School principals have considerable influence on how subjects in their schools are perceived and taught. Research on principals’ thoughts, perceptions, and views about physical education, however, is limited. The purposes of this study were to (a) examine how principals read and what expectations they had for physical education and (b) describe the factors that shaped these readings and expectations.
Two components of occupational socialization—acculturation and professional socialization— were the theoretical perspectives that guided data collection and analysis. Participants were 19 principals from two school systems. They were asked to answer 21 open-ended questions within an online electronic survey. Questions focused on their beliefs about and values for physical education as well as the factors that shaped those beliefs and values.
Data were coded and categorized and reduced to key themes using analytic induction and constant comparison. Key findings were that the principals had a limited and superficial understanding of the goals of physical education, its curricula, and pedagogies. This was because their beliefs about the subject were largely shaped by their own experiences of physical education and sport as children and youth. Conversely, their professional socialization had little or no impact on their beliefs about the subject because it was either non-existent, weak, or served to support views they had acquired through acculturation. Not surprisingly, therefore, the principals misconceived some aspects of physical education and had faulty, conflicting, and contradicting ideas about other components of the subject. For example, the principals appeared to know little about the different curriculum models available to physical education teachers and teaching styles employed in the physical education setting. Moreover, they implied that physical education and extracurricular sport were synonymous, but that school sport was for highly skilled “athletes” while physical education was for everybody else. In addition, they focused on physical education teachers’ character and behavior traits, rather than their pedagogical skill, and advocated that students be evaluated based on effort as opposed to learning or performance.
If these findings transfer to other groups and locations, a major implication of the study is that the training for those intending to become principals needs to include a much stronger physical education component. Such training should be focused on conveying the full range of the subject’s potential goals as well as different curriculum models, specific pedagogies, and evaluation techniques. In addition, every effort should be made to change faulty beliefs.