Leadership Practices and Capabilities That Work Best for Middle School English Language Learners: A Multiple Case Study




Boynton, Mary Jane

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The role of schools, and more specifically school principals, is central to the goal of addressing the literacy needs of adolescent English language learners (ELLs). School principals must have the instructional knowledge base and leadership practices as well as the instinctual leadership capabilities to lead their staff in effectively educating all students, but especially ELLs. Effective principals instill a sense of urgency with staff and place literacy at the forefront of school initiatives and programs. The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate and understand the leadership practices and capabilities of three middle school principals who successfully addressed the literacy needs and achievement of ELLs over a three year period. A multiple case study design was used to explore “how” effective principals achieved results. The study examined and described the leadership profiles, practices and capabilities, as well as investigated the perceptions, views, and knowledge of the three middle school principals. Interviews were conducted with each principal as well as focus group interviews with teachers who worked in each school building. For purposes of sorting and categorizing data, a framework was developed anchored in theoretical and research-based leadership literature. This framework was used as a theoretical and organizational guide to aide in the identification of emerging themes. A cross-case analysis was conducted that revealed five dominant themes based on similarities across all three case studies. Though the three principals were very different, both in their personalities, professional experiences, and backgrounds, all three of them focused on developing a culture of shared leadership, emphasized teamwork, and believed in developing teacher leaders. The data strongly suggest that principals should consider a more integrated model of leadership such as distributed leadership while developing strong and purposeful relationships with all faculty, staff, students and parents in order to encourage collaboration and develop teacher leaders. All decisions should be student-focused and driven by data, with a goal of enhancing instructional knowledge and practices. School districts need to support principals in making student-focused decisions. Providing appropriate training and support of principal’s is essential. Responsive educational leadership will prepare future principals to face the realities of public education with courses such as scheduling, data analysis and data-driven practices, developing the school mission, vision, and climate focused on meeting the needs of all students and striving for continuous improvement.