes in the perception of the principal's role. The supervisory role and the community leadership role have increased in importance, while the actual teaching function has significantly declined as a priority function. Administration remains a high priority function.

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1. There appear to be two very distinct realities in Saskatchewan: an urban reality and a rural reality. Urban school systems have more stability in regard to administrative resources. Urban principals are generally older, more experienced, and better trained and less geographically mobile than their rural counterparts. They are closer to institutions of administrator preparation, and they are large enough to create strong professional development and leave opportunities.

2. There has been a gradual trend toward an older principal group in Saskatchewan. This would seem to have implications for the design of programs of inservice education for administrators. The indication is that principals have been staying in the job. Even though they may he geographically mobile in rural areas, a high percentage would seem to be remaining in the principalship.

3. Female educators are under-represented in Saskatchewan's principalship force. While boards and directors should be encouraged to better utilize their human resources in terms of administrative potential, individuals with administrative potential should be encouraged to put themselves forward for such positions.

4. The opportunities for administrative pre-service and inservice training for principals in this province are in drastic need of review. An examination of the credentials of Saskatchewan principals reveals a startling proportion of principals, particularly in rural areas, who have not completed a first degree. The proportion of individual" with graduate training, while increasing somewhat in recent years, remains very low.

5. Saskatchewan principals are typically "small school" principals who work in small school systems. This would call into question the appropriateness of methodologies and role descriptions designed in the United States for schools which are vastly different in size and which reflect a different reality.

6. It appears unrealistic to write in terms of "Tie school principalship". According to grade structure alone, there are 43 permutations represented in Saskatchewan schools. Given the myriad personal and contextual factors, each with its own demands an the role, there are limitations to describing "the principalship" in broad generalizations

7. The time made available by boards for principals to adequately meet mandated responsibilities and to measure up to the expectations of others for community leadership, professional leadership and basic administrative performance, is undoubtedly an issue. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in rural schools. As one rural principal noted" Give us the resources, including time, to do the job, that's all we ask."

8 The principal's role needs to be clarified in regard to a) The Education Act and b) formal expectations, at the System level. For the reasons identified in item, #6 above, role clarification for principals needs to be undertaken at both the provincial level and the system level- Role descriptions in keeping with the specific characteristics of the system and its schools should be an important component of the policy manual at the system level.

The increased expectation that principals be involved with leadership outside the school, in the professional community and the local community, broadens the scope of the principal's role beyond the traditional in-school leadership expectation.

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