Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Margaret Alison Buck


Elda E. Martinez


Norman S. St. Clair


The purpose of this study was to explore what leadership behaviors and strategies public high school principals perceived to be most effective in achieving school improvement. The qualitative constructivist grounded theory research methodology used for the study was modeled after the work of Kathy Charmaz (2014), who acknowledges that the researcher is a part of the process, as observer, data collector, analyzer, and interpreter of the data. Data were gathered through one-on-one interviews with six principals from high schools with student populations of 1,200 or more whose schools showed improvement based on state standardized test scores and whose high schools were located in the metropolitan area surrounding the university where the researcher studied. The central research questions were: (1) How do public high school principals, who have been identified by the researcher as achieving school improvement, describe their leadership? and (2) Which of their leadership behaviors and strategies do the public high school principals perceive to be most effective in achieving the desired school improvement? Through coding and analysis, five common themes were identified, based on the converging perspectives of the participants. The common themes form the foundation of the grounded theory that emerged from this study. Fiedler’s Contingency Theory (1967), the theoretical framework for this study, defined leadership effectiveness in terms of group performance and the ability of the group to achieve its goals, and that theory was supported throughout the study. The participating principals facilitated strategies that were carried out by teams of administrators and teachers who were committed to school improvement, and the school improvement was measured by group performance and the ability of the group to achieve its goals. The school improvement theory that emerged from the data presents that five leadership strategies support school improvement and improved student learning and achievement. Those behaviors and strategies include (1) hiring and developing quality teachers; (2) setting and accomplishing campus goals (3) building relationships; (4) employing communication tactics; and (5) building effective teams. Perhaps most significant to this study are the importance of the school environment and culture and the principal’s ability to influence that environment and to facilitate the strategies identified in the common themes. The researcher suggests that building and sustaining a healthy and positive school culture is a collaborative process that is essential to accomplishing and sustaining school improvement. The principal leader is in a position to facilitate the change required to build a student-focused, collaborative culture. The key is to create the vision collaboratively, to define the desired culture together, and to undertake the work required to achieve the desired results as a campus team. As the school’s leader, the principal serves as facilitator. With the theory that the environment and culture create the foundation for school improvement and sustained student achievement, a model, grounded in the data, emerged.