A study of how specific principal behaviors affect teacher and student performance


Dissertation Defense
Significant Quotes
Origin of Study
Conceptual Framework
Literature Review
Research Design
Measures & Insturments
Data & Analysis
Support Documents
About Authors
Contact Information


Students at the high school in which these principal-teacher interactions were introduced, Dixie Heights High School, attained average academic performance at both national and state levels. Historically, the typical challenges of inducing change and a number of political forces regularly influence the dynamics of principal-teacher interactions within the schools. One advantage of this particular school context was the prior years’ stability of the principals’ tenure and the support of the district central office. Schools with frequently fluctuating principal leadership or poor support from the district central office may not have the ability to implement these particular treatments and their potential effectiveness might be different from that found in this study.

Although at the time of this study principals in Kentucky could not fire teachers for non-performance or resistance to change, the position of principal was nevertheless viewed as a position of power and influence. It was in this setting that the researchers, two of the four principals at Dixie Heights High School, set out to design, implement, and study a specific set of principal-teacher interactions for the purpose of improving teacher instructional practices.

Dixie Heights High School, with 1400 students and 57 faculty members was geographically located between two high poverty urban areas and a number of affluent private schools. The school had a reputation of high academic expectations and was performing higher than average in state testing (20th percentile within the state) although it produced only average ACT scores (average score of 21.1 in 2007, which is 50th percentile nationally). Despite above average performance and reputation for high expectations for student performance, Dixie Heights High School failed to produce consistent incremental gains in academic performance over the decade prior to this study according to national and state standardized tests results.

At the time of this study the culture of the school was perceived by teachers and students as student centered. For example, the school often gave each student a free Dixie sweatshirt to begin each school year, and the faculty often chose to contribute money at Christmas to provide food for needy students on the holiday weekends. Many interventions were offered for struggling students ranging from after school tutoring to school-within-a-school credit recovery to a school funded night-school which allowed students to work during the day and come to school at night.

At the time of this study the district had an open-enrollment policy and a tuition policy that allowed students to attend district schools from another district or attend different schools within the district. Open enrollment students lived within Kenton County School District and chose to enroll at Dixie Heights High School although they were zoned to attend a different high school. These students provided their own transportation to and from school. Tuition students were students who did not live within Kenton County School District but chose to enroll at Dixie Heights High School. Tuition students paid a fee of $300 a year as well as provided their own transportation to and from school.

From school years 1996-1997 to 2006-2007 the course schedule was based on block scheduling at Dixie Heights High School. In spring 2007 (immediately prior to the start of this study), the Dixie Heights High School, School Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) approved a trimester schedule to allow for a larger variety of elective classes.  

At the time of this study, there were a number of political forces which influenced and regulated the principal-teacher interactions within Dixie Heights High School. Kenton County School District had a strong teacher union (Kenton County School District Education Association-KCEA) where leaders worked closely with district administration. Changes in how principals interacted with teachers fell under the scrutiny of KCEA, and any principal-teacher interactions to be introduced by this study had to fall within union-approved guidelines.

Evaluations of Dixie Heights High School teachers were governed by Kentucky state laws requiring teacher evaluation every third year after being tenured, and every year for non-tenured teachers (teachers with less than four years experience within the state). In each year of official evaluation, two formative assessments were required, followed by an end of year conference in which a summative evaluation was completed by the principal. A pre-observation conference was held prior to each classroom observation and a post-observation conference was conducted after each observation. This ensures some conversation between principals and teachers, even if not as frequently as recommended by research (Black, 2007; Downey, Steffy, English, Frase, & Poston, 2004; DuFour & Marzano, 2009; Hirsch, 1999; Jacob & Lefgren, 2006; Leithwood, 1987; Marshall, 2008; Montgomery, 2002; O'Hanlon & Mortensen, 1980; Whitaker, 2003).

At the time of this study the school’s principals (one head principal and three assistant principals) and administrators in central office were stable and supportive of the school principals. During the pilot year of this study (school year 2007-08), the newest principal was in his third year as a principal in this school and the most senior principal was in her eleventh year as a principal in this school. District central office personnel also worked closely with teacher union leaders to establish good relationships. The district office, teacher union, and principals shared common goals of instructional improvement and a desire to improve teacher instructional practices and increase student performance.


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 This research project is sponsored by the University of Louisville, The Kenton County School District, & the head research (Kim Banta/Brennon Sapp)
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Last updated: 07/09/10.