Date of Graduation

Winter 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Leadership Studies


Catholic Educational Leadership EdD

First Advisor

Patricia Mitchell

Second Advisor

Ursula Aldana

Third Advisor

Jane Bleasdale


The purpose of this study was to explore the life experiences (personal and educational) of eight distinguished elementary Catholic school principals formally recognized by NCEA through its Distinguished Principal Award. The study sought to identify their leadership practices and how they were demonstrated in their roles as educational leaders, spiritual leaders, and managerial leaders. Additionally, this study sought to identify the major 21st century challenges that the eight NCEA- Identified Distinguished Catholic Elementary School Principals faced and how they addressed them.

This case study included eight participants from eight different (arch)dioceses over seven states. Each principal participant completed an initial questionnaire and responded to interview questions about their spiritual, instructional, and managerial leadership practices as well as the 21st century challenges they face and how they address them. Additional data was gathered from faculty focus group interviews.

Data from initial questionnaires and principal and faculty focus group interviews was analyzed to identify the effective leadership practices of the NCEA- Identified Distinguished Catholic Elementary School Principals. Effective instructional leadership practices identified include engaging in lifelong learning, providing teachers with necessary resources and professional development, providing students with necessary materials, maintaining budgets, evaluating instruction through formal and informal observations, and analyzing data. Effective spiritual leadership practices identified include modeling, being visible in the faith community, building the faith community through prayer and shared Catholic traditions and experiences, and providing ongoing catechist training. Effective managerial leadership practices identified include delegating tasks, creating goals, holding regular meetings, reviewing finances, establishing Administrative Teams, adhering to deadlines and policies, holding regular safety drills, and upholding safety plans.

The study revealed that the role of the Catholic elementary school principal is exhausting and never-ending and that there is a need to continue to explore effective Catholic elementary school leadership practices while also evaluating the current structure of and expectations placed on the Catholic elementary school principal. Further research on the importance of the pastor/principal role to Catholic elementary school success and how this relationship can be fostered were recommended. Additional recommendations were made to better identify necessary spiritual leadership practices.