Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


School of Education


This study of award-winning high school principals was designed to distill lessons from highly effective school leaders. The research explored how personal motivation and professional core values influence the practice, priorities and decisions of exemplary principals. The research followed a sequential explanatory mixed methods design. Participants included school leaders across a 10-state region who won their State Principal of the Year award from 2007 to 2017. The first phase of data collection utilized a survey, and the second phase was comprised of semi-structured interviews.

Principals indicated they were motivated to become educators because of their desire to have a positive impact on children, the influence of others, and their passion for a subject area or co-curricular activity. Key reasons they became principals were to help others, to positively influence student achievement, and to impact school culture. Additional motivators included encouragement they received and modeling they observed from school leaders. Dispositional traits they shared €“ specifically optimism, a belief that all students can achieve, a growth mindset, and a passion for helping others €“ impacted their career choice. Personal values also significantly influenced their vocational decisions.

Principals articulated a salient integration between their personal core values and the values that inform their on-the-job decisions. Guiding values include integrity, compassion, fairness, equity, respect, empathy, and honesty. They emphasized they try to keep students at the center of their decisions, regardless of complexities or circumstances. When making decisions, principals recommended gathering information, analyzing and weighing options, collaborating, and taking time for reflection. Their decisions are informed by the best interests of students, their values, previous experiences, and consideration of creative solutions. Data indicated that award-winning principals integrate the ethics of care, critique, justice, and the profession, constitutive elements of Shapiro and Stefkovich's Multiple Ethical Paradigm approach to educational leadership, into their decisions as reflective practitioners.