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The relationship between transformational leadership behaviors of middle school principals, the development of learning communities, and student achievement in rural middle schools in the Mississippi Delta

Dissertation
Author: Sr. Mario R. Keys
Abstract:
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between transformational leadership behaviors of middle school principals and the development of learning communities in middle schools in rural areas of Mississippi. Additionally, this study examined the relationship between learning communities and student academic achievement in middle schools located in rural areas. Empirical research has not addressed the relationship between transformational leadership behaviors of principals and schools existing as learning communities, nor has research revealed a specific style of school leadership that is most suitable for fostering learning communities in schools. Data were gathered from teachers and principals of four middle schools located in rural areas. The results of this study revealed a strong, though not statistically significant, positive linear relationship between transformational leadership behaviors of the principal and learning communities in middle schools in rural areas. Moreover, a moderate but statistically insignificant relationship between learning communities and student academic achievement was also observed. The specific research questions explored in this study were: (a) Is there a relationship between the principal's rating of his or her own transformational leadership and teachers' rating of the principal's transformational leadership? (b) Is there a relationship between the teachers' ratings of their principal as a transformational leader and the teachers' ratings of their school as a learning community? (c) Is there a relationship between the teachers' ratings of their school as a learning community and their students' academic achievement? The harmonious concepts of transformational leadership and learning communities offer effective approaches for building and sustaining positive school culture and climate and increased student and teacher learning. Schools and school districts throughout the state and nation, as well as educational leadership and administration programs, might be able to use the data gained from this study to improve the quality of school leadership, the quality of teaching, increase student learning and academic achievement, and, ultimately, the quality of education offered in respective school districts and schools.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

1. INTRODUCTION...................................................................................................1

Statement of the Problem......................................................................................3 Purpose of the Study.............................................................................................5 Definition of Terms...............................................................................................6 Research Questions...............................................................................................8

2. REVIEW OF LITERATURE..................................................................................9

Origin and Definitions of Leadership....................................................................9 Historical Reflection of Leadership Research.....................................................11 Concepts of School Leadership...........................................................................13 Overview and Conceptual Development of Instructional Leadership...……….14 Moral Aspects of Leadership..............................................................................19 Overview and Conceptual Development of Transformational Leadership.........19 Behaviors and Practices of Transformational Leaders........................................22 The Effect of Transformational Leadership on Teacher Efficacy and Commitment.................................................................................................23 The Effect of Transformational Leadership on Student Learning......................30 Overview and Conceptual Development of Learning Communities..................36 How Schools Develop Learning Communities...................................................39 Benefits of Learning Communities for Teachers................................................45 Benefits of Learning Communities for Students................................................49

3. METHODOLOGY................................................................................................52

Participants..........................................................................................................53 Procedures...........................................................................................................54 Instrumentation...................................................................................................57 Data Analysis......................................................................................................61 Limitations..........................................................................................................65

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4. FINDINGS.............................................................................................................66

Statistical Results................................................................................................68 Closing Statement...............................................................................................76

5. CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION.................................................................78

Recommendations...............................................................................................83 Implications.........................................................................................................87 For Future Studies...............................................................................................89 Closing Summary................................................................................................90

REFERENCES..................................................................................................................95

APPENDICES.................................................................................................................109

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LIST OF TABLES

TABLE PAGE

1. Cronbach Alpha Reliability Coefficients for Leadership and Management of School Survey……………………………..59

2. Mississippi Rural Area Middle School Participation…………………………….67

3. Teachers’ Ratings of Principal and Principals’ Self-Rating of Transformational Leadership Behaviors…………………………………………………………….70

4. Teachers’ Ratings of Principal and Teachers’ Ratings of School as a Learning Community…………………………………………………………….72

5. Correlations of Teachers’ Ratings of School as a Learning Community and MCT2 Scores………………………………………...74

6. Descriptive Statistics for Teachers’ Ratings of School as a Learning Community and MCT2 Scores………………………………………………………………...75

