A Study to Identify the Knowledge Sources Used by Nine Elementary School Principals in Virginia
Bechtel, Donald Keith
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Educators often employ instructional approaches because of their customary use in the classroom, not because they are necessarily supported by validated evidence. Missing from leadership literature is an understanding specifically about elementary school principals' use of knowledge sources to support their instructional leadership. This study identified the knowledge sources used by nine elementary school principals, discovered the barriers they faced in using the sources, and revealed how they guided their teachers to use the sources. This study was guided by three research questions: (a) What are the knowledge sources used by elementary school principals in Virginia? (b) What are the barriers elementary school principals face to using the knowledge sources? (c) How do elementary school principals guide their teachers to use the sources? The elementary school principals completed extensive data analysis of students' Standards of Learning (SOL) test results and curriculum related benchmark test results to determine their students' instructional weaknesses and strengths. Despite the complexity of challenges such as students' poverty, mobility, and diversity, the elementary school principals conveyed a commitment to access the best current professional knowledge related to the curriculum, leadership, the brain, poverty, diversity, and motivation. Time constraints and funding limitations emerged as barriers for elementary school principals with using knowledge sources. The elementary school principals disseminated knowledge to teachers in a variety of formats. This study provides useful information to school system leaders, school board members, designers of principal preparation programs, and for professional organizations that seek to improve the profession by promoting evidence-based practices. The elementary school principals led with an overriding belief that all children could be successful. Their omnipresent spirit and motivating presence allowed their teachers to prevail despite significant contextual issues and identified instructional weaknesses related to their students. As head learners they accessed the best available knowledge sources and exemplified continuous professional enhancement. Results from SOL tests and curriculum based tests data were critically important knowledge sources. Data allowed the elementary school principals to lead teachers to make sound instructional decisions and enhance their pedagogical repertoires.
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