Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type


Call Number

LB1623.52.M2 M355 2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy

First Advisor

Catherine Fallona, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Andrea Stairs-Davenport, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Kathryn Hawes


A dominant feature of the educational policy landscape has been the adoption and use of learning standards to design classroom instruction. As these efforts move forward, often without clear definition of the classroom practices that should be adopted, the role of the school principal is critical in interpreting the changes, and charting a course for the teachers in the building. This qualitative study, examines the sensemaking of four active middle school principals as they interpreted and led standards-based reform efforts in their buildings, using a novel theoretical framework based on prior research (Benford & Snow, 2000; Spillane, Reiser, & Reimer, 2002). In addition, the study sought to illuminate how the forces of the principal's belief in the value of the standards-based education and their accountability to the district and state to create change affected their leadership practice in the school.

Key findings demonstrated that the variation in language related to standardsbased practices posed challenges for principals, and that principals made robust efforts to mediate the collective sensemaking of the practitioners in their buildings, as well the individual teacher sensemaking of the new practices. In the study principals hewed to the unique context of their school when determining what elements of standards-based practices to adopt. Other findings support the idea that a principal' s belief in the reform efforts is a substantially stronger influence on their leadership priorities than a sense of accountability.

This indicates that reform efforts should focus on careful consideration of the language used to describe the practices; they should account for resources available in schools, and provide reasonable, coherent next steps for educators. A crucial component in national and state educational policy changes designed to improve instruction and student learning is the need to understand how school administrators interpret standardsbased educational practices, and how their interpretations are reflected in their school leadership practices.



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