The Principals' Perceptions of Literacy Development: The Influence of Instructional Leadership in an Urban School District



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Background: According to Orphanos and Orr (2013), principals who invest in understanding the literacy instructional practices in school settings find that teachers on their campuses usually have positive attitudes regarding supporting the achievement of students through the implementation of district-level mandates that outline the steps needed to teach literacy skills. In many school districts, campus and district-level administrators solicit experts to offer teachers professional development to strengthen their literacy instructional practices. This leads to the question of how to improve principals’ knowledge and involvement in the literacy instruction provided by their teachers, literacy coaches, reading specialists, and other campus professionals. Dewitt (2017) indicates that extensive research has been conducted on the perceptions of principals related to basic instruction. However, limited research has been collected regarding principals’ perceptions of literacy instruction in urban school settings. Purpose: This study examined the perceptions of principals related to literacy instructional leadership in urban schools. Specifically, it addressed the research question: What do principals perceive as their role in literacy development as it relates to instructional leadership in urban schools? Methods: This research used a qualitative approach and design, with data consisting of participant interview responses. Participants were selected using a convenience sample of elementary principals from one pre-selected urban school district in North Houston. A total of four urban, elementary school principals participated in the study. Data was collected in three rounds: two one-on-one interviews and a member-check follow-up session. The first one-on-one interviews addressed general questions about participating principals’ interactions with literacy and the second one-on-one interview requested additional information to clarify responses and to connect emerging themes. Member-checking enabled the researcher to obtain a more in-depth understanding of the views presented during the two one-on-one interviews (Creswell, 2002) and to discuss themes that emerged from the interviews. Data were transcribed electronically, analyzed, and coded into themes, keywords, and phrases to create a database. The coded responses were the foundation for identifying the themes that emerged within and across the data, forming the basis for the key findings discussed. Results: The findings revealed that principals with backgrounds in literacy were more comfortable leading literacy discussions and providing feedback to teachers on literacy related matters. Additionally, campuses of literacy minded principals yielded higher performance ratings on reading assessments. In contrast, principals with STEM backgrounds relied on campus literacy experts to guide their instructional decisions and frequent collaboration was needed to best meet the needs of literacy instruction on campus. All four principals shared the common belief that district trainings were effective when implemented with fidelity on their campus. Another commonality shared by participating principals was their level of comfort when giving feedback on literacy instruction. However, principals reported that that their ability to provide specific interventions to assist struggling learners was limited according to their prior teaching experience, specifically what content area the principals had previously taught. Conclusion: Principals bring varied but specific content-related teaching backgrounds and experience into their leadership positions, which potentially limits their capacity to provide teachers with instructional feedback in content areas outside of the principals’ areas of expertise. It is imperative, therefore, that campus leadership teams represent individuals that encompass skill sets that complement the strengths and weaknesses of the principal. The findings of this study potentially may help the identified urban school district to design professional development geared toward the needs of administrators who lack content knowledge outside of their past teaching experiences and to address missing elements of principal preparation programs.



Principals, Perception