An Examination of Teachers, Administrators', and Principals' Perceptions of How the Early Literacy Background of the Principal Influences Their Decisions and Practices in Literacy Development in a Successful Turnaround High School
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Illiteracy in America is one of the key correlates for poverty (Roman, 2004). Far too often, students graduate from high school without having basic literacy skills (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2011). Coupled with this fact, many teachers at the secondary level fail to understand how to teach literacy at that level (Harmon, Hedrick, Wood, & Vintinner, 2011). Significant research addresses how early readers learn how to read; however, the studies on high school literacy are scarce. There is a disconnect between how literacy is approached at the primary level compared to the secondary level (Hill, Holmes-Smith, & Rowe, 1993). Many secondary teachers do not feel it is their responsibility to teach literacy (Allen, 2000). Schools that have successful literacy programs show evidence of strong principal leadership with a focused literacy agenda (Booth & Roswell, 2007). The purpose of this case study was to examine teachers’, administrators’, and a principal’s perceptions regarding how the early literacy background of the principal influences their decisions and practices in literacy development in a successful turnaround high school. This study was a qualitative case study that was descriptive and explanatory in nature. One principal, six administrators, and approximately 18 teachers from one successful turnaround comprehensive high school in Southeast Texas were selected for this case study. One principal and six administrators from this high school were interviewed using a semi-structured approach. Additionally, three semi-structured teacher focus groups containing six teachers in each group were conducted. Teachers participating in the focus groups were selected from different content areas within the turnaround high school to gain multiple perspectives from different content areas. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using a general inductive approach. Emerging themes were identified based on the repetition of the text and connections to the broader theme. Once themes were identified, they were triangulated based on commonalities between the responses of the three groups interviewed. Findings from this study indicated that, while the principal, teachers, and administrators each sensed the presence of an environment that promoted literacy, each group perceived the influence of the principal’s early literacy background differently. The principal perceived her early literacy background as positively influencing her decisions and practices. Two themes emerged when interviewing the principal: (1) School wide literacy practices and (2) Allocation of human resources to promote literacy. The school administrators perceived that the principal’s early literacy background had influenced her decisions and practices. Three salient themes emerged: (1) School wide literacy, (2) Allocation of human resources, and (3) Data-based decision making. While the teachers each spoke about the presence of literacy in the school environment, they were less likely to attribute this to the principal’s early literacy background. In many cases, the teachers were unaware of her background. However, when interviewing the teachers through focus groups, four themes emerged: (1) School wide literacy practices, (2) Allocation of resources, (3) Delegated/diffused leadership, and (4) Positive school culture and climate focused on high expectations. All three groups had common themes that emerged through the interviews and focus groups. The common themes were: (1) School wide literacy practices, (2) Allocation of resources, and (3) Diffusion of leadership. Implications for school leadership include the need to utilize more principals with a successful elementary background to help turnaround struggling secondary schools; utilize models of diffused leadership in struggling schools to create environments that focus on literacy; provide necessary human resources and material resources for struggling schools to assist in promoting literacy; and, utilize a school wide comprehensive approach to promoting literacy through common school wide practices and approaches.