Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Morgridge College of Education, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Kent Seidel, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

George Straface, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Nicholas Cutforth

Fourth Advisor

Ginni Ishimatsu


Difficult elementary schools, Leadership, Spirituality


The job of public school principal can feel overwhelming and frustrating. Principals are faced with ensuring their school is meeting the academic achievement needs of students along with the social, emotional, and physical needs of students, particularly if they are serving in high poverty, high needs schools. Most principals question, at least once in their career, whether to stay in the position. While some stay, many more leave the position especially if they are at a high needs school. This study was interested in principals serving, and staying, in difficult or diverse elementary schools. Knowing the emotional toll that the principalship takes, this researcher was interested in how spirituality plays a part in principals' professional lives. The purpose of this grounded-theory study was to investigate public school principals in difficult or diverse elementary settings and then generate a theory or framework that explained what role spirituality plays in school leaders' professional lives. This study sampled public elementary school principals from the Northern Metropolitan Denver area. Using classic grounded theory methodology, interviews were conducted, and the data analyzed with constant comparative analysis which included coding, memoing, sorting, and theoretical sampling. This study generated a theory that is grounded in the categories that were discovered during the investigation. A theoretical framework of spiritual school leadership was generated from the categories of soul work, wholeness, moral authority, transformative leadership, and connector. A major finding of the study is that the theory is process driven. School leaders are spiritual leaders who progress through a series of stages as their career matures. They initially have soul work as their core, then progress through the other generated categories until they are connectors. Spiritual school leaders progress along this path and through the categories and back through the categories as necessary. There is an inside-out process to spiritual school leadership. Spiritual school leaders resolve the leadership challenge of being a school leader that makes a significant difference in the lives of all kids, while managing all the complexities and concerns of a principal's professional life.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Karen Musick


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

148 p.


Educational Leadership, Spirituality