Educational Administration, Department of


Date of this Version


Document Type



Journal of Women in Educational Leadership. Vol.1, No.1-January 2003 ISSN: 1541-6224


©2003 Pro>Active Publications


Educational administration has long been a masculinist enterprise. There is a significant theoretical gap and lack of explanations grounded in the experience and language of women (Blackmore, 1993; Shakeshaft, 1987). In addressing that gap related to the experiences of female educational leaders, predominant research on women has primarily surrounded their dilemmas rather than their contributions (Papalewis, 1995). This study addressed both the challenges and contributions of women principals serving in male-dominated, secondary school arenas. We explored the nature of the leadership experiences of three female high school principals by focusing on the perceptions of leadership from the standpoint of female leaders and highlighting how women interact with the male-constructed role of the high school principal. Qualitative methods, including a multiple case study approach, were used. Participants were interviewed and shadowed in their positions for observational data collection. The most salient themes emerging included: (a) in the shadow of an image, (b) proving oneself while being put on watch, (c) invisible networks made visible, (d) mentoring for leadership development, and (e) balancing silence and the rules. In addition, these women presented several characterizations of leadership that included: (a) collaborative communities developed through open doors and open ears, (b) emotional investments and nurturing reap returns, (c) instruction must prevail, and (d) children must be the focus of schools. This study sought to expand our understandings of the challenges that campus- based female leaders face as well as their contributions, thereby broadening our perspectives of female educational leadership, specifically at the high school level.