The task-performance behavior of the high school principal in a large suburban school system: a multiple-case study

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


This study was undertaken to investigate the task-performance behavior of suburban high school principals in their natural setting to answer the following questions:

  1. How do suburban high school principals spend their time?

  2. What accounts for the variation between principals in how they spend their time?

This study combined normative statements and descriptions about principals' work with observed time allocation results to give both a qualitative and quantitative picture of the suburban high school principal's life in public school organizations. A multiple-case design was used.

Five high school principals in a large suburban school district in Virginia were selected and agreed to participate in the study. Each principal was observed for one continuous week. To answer question one, data was recorded using a modified structural observation technique popularized by Mintzberg and analyzed using descriptive statistics. Multiple sources of data to include various unobtrusive measures and interviewing were evaluated along with the quantitative data to respond to research question two.

Conclusions: Suburban principals averaged 45.6 hours a week on the job and an additional 8.3 hours after work. Over half their time was spent in scheduled (26.0%) and unscheduled (25.4%) meetings. Observed time devoted to other activities was as follows: desk work, 17.7%; tours, 7.1%; exchanges, 6.0%; phone, 5.5%; trips, 4.3%; personal, 3.0%; monitoring, 2.6%; observation, 2.2%; and announcements, .1%. The purpose of each activity was determined and classified under one of ten categories. The following percentage of principals' time was devoted to each category: maintenance/direction, 33.5%; instruction, 18.1%; visibility/social, 11.1%; student control, 10.1%; student activities, 8.3%; personnel, 7.4%; other/personal, 4.8%; school community, 2.9%; pupil personnel, 2.1%; and finance, 1.7%. Activity type and purpose of activity were subject to statistical analysis to determine if a principal's behavior deviated sufficiently from the norm to warrant an explanation. When outlier behavior occurred, three reasons were identified as causes: the cyclic nature of the school calendar triggered the event; principal's preference for involvement, idiosyncratic to his/her administrative style; and the student body make-up which mirrored the socioeconomic conditions in the school community.