Understanding How Principals Successfully Promote Academic Achievement for English Learners Through the Tenets of Transformative Leadership: A Case Study




Allen, Kelly

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The purpose of this qualitative research study was to ascertain how educational leaders create successful learning spaces for English learners (ELs) based on a principal and teachers' perceptions about transformative leadership at their campus. The campus research site, a public school in North Texas, was selected for having a student population of over 30% ELs who demonstrated a 70% or higher Meets Grade Level or above rating on the 2018 and 2019 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) Reading test. The primary data source consisted of semi-structured interviews of one principal and two bilingual teachers from the research site. The interview protocol was adapted from Dr. Carolyn Shields' field-tested transformative leadership interview guide. School documents and artifacts were used as secondary data sources for triangulation. Following Yin's (2014) process for compiling, disassembling, reassembling, and interpreting the data, the following themes and major trends emerged on how specific transformative leadership actions address pertinent barriers to EL academic achievement. The themes included: (1) Actions to Increased Student Achievement and Social-emotional Learning; (2) Data-driven Instruction and Analysis; (3) Motivation and High Expectations; (4) Parent Involvement; (5) Sense of Community; (6) Strong Communication; (7) Student Ownership/Leadership/Decision-making for Their Future and World; and (8) Teacher Support. Three major trends included: (1) Power and Equity; (2) Liberation/Emancipation; and (3) Balance of Public and Private Good. The findings explored the power inherent in school structures, such as school norms and systems that implicitly remove power from marginalized student groups, and how transformative leadership can redistribute that power to promote academic achievement for ELs. Secondly, the findings revealed that providing ELs with opportunities to be liberated/emancipated from learning spaces that restrict their identity and ways of knowing provides a clearer path to academic success. Lastly, the findings revealed how leadership practices that enhance the self-confidence and competence of each student (private good) and prepare students to collectively create a more equitable and democratic local community and learning environment (public good) help prevent ELs from becoming disengaged. Overall, this study provides clear actions aligned to transformative leadership that educational leaders can adopt to successfully provide equitable learning opportunities that challenge academic achievement barriers to ELs and ultimately lead to high levels of EL academic achievement.


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English Learners, High academic achievement, High-stakes testing, Sense of community, Transformative Leadership



Educational Leadership and Policy Studies