Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer

Second Advisor

Dr. Sue Poppink

Third Advisor

Dr. Tetyana Koshmanova


Principal, social, justice, issues, strategies, challenges


Social justice has taken on a special importance in education today, although it is not a new concept in terms of human history. Social justice is not a local issue, but exists in all parts of the world (Jean Marie et al., 2014). Differentiation among social environments of schools and increasing elements of diversity and roles of schools to create a socially just structure can be seen as main reasons for these issues (Turhan, 2010). Schools are therefore challenged to address the social conditions and hardships of students by responding to their needs (Avant, 2014).

The purpose of this basic qualitative study was twofold: (a) to describe and interpret how principals make meaning of their experiences and professional challenges in dealing with issues of social justice and equity, and (b) to find out what school principals do to overcome these social injustice issues impacting the students in their schools.

This study used interpretivism theory and involved 12 school principals selected using purposeful and snowball sampling techniques. All the participants were selected from within one Midwestern state. The data for this study came from one interview with each participant and the main instrument was a semi-structured interview protocol.

Findings revealed seven themes, created from 20 categories. The categories were comprised of 17 a priori categories and three emerging categories. The categories concern principals’ experiences with social justice issues, challenges, strategies, and support they receive. Finding indicated that principals experience multiple social justice issues, such as racism, bullying and other violence, gender identity, and socioeconomic (SES) related issues. All participants identified barriers in addressing social justice issues. Most principals did not receive specific social justice training in their university programs, but all received some professional development or have other resources to support their efforts. Significant support received from other principals, their supervisors, their staff, and their own families. All shared how leading people to address social justice issues has helped shape their sense of purpose and approach to leadership. These findings add to the limited research conducted on social justice issues within schools.

Overall, this study provided principals with an opportunity to describe their day-to-day experiences related to social justice issues and their concerns as leaders. This study also provided more profound insight into social justice issues and challenges principals face in addressing them. As a core recommendation, the integration of social justice leadership within all university preparation programs is essential, as is the support for school leaders who address these issues on a daily basis.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access