Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership P-12

Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Jane Clark Lindle, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Lee D’Andrea

Committee Member

Dr. Noelle Paufler

Committee Member

Dr. George J. Petersen


The purpose of this study was to explore principals’ reflections on effective instructional leadership problem-solving and practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Generally, principals have very few evidence-based guidelines for providing instructional leadership during a global pandemic, presumably, improvising solutions to novel instructional challenges. To generate selected secondary principals’ reflections about instructional challenges during COVID-19, I used the Critical Incident Technique (CIT), an open-ended method developed by Flanagan (1954) for ascertaining participants. I selected 10 secondary school principals from the 20-school district region in a single state in the Charlotte-Atlanta corridor. All began their professional careers as teachers and their service as principals ranged from 13 years to four years.

I conducted semi-structured interviews through a video-conferencing platform and used three coding rounds to theme and theorize the data based on prior work on leaders’ problem-solving approaches found in business and education research reports. The three coding rounds, In Vivo, pattern, and theorizing, offered an insight into the influences on these principals’ problem solving in the pandemic’s conditions. The analysis showed that principals’ problem framing formed under the three influences of (a) community expectations, (b) loss of student learning and engagement, and (c) principals’ vision and core beliefs. The theorizing round also showed that these principals initially saw the pandemic as a critical problem and adopted or expected from superiors, a commanding approach to leadership. However, as the pandemic continued, and the instructional problems proliferated, these principals adopted a collaborative approach to leadership as they understood the pandemic’s effects on schooling as an ongoing wicked problem.

The insights from the study may spur more research and recommendations for practices that develop effective leadership in schools as school leaders face the complexities of sustaining schooling and its improvement amid global upheavals that affect health, economic conditions, and education.



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