Being ‘in’ principalship: An ontological inquiry of well-being experiences

Author: Shaun Kanowski

Kanowski, Shaun, 2021 Being ‘in’ principalship: An ontological inquiry of well-being experiences, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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A global focus on well-being across many human sectors is on the rise. Of serious concern is the predominant emphasis on contemporary empirical research and well-being policy, which frames the phenomenon of well-being as an individual’s problem. Interventions have now become the ‘new’ norm of neoliberal discourse on well-being, which aims to ‘fix’ the problem. School principals are not immune. In Australia, quantitative studies into principal’s well-being started emerging from 2011 and with a predominant focus on quantitative data. These studies do not capture the contextual nature of principals’ well-being and therefore do not capture the nature of being ‘in’ principalship nor the phenomenon of well-being.

This inquiry explores the phenomenon of well-being as experienced by Queensland principals through a phenomenological lens. I argue that well-being is a phenomenon that matters in our everyday lived experiences. We experience the presence or absence of well-being as integral to our human condition. The essence of being human as a principal is shown to be our everyday way-of-being as thrownness, circumspection and desire for “care-full” relationships as we are drawn along by the festivals of relationships. This understanding of the essence of well-being as about being in relation to others, calls for a movement away from current thinking about the phenomenon as something individual - something to ‘fix’ in the individual, thinking instead as something to address in the way people relate to each other. As a phenomenon, well-being can make an appearance from beneath the surface of lived experiences and can be described and interpreted to discover essential meanings and deepen understandings of what Heidegger (1962) terms, “being together in the world”. Well-being is a phenomenon that exists across humanity as the nature of how we exist together.

Principals always work relationally and as such, there is a calling for a focus on cultures of well-being. An understanding of the essence of well-being and not a policy document or new framework, would be beneficial to the everyday care principals. A calling towards a way-of-being built on a foundation of relationships, care and hope.

There is no doubt that there is an ‘urgency’ and a cry for attention to be given to well-being. Rather than just a concern for numbers, measurements and individualising well-being, this phenomenological inquiry has shown well-being to be a collective phenomenon where our interdependence and context always matter. It also challenges the priority and nature of well-being research that dominates and privileges deficit and quantitative studies, which largely minimises the stories and lived experiences of principals. What is lost is principals’ first-hand experiences and a situated understanding of principal well-being, so crucial to ‘being’ in principalship.

Keywords: School, principals, well-being, experiences

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Professor David Giles