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CHAPTER 1

INTRODUCTION

During the relatively short history of the United States, many leaders in education have incorporated various initiatives in their attempt to grasp the complexities of producing a progressive and internationally competitive system of public education. In recent years, standardized testing has been used exclusively to improve student learning, to close the achievement gap between students of diverse ethnicities and socioeconomic status, and to impose greater accountability in public education (Liston, Whitecomb, & Borko, 2007). School districts across the country have felt increasing pressure from stakeholders both inside and outside the field of education to improve. Evidence of pressure from outside the field of education to improve student learning came in January 2002 with congressional passage of Public Law 107-110, which is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Student learning has become a central issue not only to parents, educators, researchers, and commerce and industry leaders, but also to leaders of local, state, and federal governments as well. These demands for accountability, along with meeting the needs of a society whose needs are rapidly and continuously evolving, result in formidable challenges for today’s principals. These challenges include principal’s being conscious of the impact of his or her individual style of leadership on school climate and culture, as well as having a deep understanding of how to produce positive change in climate and culture (Kelley, Thornton, & Daugherty, 2005; Poplin, 1992).

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To what can increased student learning be attributed? Is it the successful implementation of new curriculum? Is it more rigorous curriculum or elevated standards, aggressive plans for staff and professional development? Is it utilizing data to drive instruction and decision making? Can schools apply instructional innovations such as differentiated instruction, brain-based learning, utilization of higher level thinking strategies, depth of knowledge, or use of technology to improve student learning? How can schools explain the discrepancy between levels of success, as measured by standardized test scores, of schools that contain similar enrollment, socio-economic, and ethnic demographics who implement parallel strategies for improvements in student learning? Conclusions by Deal and Peterson (1999) as well as Korkmaz (2007) noted that discrepancies in student learning may be attributed to differences in the culture and climate between schools that are successful in increasing student learning and those that are not successful. Further, Urban (1999) stated that “unless students experience a positive and supportive climate, some may never achieve the most minimal standards or realize their full potential” (p. 69). Independent studies by Freiberg (1998), Goddard, Hoy, and Hoy (2000), and Heck (2000) further affirmed the relationship between school climate and culture and student learning. In the same vein, research and literature have established a significant link between the leadership style of the principal, school climate and culture, and increased student learning (Glassman, 1984; Hallinger & Heck, 1996; Kelly Thornton, & Daugherty (2005).

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Thus, Huffman (2003) noted that one of the most crucial steps that administrators must ponder as they lead their schools through the processes of reform is establishing a shared vision that has at its core the shared values of all stakeholders. Cultures that are healthy and thriving have joint ownership of the school’s vision. Deal and Peterson (1999) describe healthy school cultures as those with routine collegial dialogue between teachers and school leaders on instructional improvement, collaborate on projects, generous sharing of ideas and areas of expertise, and with principals who organize structures that promote ongoing teacher and student improvement. This describes a learning community. Schools with a healthy climate and culture provide an environment in which learning communities grow and prosper. In her extensive writing and study of learning communities, Hord (1997b) concluded that as a structure of organization, the learning community is a viable and effective approach to staff development and wills promising results for school improvement. Learning communities can effectively address change and areas of deficiency, improve instructional practice and student learning, promote democracy, and sustain continuous improvement. Statement of the Problem Prior research has been conducted on the relationship between principal leadership behaviors on school culture and climate. In their study of comparing the leadership behaviors of elementary school principals with school climate, Mendel, Watson, and MacGregor (2002) found that there is a direct correlation between a collaborative style of principal leadership and positive school climate.

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Additionally, a study of the relationship between leadership style and school climate conducted by Kelley, Thornton, and Daugherty (2005) revealed a relationship between measures of teachers’ perceptions of principals’ effectiveness and school climate. Moreover, empirical research has established that principals with the transformational leadership style have a significant impact on creating a positive school climate and culture (Barnett, McCormick, & Conners, 2001; Leithwood & Jantzi, 2000; Maehr et al., 1996; Saitin, 2004; Silins, Mulford, & Zarins, 1999). Consequently, the positive effect of transformational leadership on student achievement and student learning has also been confirmed (Day, Harris, & Hadfield, 2001a, 2001b; Marks & Printy, 2003; Ross, 2004; Silins & Murray-Harvey, 1999; Verona & Young, 2001). Few studies have been conducted on transformational leadership in a school setting, as compared to the number of studies of transformational leadership behaviors of leaders in government, business, and the military (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2005). Even more limited are studies measuring the effect of transformational leadership behaviors on building collaborative cultures and creating structures to foster collaboration in schools (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2006). As a result, empirical research has not addressed sufficiently the relationship between transformational leadership behaviors of principals and schools existing as learning communities, nor has research revealed sufficiently a specific style of school leadership that is most suitable for fostering learning communities in schools. According to Hallinger (2003), transformational leadership mostly resembles the image of what ideal school leadership looks like in today’s schools.

