Date of Award

May 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education and Human Development

Committee Member

Jane C Lindle

Committee Member

Hans W Klar

Committee Member

Laura Olson

Committee Member

Frederick D Wilkerson


Over the last half century, researchers added to a body of knowledge regarding principals’ effective behaviors with few insights about how or why they acted. Current models purport that leadership emerges through various collaborative interactions among principals and other school-based leaders (i.e. teacher leaders, instructional coaches, content department heads, etc.) as they tackle academic and social-behavioral issues.

To illuminate these collaborations more clearly, I used the Critical Incident Technique (CIT) to investigate how selected South Carolina secondary school principals described their interactions with other school-based leaders as they collaboratively tackled instructional issues. For this study, instructional issues covered concerns regarding alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, student assessment scores, and instructional delivery. Six selected secondary (grades 6 through 12) South Carolina principals recounted their examples of successful and unsuccessful examples of addressing instructional issues by interacting with other school leaders.

Principals related incidents they deemed representative of collaborative problem-solving about instruction. They participated in face-to-face interviews and reviewed their transcripts from the audio-recorded sessions. The analysis protocol derived from a synthesis of studies on leadership and problem-solving in the realms of business (Grint, 2005) and a two-decade series of studies in education by Leithwood and colleagues in the 1980s which was then replicated in the 2000s by Spillane’s teams of researchers. Both sources identified a range of responses to addressing problems of various types and structures. Both sources showed a similar tendency among typical and novice leaders to lean into an individualistic style as opposed to more sophisticated leadership approaches that involved more expertise and shared knowledge for addressing complex problems. This synthesis of sources produced an a priori coding list which I applied to the transcripts. Findings confirmed the original similarities among the business and education studies about leadership and problem-solving. Among these six principals’ recall of their successful and unsuccessful approaches to instructional issues, their dominant problem-solving style was authoritarian, even when describing collaboration. Their narratives showed that collaboration extended into implementation of a decision that either the principal or the district already made before sharing the instructional issue.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.