Turning Points 2000, Educating Adolescents in the 21st Century (Jackson & Davis, 2000) is a Report of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The authors state, "No single individual is more important to initiating and sustaining improvement in the middle grades school students' performance than the school principal" (p. 157). Benard (1991) suggests that schools wishing to build resiliency in adolescents promote three fundamental goals, providing care and support, setting and communicating high expectations and providing opportunities for meaningful participation.
This is a comparative case study of two middle school principals in a suburban school district in the southwest. Subsequent to professional development sessions, both principals made commitments to change their middle school cultures, relative to addressing the needs of adolescents, by overtly striving to promote resilience within students.
The behaviors and attitudes of the two participants were studied first through analyses of initial interviews for emergent themes. From the emergent themes, domains were set to establish the principals' espoused theories of how they promote student resiliency. Next, archived district data, documents and various forms of district communications were used to bring clarity to actions and attitudes. These were coupled with on-site observations and follow-up interviews of teachers for the purpose of triangulation of data. Analyses of the findings into the domains established from the interviews allowed for an examination of the administrators' enacted theories.
Findings indicate that middle school principals define their practice as promoting a stable, caring environment for adolescents who, because of their developmental processes, are in the midst of much internal variability. In order to foster resilience in middle school students, the principals espoused that there must be systems and structures in place, such as discipline management systems and structures for on-going, job embedded professional development.
Additionally, key to promoting a positive school climate is the hiring, placement and adjustment of caring individuals who enjoy working with middle school students. These individuals will, in turn, provide opportunities for meaningful student participation. Finally, the purposefully selected principals, possess the personal attributes of courage, commitment and conviction, which are paramount to execution of a resilience-promoting vision.