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Transformational leadership appears to best fit the characteristics of a learning community; however, empirical research is needed to provide evidence of such. Moreover, transformational leadership and learning communities contain similar conceptual threads in their constructs. Leithwood (1992) described the three elements of transformational leadership: (a) collaborative, shared decision-making; (b) an emphasis on teacher professionalism and empowerment; and (c) an understanding of change, including how to encourage change in others. Hord (1997a) identified five attributes of communities of learning: “supportive and shared leadership, collective creativity, shared values and vision, supportive conditions, and personal practice” (p. 2). Purpose of the Study Inconsistencies in rates of success of efforts to improve schools and increase student learning is a problem faced by educational leaders in public schools in Mississippi as well as throughout the nation. The identification of a specific style of leadership behavior that is most effective in fostering and facilitating the growth of learning communities and increased academic achievement of students, as measured by standardized test scores, would not only fill an important gap in empirical studies of school leadership, transformational leadership, and learning communities, but also heighten the understanding of what makes schools successful. The identification of such a relationship could also make it possible to duplicate school success, aid universities and centers of leadership studies, and assist school districts in the development of effective principals.

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Moreover, middle schools located in rural areas as well as statewide and nationwide might be able to use the data gained from this study to improve the quality of leadership, increase the academic achievement of students, and ultimately, the quality of education offered in respective school districts and schools. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between transformational leadership behaviors of middle school principals and the development of learning communities in middle schools in rural areas of Mississippi. Additionally, this study examined the relationship between learning communities and academic achievement in middle schools located in rural areas. Definition of Terms The following definitions provide clarification for terminology used in this study: Instructional leadership. This study will use Leithwood and Duke’s (1999) definition which states that, as applied by school principals, instructional leadership focuses on the behaviors of teachers who engage in activities that directly affect the growth of students. Learning communities. As defined by Astuto (1993), a learning community is teachers and administrators involved in actions of continuous sharing and learning to become more effective for the benefit of the students. For the purpose of this study, the Schools Professional Staff as Learning Community (SPSLC) questionnaire will be used to measure and determine learning communities in schools.

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Mississippi Curriculum Test, Second Edition. The Mississippi Curriculum Test, Second Edition (MCT2) is developed by Harcourt Pearson Publications. Students in grades three through eight are mandated by the Mississippi State Department of Education, under the provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002), to take the MCT2. This is a multiple-choice, content area test in reading, language arts, and mathematics. School climate. This study will utilize Hoy and Miskel’s (2005) definition that a school climate is “the set of internal characteristics that distinguish one school from another and influence the behaviors of each school’s members” (p. 185). School culture. This study will use Barth’s (2002) definition that a school culture is “a complex pattern of norms, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, values, ceremonies, traditions, and myths that are deeply ingrained in the very core of the organization” (p. 6). Student learning. Student learning will be measured by scores on the Mississippi Curriculum Test, Second Edition (MCT2). Transformational leadership. This study will use Leithwood’s (1992) definition that transformational leadership is “a form of facilitative power manifested through other people instead of over other people” (p. 8). The Leadership and Management of Schools Survey (LMSS) will be utilized to determine transformational leadership practices of principals.

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Research Questions 1. Is there a relationship between the principal’s rating of his or her own transformational leadership and the teachers’ ratings of the principal’s transformational leadership? 2. Is there a relationship between the teachers’ ratings of their principal as a transformational leader and the teachers’ ratings of their school as a learning community? 3. Is there a relationship between the teachers’ ratings of their school as a learning community and their students’ academic achievement?

