The relationship between principal beliefs about effective leadership practices and the enactment of those beliefs related to literacy instruction

Sonya Elaine Somerville Harrison, University of Pennsylvania


This exploratory study was prompted by mandated curricular change within the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) Empowerment Schools. Empowerment Schools are schools that receive highly targeted instructional and non-instructional resources to improve student learning. Supports and services are concentrated in four areas: instruction, student and family services, leadership, and operations. 1 In 2010, over half of SDP schools were required to change their literacy curricula from Harcourt Trophies to Imagine It!. While both Trophies and Imagine It! feature a balanced approach to literacy instruction, Imagine It! places more emphasis on whole group instruction and is implemented using a script and a strict pacing framework. Teachers are provided flexibility regarding how to implement the program in classrooms. This qualitative research study, grounded in research on effective school leadership practices, teacher beliefs, and literacy instruction, examined six elementary SDP Empowerment School principals that have undergone curricular change to a basic-skills program; whether tension exists between beliefs about literacy instruction and the components of the Imagine It! literacy program; and how principals negotiated the alignment or lack of alignment between their beliefs and the curriculum. This study is grounded in the assumption that both will affect principal practices around effective leadership, and that principals will need to negotiate such tension to support teachers and fulfill their roles as effective leaders, enacting their beliefs about good literacy instruction in a time of curricular changes specifically as it relates to the Imagine It! literacy program. The research methodology was qualitative inquiry that included two rounds of in-depth, face-to-face interviews, observation of professional development sessions focusing on literacy instruction within the school settings, and review of archival data of each of the six schools. The overarching question this study sought to answer is: How do principal beliefs about good instruction influence his/her leadership role during a change process? The data demonstrates that principals in this study attest to the belief there are specific ways literacy should be taught, as well as specific leadership practices that must be enacted to demonstrate success; however, when there is tension between beliefs about literacy instruction and a specific literacy curriculum, principals acknowledged various ways to combat constraints. 1 Schools that have not achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets under the No Child Left Behind guidelines; and are in Corrective Action Level II (CA-II), including those making progress in CA-II. Within the School District of Philadelphia, the Empowerment School Initiative aims to transform low-performing schools into high-achieving schools by removing systemic barriers from the teaching and learning process. These are the 107 schools that are in the most need of intensive support and intervention.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|School administration

Recommended Citation

Harrison, Sonya Elaine Somerville, "The relationship between principal beliefs about effective leadership practices and the enactment of those beliefs related to literacy instruction" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3510977.