Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Educational Policy and Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Hollingworth, Liz

First Committee Member

An, Brian

Second Committee Member

Barnhardt, Cassie

Third Committee Member

Locke, Leslie

Fourth Committee Member

McDermott, Mark


Background: Science poses a unique challenge to the elementary curriculum landscape, because traditionally elementary teachers report low levels of self-efficacy in this subject. Instructional leadership in elementary science therefore, becomes important for a successful integration of a new science education agenda. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are K-12 science content standards available for adoption by states and school districts in the U.S. Principals are important actors during policy implementation since they are charged with assuming the role of an instructional leader for their teachers in all subject areas.

Purpose: This study gathered self-reported survey data from public elementary principals that pertain to their background and experiences in science, and then relate these data to their levels of self-efficacy and instructional leadership capacity for science. The study answers the following three research questions: (1) What type of science backgrounds do elementary principals have? (2) What indicators predict if elementary principals will engage in instructional leadership behaviors in science? (3) Does self-efficacy mediate the relationship between science background and capacity for instructional leadership in science?

Data Collection and Analysis: A questionnaire was created by combining two existing subscales to measure instructional leadership practices and self-efficacy in science, and also a series of objective questions to address principals’ background experiences and demographic information. Public school elementary principals serving in 13 states that formally adopted the NGSS through legislative action provided the data analyzed in this study (N = 667). The survey data were analyzed quantitatively for descriptive statistics to answer the first research question, inferential statistics through an Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) hierarchal regression analysis to answer the second, and a mediation analysis to answer the third research question.

Findings: The sample data show that 21% of the elementary principals have a formal science degree and 26% have a degree in a STEM field. Most principals have not had recent experience teaching science (75.86%), nor were they every strictly a science teacher (86.66%). The hierarchical regression analysis suggests that there is evidence that both demographic and experiential variables predict instructional leadership practices in science. The analysis also suggests that self-efficacy is a mediating variable for principals’ science teaching experiences related to instructional leadership behaviors.

Conclusions: The data from this research reveal potential (a) leadership development opportunities, (b) training and recruitment needs of school districts, (c) areas in need of attention in principal preparation programs, and (d) directions for policy implementation to leverage principal capacity. The findings provide evidence to assist in identifying ways elementary principals could be better prepared to be instructional leaders for their teachers, especially in those settings where the implementation of the NGSS is underway.

Public Abstract

Educational expectations for science for elementary and high school students in the U.S. are described in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Because the NGSS offer a distinct new way to approach science, educators have a large task ahead of them. Principals are the leaders in schools and therefore in positions to help teachers with this new science agenda. Teachers report that they are often not confident in science, making principals’ guidance critical. But are principals themselves prepared to lead in this subject? Are there some attributes in principals’ backgrounds that influence the potential for science leadership?

This study asked elementary principals to complete a questionnaire about their experiences with, confidence (or self-efficacy) in, and leadership practices for science. The data revealed that most principals do not have a formal degree in science and have limited experience teaching science. The data show that experienced principals, principals who were previously science teachers or recently taught science reported greater frequency in science leadership, Black principals engaged in science leadership practices more often, and principals who taught in suburban settings were less likely to report frequent science specific leadership. Notably, higher measures of confidence in science instruction had a greater propensity for science leadership. Since self-efficacy is potentially important, it may be beneficial for organizations who prepare and hire principals to offer opportunities and/or supports to help foster science confidence in leaders so they can help their teachers, and in turn students, to fully engage in a high-quality science education.


publicabstract, Instructional Leadership, Science Policy, Self-Efficacy


xi, 176 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 143-167).


Copyright 2016 Kathleen Mary Winn