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CHAPTER 2

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

Origin and Definitions of Leadership The concept of leadership has evolved over many centuries, with a plethora of literature and research that has contributed to a deeper understanding of a complex but vital attribute of human behavior. Sorenson (2002) shared that the origin of the word leader can be traced back to the 14th century word leden, which means to travel or show the way. However, the term leadership was not seen until the 19 th This review of literature will begin with an examination of the origin and definitions of leadership, followed by a reflection of various stages and concentrations in leadership research. The review will then discuss definitions of various leadership styles and the evolution of school leadership styles. century. Sorenson added that in no other country has there been a greater desire for increased knowledge of leadership than in the United States. Since the turn of the 20th century, the United States has committed more time and resources to the study of leadership than any other country. Further, Sorenson reported that diverse fields and varied disciplines have contributed to the understanding of the complexities of leadership, including psychology, political science, education, agriculture, history, public administration, biology, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, and military sciences. As a result, opposing theories of leadership and data supporting them are abundant (Carver, 1989).

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Next, the review of literature will examine the effect of transformational leadership and learning communities on teacher effectiveness, teacher commitment, and student achievement. Finally, the literature review will focus on research in leadership behaviors that fosters professional learning communities in schools. Despite centuries of efforts to corral the substance and intricacies of its meaning, the definition of the concept of leader or leadership remains obscure. Lipham (1964) defined leadership as the practice of being innovative in developing and implementing new procedures and structures to address organizational challenges and to achieve organizational goals. Lipham also made a distinction between managers and leaders. He defined managers as those who operate within existing organizational structures and leaders as those who cultivate new structures to address organizational issues. A more practical and logical definition of the term of leader was held by Cowley (1928), who said that “the leader is the one who succeeds in getting others to follow him [or her]” (p. 144). Bass and Stogdill (1990) emphasized the importance of day-to-day activities of applied leadership in their definition, which states that leadership is activities of groups or members that contribute to “development and maintenance of role structure and goal direction necessary for effective group performance” (p. 411). Southworth (2002) expressed his viewpoint that, as a part of human social behavior, leadership will vary from setting to setting. Bennis and Burt (1985), two of the most prolific writers and researchers in the study of leadership, explained that, although there are more than 350

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definitions of the term leadership and thousands of empirical studies, still very little has been learned about leadership. Thus, the ambiguity of defining leadership is clearly observed in these writers’ definitions of leadership. Historical Reflection of Leadership Research Despite the inability of early writers to arrive at a consensus on a definition of leadership that articulates the quintessence of this complex human behavior, the need to gain greater understanding has increased rather than diminished over time. Research studies, driven by aspirations to discern the answers to both basic and complex questions of leadership, continue to be conducted. Researchers attempt to gain answers to questions ranging from what types of behaviors and traits or characteristics are common among leaders to whether leaders are revealed only through the need to act in certain situations or environments. The answers to these questions and many others provide fuel for extensive field studies and research on leadership. During the first half of the 20th century the central focus of initial investigations was on individual traits of leaders, such as intelligence, birth order, socioeconomic status, and child-rearing practices (Bass, 1960). This type of leadership research was known as trait leadership research. A specific trait possessed by effective leaders could not be identified. Thus, research on leadership continued. After concluding the trait studies, researchers began to focus their attention on the effects of the situation or particular organizational setting on leadership capacity. In their research, Hoy and Miskel (1987) examined the relationship between the unique qualities of the setting and the success of leaders.

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Research focused on organizational situations or setting led eventually to the concept of situational leadership. Situational leadership implies that the role in which a person operates, whether leader or follower, or the type of behaviors exhibited by the leader, is contingent upon the unique circumstances surrounding the situation. Hoy and Miskel (1987) identified four areas of situational leadership: organizational structure, climate of the organization, characteristics of roles, and characteristics of subordinates. Research on situational leadership did not produce results in identifying and relating leadership skill to certain unique situations. Thus, research on leadership continued. Studies have been conducted on leadership in various disciplines and organizational frameworks. Inquiries have been made in countries and universities around the world, including the military and, eventually, schools. For instance, an experimental longitudinal field test was conducted by Dvir, Eden, Avolio, and Shamir (2002) on the impact of transformational leadership on follower development and performance of soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force. The sample of the study included 54 military leaders, 90 Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) who were direct followers, and 724 recruits who were categorized as indirect followers. Two types of leadership training were utilized in the field test. The experimental leaders, which consisted of 32 platoon leaders, received transformational leadership training, and the control leaders, which consisted of 22 platoon leaders, received routine eclectic leadership training. Leadership ratings and developmental data were collected from both direct and indirect followers, (NCOs and recruits, respectively) at the start of basic training and again at the end. Results of the study revealed that transformational leadership has a more positive impact

