Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Cooperating University

Western Kentucky University

Department (Legacy)

Department of Leadership, Foundations, and Human Resource Education

Committee Chair

Keedy, John L.

Author's Keywords

Theories of practice; Instructional leadership; Principals; Teacher; Reflective practice


School principals--Attitudes; Educational leadership; Teacher-principal relationships


This dissertation builds on the work of Argyris and Schön (1974), who explained patterns of organizational learning using a concept called theories of practice, cognitive formulas for professional problem solving. Theories of practice consist of deeply held assumptions that logically imply certain action strategies. Argyris and Schön hypothesized that by engaging in deep reflection on assumptions and action strategies, professionals could develop more effective theories of practice based on alternate assumptions and action strategies. This dissertation explores the instructional leadership theories of practice of four successful school principals using a naturalistic, qualitative, multi-case design. Data gathering methods included interviews, observations, and a written reflective exercise completed by principals. The researcher used constant comparative analysis to categorize data until the theories of practice for each principal emerged. Three research questions framed the study. The first question identified the principals’ instructional leadership theories of practice. Findings revealed that these principals used three to six theories of practice based on strong moral and utilitarian assumptions regarding the inherent dignity and worth of both teachers and students, and the positive academic effects of recognizing and affirming that worth. Action strategies included building positive relationships, inviting teacher input, fostering collaboration, unifying staff around a common mission, and encouraging continuous teacher professional growth. The second research question investigated the effect of principal theories of practice on teachers. Teachers from the case study schools reported that principal theories of practice affected them in a variety of positive ways, including higher levels of job satisfaction and motivation, strong affiliation with the school, and a sense of personal responsibility for student outcomes. The third research question explored the extent to which principals engaged reflection on their practice. Findings were limited to only two examples: (a) principals engaged in double-loop learning by developing “special case” theories of practice for correcting underperforming teachers who failed to respond to the principals’ preferred methods of leadership, and (b) by learning from feedback to place more emphasis on inviting teacher input. The final chapter discusses the study’s implications for principal preparation programs, school districts, policy makers, and principal professional development.