Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Patricia L. Reeves

Second Advisor

Dr. Walter Burt

Third Advisor

Dr. Lauren Freedman


Leadership, Communication Support, Management and Evaluation, Literacy Education, Michigan Elementary Schools, Michigan Rewards Schools Beating the Odds


This instrumental case study investigated the instructional leadership role that elementary school principals play in shaping literacy instruction in schools designated as “Reward Schools” through the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) accountability system, explicitly those schools noted as, Beating the Odds; i.e. outperforming predicted student achievement based on school and student demographic variables. The study looks specifically at the principal’s knowledge and application of literacy instruction, his/her mental model for the school’s literacy program, and his or her leadership of the school’s literacy program. The study examined these characteristics of principal leadership in literacy instruction through staff communications, literacy program support, management, and evaluation as it relates to instructional strategies, student achievement, and teacher implementation of the school’s literacy program.

The study participants included three building principals employed at Michigan elementary schools, and teacher focus groups consisting of 3–6 teachers at each respective site. Interviews were conducted with 17 total participants. School artifacts, including school improvement plans were examined. Qualitative coding techniques were used to analyze the data for themes and subthemes, within and across the three cases.

Four major themes emerged from this study within and cross-case analysis, regarding principal leadership and involvement in literacy instruction. Teachers and principals alike noted the four following influences that impacted the building literacy instruction and plan: (1) trust in professional judgment; (2) encouragement for growth; (3) shared leadership in literacy instruction; and (4) collaborative data review for student success. These four themes suggest a series of professional practices for elementary principals to utilize in demonstrating greater literacy achievement in their respective buildings. Future research could explore principal leadership strategies and behaviors on other curricular areas.

This study supports findings from previous research that links positive outcomes in student achievement to principals being actively engaged in and supportive of faculty work and sharing ownership for decision-making. The findings from this study further add to the literature by providing a deeper understanding of the roles principals play and the behaviors they use to influence and impact the instructional environment, literacy education, and student reading achievement.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access