Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Department or School

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

Ronald Williamson

Committee Member

Gary Marx

Committee Member

Deborah A Harmon

Committee Member

Barbara Bleyaert


The knowledge era has been described as a time when new information will be developing through a lens of globalization and technology. Many organizational theorists are thinking of leadership that abandons age-old bureaucratic practices and enables the organization to meet its goals. Through the lens of complexity theory, schools are seen as organizations that are constantly adapting to environmental change. Leadership for such organizations is seen as moving away from command and control and toward democratic, person-centered relational styles. The primary goals for this research were to identify the leader behaviors of elementary school principals who effectively lead for change in an environment that is standards-based with high accountability and to identify personal characteristics that enable the principal and the school to thrive in a turbulent environment. This case study analysis of the leadership practices of three elementary school principals documents specific attitudes and behaviors used in daily school management. Interviews with principals and teachers from three elementary schools over a three-month period showed coinciding patterns that support the study's internal validity. The study found that a school with a constantly changing environment and the pressure of mandatory high stakes assessments was viewed by the principals as the "new normal" that could be managed through a heightened sense of accountability of staff and the use of effective communication with all constituents. Contrary to the more top-down approach to managing, the data showed that when school leaders reflect a strong moral base, social awareness, empathy, and flexibility and adaptability, positive changes for all stakeholders can occur. The participating principals had support for their decision to become principals and to create environments of relative stability for the children and staff at their schools. The study also revealed that an environment of trust and confidence among teachers was built when the principals encouraged teacher leadership, practiced collaboration, insured effective use of staff, and restructured school improvement processes based on individual school needs. Analysis showed a strong connection between the principals’ personal characteristics and their behaviors as applied to managing the school and relating to staff. Conclusions include recognition of specific personal characteristics and leader behaviors that pave the way for leadership in self-organizing, emergent schools. Future research focus may include the dynamics of interactions between principals, teachers, parents, and the context in complex organizational systems, which over time fosters creativity.

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