Academic journal article Education

Leadership's Influence: A Case Study of an Elementary Principal's Indirect Impact on Student Achievement

Academic journal article Education

Leadership's Influence: A Case Study of an Elementary Principal's Indirect Impact on Student Achievement

Article excerpt

Literature Review

Research on the principal position goes back for decades, and there is no shortage of literature that attempts to define the position and how it impacts all aspects of the field of education. More recently, due to increasing demands on school accountability nationwide, how the principal impacts student achievement has come to the forefront as a major interest to researchers on school leadership. The literature reviewed identified five themes regarding successful school principals. These findings include the following: (1) Qualities of effective leadership (2) Principal's establishing a vision and setting goals (3) Principals positively impacting school culture (4) Principals leading distributed leadership systems (5) and personal traits of the effective principal. The following studies have provided evidence on what makes an effective school leader, Cotton (2003); Gurr, Drysdale, & Mulford (2006); Hallinger & Heck, (1996); Leithwood, Louis Anderson, & Wahlstron, (2004); Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, (2005); McGough, (2003); Mullen, Gordon, Greenlee, & Anderson, (2002); Spillane, (2006). Other studies show that the principal can impact student performance through influencing the goals of the school, and setting a clear vision Brooks (2007); Capper and Frattura (2007); Copeland, (2003); Dumay, X., Boonen, T., & Van Damme, J. (2013). Peterson and Deal (1999); Leithwood and Jatzi (2008), Taylor and Tashakkori (1994) found that the principal can impact the school through establishing a positive school structure and culture. The research also notes that school leadership may have a greater influence on student achievement when leadership responsibilities are widely distributed, Heck and Hallinger (2009); Penlington, Alison, and Day (2008). Finally, a handful of personal traits explain much of the variation among principals who have impacted student achievement, Fullan (2002); Jean-Marie (2008); McEwan (2003); Scheurich and Skrla (2003); Whitaker (2003). Leithwood, Louis, Anderson & Wahlstom (2004) argued that of all the factors that contribute to student achievement, leadership's effect is second only to classroom instruction.

Within this research context, the researcher attempts to uncover more specifically; what support is provided by principal's who have influenced student achievement? This study adds to the literature by employing a framework specifically focused on student achievement. The reviewed literature offers some important insights into the research question, but by using the Perspective on Learning Environment framework and focusing on one case, this study is able to provide more specific findings about principal provided support that lead to increasing student achievement. Thus, this investigation adds to this body of research by targeting and illuminating the specific supports that this principal provided that had a positive impact on student achievement that could be replicated at other school sites.


This study is a qualitative case study. Interviews and document analysis were used to collect data. Three one-hour interviews were conducted with the principal. One-hour interviews were conducted with 6 teachers in the building. One-hour interviews were conducted with two district office administrators, totaling 11 hours of interview data. Documents such as building plans, and parent organization agendas, were evaluated. Recorded findings were triangulated. The research question is what supports did the elementary principal in this high-achieving school implement to increase student achievement?

Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework for this study comes from chapter six of Bransford, Brown, Cocking, Donovan, and Pellegrino's (2000) book entitled How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. They discuss a Perspective on Learning Environment framework, which identifies four general perspectives of quality learning environments and emphasizes that they need to be conceptualized as a system of inter-connected components that mutually support one another (p. …

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