This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Professional Learning and Development of Principals and Assistant Principals




Rushing, Kimberly Joy

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology


Continued professional learning and development of school leaders is a way to improve schools and promote positive organizational change (Andreoli et al., 2020; Kim, 2020; Rieckhoff & Larsen, 2012) as well as and a way to support sustainability in a profession with high rates of turnover (Levin et al., 2020). Although principals and assistant/associate principals (APs) are not the only leaders in a school (Leithwood & Mascall, 2008), their positional influence is significant (Leithwood et al., 2020). As organizational leaders, the development of principals and APs warrants attention, particularly since there is reason to believe that as these administrators continue to learn, their practices become more effective (Bickmore, 2012; Kim, 2020). Authentic learning opportunities for school leaders has been connected positive student outcomes; however, as Darling-Hammond et al. (2022) noted in their recent report, most administrators encounter obstacles in their professional development. Authentic learning opportunities are essential for principals and APs because they are in positions that benefit from further learning and training require after assuming their roles (Armstrong, 2015; Peters et al., 2016; Oleszewski et al., 2012) and throughout the duration of their administrative careers (Cardno & Youngs, 2013; Duncan, 2013). Without well aligned professional learning support from school districts and university partnerships, research has shown that school leader development can be stifled (Barnett et al., 2017); leaders can have detrimental gaps in their knowledge (Acton, 2021), and their personal motivation to pursue professional growth may lessen (Honig & Rainey, 2014). A lack of attention towards school leader learning has undesirable outcomes, yet research has not focused on continued principal and AP learning and development to the extent that it attends to teacher professional development (Ford et al., 2020). In response, this multi-article study examined the topic of school leader learning and development in three independent, but conceptually connected, papers. Through a systematic literature review and two narrative studies, this research aimed to explore and document the professional learning preferences, needs, and experiences of school leaders, with a focus on principals and APs at distinct stages in their careers. Article one showed the characteristics of selected empirical studies published between 2011-2021; it revealed how school leaders learned and which approaches were effective or meaningful, as well as how school leader learning has been supported and hindered. This study identified learning topics offered to leaders and addressed the alignment between what was offered and what school leaders wanted and needed to learn. Article two explored the perspectives and experiences of ten experienced principals in Alabama and showed that established school leaders desired ongoing, social learning opportunities that offered applicable content and was led by experts who were relatable and transparent. Although they described a lack of time, money, and district support as hindrances to their professional learning, experienced principals believed their further development was connected to overall school improvement. Article three explored the perspectives and beliefs of 5 APs in Alabama and showed that novice APs desired local level, context specific learning opportunities as they navigated their transition into formal school leadership. This study showed that new school leaders contended with more personal change than organizational change or school improvement, and they sought out social examples from which to model their early efforts towards managing a school. Each of these studies offer insight into the perceived professional learning and development needs of principals and APs from which school districts and professional development facilitators can work towards supporting. It contributed towards a gap in the literature and illuminated opportunities for future research.