Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Patricia L. Reeves

Second Advisor

Dr. Nancy Mansberger

Third Advisor

Dr. Lynn Nations-Johnson


Principal leadership, teacher professionalism, teacher autonomy, collaborative school culture


This instrumental multiple case study examines the actual activities and behaviors of elementary school principals who are known for building a collaborative school culture. The principals in these case studies were nominated by key informants as leaders who empower and mobilize teachers to grow professionally and interdependently in ways that enhance self-direction and motivation through reflecting on their own practices, practicing authentic self-assessment, and setting goals based on evidence of student achievement. Each Southwest Michigan principal was recruited from a diverse sample that met the study criteria. The study design included data from multiple in-depth interviews and documents shared by the case study principals, and a teacher questionnaire with open-ended prompts that asked teachers to describe how the principal worked with them to build a collaborative culture.

The researcher first used a first and second cycle coding process to analyze the data from all three cases (Saldaña, 2013). This yielded thematic elements for within-case analysis. These elements were organized according to the study’s conceptual framework and were compared to teacher feedback and follow-up interviews. Finally, a cross-case analysis identified five major themes for creating a culture of collaborative learning: conversation, collaboration, continuous learning, shared leadership, and expanding the culture. Reflection on the findings and further analysis of the interaction between these five themes resulted in a new framework that suggests a ripple effect as an explanation for how those five thematic elements work together to build a culture of teacher professionalism, autonomy, and interdependence. The patterns in the data suggest that these principals start the process of building that culture by employing frequent, focused, and sustained conversations, which produces a ripple effect of collaboration, which ripples into a culture of continuous learning, shared leadership, and autonomy—all of which align to help the school achieve its student success goals.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access