Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

If you move their hearts, you can move their minds: California high school principals' leadership focus on adolescent well-being
by Cody, Scott M., Ed.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2016, 163; 10242084
Abstract (Summary)

In discussing his approach to school leadership, a successful high school principal in Los Angeles told me, “If you move their hearts, you can move their minds.” This line speaks to the crucial but often unacknowledged importance of addressing adolescent well-being as a foundational component to school leadership. My qualitative research utilizes case studies of four high schools in California to answer the following questions: What do successful urban high school leaders experience as they focus on adolescent health and well-being? How do they identify the nature of student need and attempt to address it? What perspectives do they hold on structures, programs, and practices that value student health and well-being?

This study seeks to understand how principals consider the health and well-being of their students as core elements of their leadership practice even as they negotiate dwindling school budgets for health services and balance multiple pressures and priorities. In considering this relationship, I argue that leaders must think about how they are creating environments that value students’ health as necessary preconditions for their academic achievement. My analysis uncovers how principals perceive opportunities to support or enact programs, services, and staff that address student well-being in ways that correspond to their broader vision of instructional leadership.

Major findings from my work indicate that these principals from low-income and high-minority schools utilize Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, either explicitly or implicitly, to support student development. By focusing on building relationships as a core value in their work, they are able to recognize the specific needs of students as both adolescents and learners. In doing so, they create systems and structures that support students to find their voices, both as individuals and as members of a collective school community. At the same time, these school leaders also support their teachers in creating curriculum and classroom culture that appreciates both the academic and non-cognitive components of learning, often with the support of community partnerships.

While mainstream educational discourse leaves little room for school principals to focus on the holistic approach of understanding the students on their campuses, I argue that these leaders must consider their students’ layered hierarchy of needs for them to thrive, both academically and socially. While it is certainly possible for schools to be successful without implementing the practices in this study, the major findings in this work create a framework for high school principals to consider in their practice. My research offers insight into innovative leadership practices that can transform the way we prepare school leaders, educate students, and conceptualize the purpose of public education.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Nakkula, Michael
Commitee: Gomez, Michael, Watts, Caroline
School: University of Pennsylvania
Department: Educational Leadership
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 78/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Educational leadership, School administration, School counseling
Keywords: Adolescent wellness, Mental health, Principal leadership, School leadership, United States, Wellness
Publication Number: 10242084
ISBN: 978-1-369-46892-2
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