Leadership in Green Schools: School Principals as Agents of Social Responsibility

Open Access
Ackley, Carly R.
Graduate Program:
Educational Leadership
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
January 30, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Dr Paul T Begley, Dissertation Advisor
  • Dr Paul T Begley, Committee Chair
  • Roger C Shouse, Committee Member
  • Jacqueline A Stefkovich, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Ecological Literacy
  • Environmental Education
  • Educational Leadership
  • Sustainability
  • Green Schools
This study examines the leadership practices of school principals who are promoting a social responsibility agenda; specifically through their work in a “green school.” The study specifically investigated how social responsibility agendas like green schools are promoted and advanced on a daily basis by school based advocates in administrative roles. The role of the green school principal was specifically examined throughout this study to gain an understanding as to how principals lead and function on a daily basis. The central questions that guided this research were grounded in three separate bodies of literature that were all necessary to gaining an understanding of the principal’s role. These research questions are: (1) Green Schools: What is the genesis of the Green Movement and its integration as a component of educational processes? Are there roles and responsibilities associated with leadership within a green school? If so, what are they? Is there a relationship between the Green Movement and the leadership styles adopted by school leaders working in green schools? If so, what is it? (2) School leadership practices associated with green schools: Do individuals come to the school leadership role as a priori advocates of green schools or do they become advocates as an outcome of their appointment? What educational leadership styles, models, and frameworks, documented by research and literature, are most representative of the practices of school leaders in green schools? How is school leadership in a green school similar or different from that in other schools? What are the challenges faced by school principals who are involved in a green school? (3) Social justice, responsibility, agency and the school principal: What are the attitudes, values and actions of school leader advocates of social justice, responsibility and agency? What do school leaders describe as their motivations for becoming involved in the Green School Movement? A case study methodology was adopted to conduct the study with five green school principals whose schools were located in Maryland, Washington D.C., Arizona and the two remaining schools were in Pennsylvania. The researcher implemented a three phase methodology that included examination of a document related to the principal’s work as a leader of a green school, an observation in the principal’s school and two separate interviews that focused on both the principals’ day to day work and also their values, beliefs, motivations and challenges. The document analysis shed light on the principals’ early experiences with ecological issues and in the greening process. The in-school observation period allowed the researcher to see how the green school was currently functioning and the actual degree to which the principal was implementing green school agendas in their school. The two rounds of interviews with the participants allowed the researcher to gain insight into beliefs and practices that could not be properly observed in the first two steps. In particular, the interviews revealed information about the principals’ previous experiences, influences, and what they believe about the Green School Movement. The participants of this study provided a detailed view of the green school principal’s role. The study shows that a green school leader plays six distinct roles. The roles are: inspirational/motivational/role model, supporter, collaborator, student, instructional leader and manager/planner. The study also revealed that the principals demonstrate actions related to instructional, participative, transformational and environmental leadership. Additionally it was discovered that while some of the participants came to the Green School Movement as a prior advocate for environmental issues, other principals became advocates of environmental education after the greening of the school began. In looking at what green school principals’ value, five key values were identified. Green school principals are student-centered, they have a profound respect for teaching and collaboration, they feel it is important to include families and communities into the school, and then also promote ownership and stewardship of environmental action in the school. Finally the principals each communicated their own personal commitment to the environment and were able to discuss at length why it is important to them. These values motivated characteristic actions on the part of the principals. The key actions that the principals manifested were self-educating, shaping the curriculum around environmental issues, and then promoting powerful professional development experiences for the staff so that they too can be motivated to promote ecological issues in their practice. The study also found that green school principals are motivated by an internal need to feel challenged and the opportunity to task risks for what they feel are worthwhile causes. The principals discussed being externally motivated by environmental issues which in turn motivates them to become dedicated advocates. Finally, the researcher found that there were characteristic challenges associated with being a green school leader. The challenges were the construction and building process that takes place, the need for additional funding for green building and the hiring of teachers who are both highly qualified as educators as well as having knowledge of how to incorporate the environment into the subject matter. The findings from this study contribute to the literature available for researchers interested in green schools, school leadership, environmental leadership, and leadership for social responsibility. While this study provides for a theoretical model for green school leadership it also provides for practical information for practitioners who are in the greening process. Finally, a number of future projects are suggested for study including comparing principals in leadership roles in a number of socially responsible school settings, and also further research that could provide for a more comprehensive look into how the greening process internally influences school leaders toward a position of environmental advocacy.