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on follower development and on indirect follower performance. However, transformational leadership did not positively impact direct followers in the areas of active engagement, internalization of moral values and self-actualization needs. Concepts of School Leadership Empirical studies spanning multiple decades have revealed various models of school leadership behaviors as applied by school principals. Two of the foremost researchers and writers in the field of educational leadership, Leithwood and Duke (1999), listed and defined four styles of leadership as applied in government, business, the military, and in schools: instructional, moral, transactional, and transformational. The following are definitions of these leadership styles: Instructional leadership centers on the daily practices, methods, and behaviors of teachers as they engage students in efforts to increase student learning. Moral leadership involves values and ethics of the leader in general as well as in the decision making process. The constructs of transactional leadership proposed by Bass (1985), includes 3 constructs: contingent reward, management-by-exception, and laissez-faire leadership. These constructs were part of seven constructs of leadership which were separated into transactional and transformational leadership behaviors. Transformational leadership raises the level of commitment of members and empowers them to affect positive changes in the organization. Transformational leaders are described as exhibiting charismatic leadership behaviors. These leadership styles can be effectively utilized in various organizational settings and can be applied in schools to affect growth in improving student learning and school culture.

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Although empirical studies have been conducted on all these leadership styles, based on nearly three decades of studies, two of the leadership styles have arguably come to the forefront; instructional leadership and transformational leadership (Hallinger, 2003). Overview and Conceptual Development of Instructional Leadership Since the early 1970s, paradigm shifts of school restructuring have guided the perceptions of educational leadership. The first shift consisted of refocusing school leadership away from school processes toward what was important: improving teaching and learning (Hill, 2002). This initial shift also represented the infancy of what would later be known as the era of accountability. The catalyst for this reform was research findings on effective schools (Cohen, 1990; Conley, 1996). Stewart (2006) asserted that the outcome of research on effective schools during the early 1980s resulted in a new model of leadership, a concept which placed the principal in the role of instructional leader. As Edmonds (1979) and Leithwood and Montgomery (1984) revealed, instructional leadership has been effectively used in schools located in poverty-stricken urban areas and is characterized by research as a top-down, directive style of leadership with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction. As reported by Lashway (2002) The National Association of Elementary School Principals considered these areas to be foundationally important for instructional leadership: (a) making student and adult learning a priority, (b) setting high expectations for performance, (c) gearing content and instruction to standards, (d) creating a culture of continuous learning for adults, (e) using multiple sources of data to assess learning, and (f) activating the community’s support for school success.

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Instructional leadership has evolved over the years to meet the growing demands of the rapidly changing technological society in which we live. According to King (2002), instructional leadership has evolved and now encompasses data driven decision making on the part of principals and planning professional development for teachers. DuFour (2002) proposed that even the term instructional leader has evolved to the extent that it is now termed learning leader, revealing a shift in concentration from teaching to learning. Heck (2000) advised that instructional leadership targets three broad components of school development: developing the mission of the school, managing all facets of instruction, and providing appropriate school-learning environment. Hallinger (2003) further divided these three components into ten functions of instructional leadership. Sub-scales of the school mission component were developing of the school’s goals and communicating those goals. Management of instruction included instructional supervision, curriculum coordination, and monitoring student learning. Providing an appropriate school-learning environment included guarding instructional time, providing and encouraging professional development opportunities, maintaining high visibility, and teacher and student incentives. Leithwood, Jantzi, and Steinback (1999) affirmed that one approach to instructional leadership is a concentration on actions of teachers which have a direct effect on growth in student learning. At its inception during the 1980s, school leadership was conceptualized as instructional leadership (Poplin, 1992). Since that time, education has been bombarded with an abundance of instructional strategies and best practices aimed at increasing student learning and student achievement.

