School leadership is a complex and challenging endeavor, especially in an era when school principals are held accountable for student achievement outcomes. Research on school leadership has shown that a principal’s influence on student achievement is indirect and significant. Over the past three decades, research on school leadership has developed conceptually and now offers more concrete descriptions of the actions and behaviors leaders can utilize for learning-centered leadership. The developers of the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) evaluation framework sought to create a school leader assessment tool that measures learning-centered behaviors, instead of measures that focus on the knowledge, dispositions, or personal characteristics of school leaders. In 2014 the VAL-ED, principals within a large school district in the Rocky Mountain region of the Western United States participated in the VAL-ED school leader assessment. For this study, a sample of 16 of the principals who earned the highest ratings on the VAL-ED survey responded to open-ended questions during an in-person interview, in which they described their actions and/or behaviors related to learning-centered leadership. Responses were coded utilizing attributive and axial coding methods. Principals in this study identified specific actions of school leadership related to the VAL-ED defined key processes of learning-centered principals and core components of learning-centered schools. A comparative analysis was conducted to discover if a difference existed between elementary and secondary references to the VAL-ED key processes. No notable difference between elementary and secondary was found, however, principals identified 4 themes of learning-centered leadership not directly associated with the VAL-ED processes or components. A comparative analysis of the new themes revealed differences in elementary and secondary references within two of the new themes. The findings revealed that distinguished learning-centered principals purposely exert their influence to improve student learning by being informed of the needs of their students and teachers and by understanding the school culture. They adapt to the needs of their schools and actively take measures to support and motivate teachers. Learning-centered principals understand that the way in which they can most directly influence student learning is to support and engage with their teachers because teachers have the most direct influence on students.

College and Department

Educational Leadership and Foundations



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VAL-ED, key processes, core components, learning-centered leadership