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The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (Public Law 107-110) passed by Congress in January 2002 has also contributed to the renewed focus on instruction, increased student learning, and increased student achievement. Poplin (1992) held that the surge of instructional innovations made it difficult for principals to effectively lead teachers in the implementation and application of so many instructional strategies and models. Adding to the impracticality of instructional leadership is the fact that effective administrators may not have been effective classroom teachers, and vice versa, having administrators assume the role of instructional leaders was more of a disadvantage than an advantage to teachers. Ouchi (1981) paralleled instructional leadership with Type A organizations, portrayed primarily in business and the military. These organizations utilized top-down decision making and have clearly defined roles between workers and managers. Several studies have been conducted on various aspects of instructional leadership. Due to the limited literature during the late 1980s and the need to increase their knowledge of behaviors of effective instructional leaders, Blasé and Blasé (1998) conducted a survey of 800 teachers. Teachers surveyed represented elementary, middle, and high schools teachers of the southeastern, Midwestern, and northwestern regions of the United States. The survey was a questionnaire consisting of open-ended questions which required teachers to describe positive and negative behaviors of principals and how these behaviors affected their classroom performance. From the surveys collected, they discovered three aspects of effective instructional leadership: talking or conferencing with teachers, promoting teachers’ professional growth, and fostering the practice of teacher reflection.

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Further, the researchers discovered aspects of principals’ instructional leadership that might have positive and negative effects on behaviors that affect teachers’ classroom performance. Negative effects included abandoning and interrupting instruction, criticizing, and maintaining control. Blasé and Blasé (1998) recognized that principals’ skills to conduct meaningful and reflective instructional conferences were essential to effective instructional supervision. In that vein, they outlined five successful conferencing strategies: giving feedback, providing suggestions, modeling, using inquiry, and seeking suggestions and recommendations. From this study surfaced three important realizations. First, instructional leadership requires great skill and in-depth knowledge of all aspects of instruction and curriculum, which principals and school leaders are assumed to possess. Secondly, findings from this study carry significant weight because it is based on a teacher’s perspective of what is required of principals and school leaders to help teachers become more effective instructional practitioners. Third, if instructional leadership is expected from principals and school leaders, then it must be included as an important piece of the organizational structure, and not left to acquisition by chance. From the results of the study Blasé and Blasé (1998) concluded that schools must become learning communities. Southworth (2002) conducted a study of successful leadership exhibited by head teachers in small primary schools in England. The sample for the study included 10 successful primary school heads (8 women and 2 men) who were nominated by Local Education Authorities (LEA). The population of each participating school was less than 150. This study utilized qualitative methods to gather data from the head of the school,

Full document contains 127 pages
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between transformational leadership behaviors of middle school principals and the development of learning communities in middle schools in rural areas of Mississippi. Additionally, this study examined the relationship between learning communities and student academic achievement in middle schools located in rural areas. Empirical research has not addressed the relationship between transformational leadership behaviors of principals and schools existing as learning communities, nor has research revealed a specific style of school leadership that is most suitable for fostering learning communities in schools. Data were gathered from teachers and principals of four middle schools located in rural areas. The results of this study revealed a strong, though not statistically significant, positive linear relationship between transformational leadership behaviors of the principal and learning communities in middle schools in rural areas. Moreover, a moderate but statistically insignificant relationship between learning communities and student academic achievement was also observed. The specific research questions explored in this study were: (a) Is there a relationship between the principal's rating of his or her own transformational leadership and teachers' rating of the principal's transformational leadership? (b) Is there a relationship between the teachers' ratings of their principal as a transformational leader and the teachers' ratings of their school as a learning community? (c) Is there a relationship between the teachers' ratings of their school as a learning community and their students' academic achievement? The harmonious concepts of transformational leadership and learning communities offer effective approaches for building and sustaining positive school culture and climate and increased student and teacher learning. Schools and school districts throughout the state and nation, as well as educational leadership and administration programs, might be able to use the data gained from this study to improve the quality of school leadership, the quality of teaching, increase student learning and academic achievement, and, ultimately, the quality of education offered in respective school districts and schools.