Date of Award

Spring 4-6-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Jeffrey Lee

Second Advisor

Dr. Tamerin Capellino

Third Advisor

Dr. Jonathan Greenberg


Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological study is to identify and describe best practices related to 21st century skill development in two elementary schools outside of California that have been recognized as exemplary by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21).

Methodology: This qualitative phenomenological study sought to investigate and understand the experiences of those associated with the phenomenon of exemplar schools, namely teachers, staff and parents in these elite elementary schools, as the elementary level sets the foundation for 21st century learning. Two schools were selected for the study based on the criteria that they had been identified as exemplary by P21, were public elementary schools, and were located outside of California. Teachers, staff, and parents at these two schools, were randomly selected for focus group interviews. Data were collected, analyzed and triangulated between interview data, observations, and review of artifacts.

Findings: Following data analysis, and a review of the prominent themes, five findings emerged as significant. First, learning experiences are intentionally designed to be integrated throughout. Second, a focus on developing agency is intentional for both students and teachers. Third, relationships exist across the school community. Fourth, learning experiences extend to the world beyond the walls of the classroom. Finally, leadership promotes a culture of inquiry and innovation.

Conclusions: Based on the findings of the study, four conclusions were drawn regarding best practices in exemplar schools. First, learning experiences in these schools intentionally integrated lesson design, content, application of 21st century skills, agency and evaluation, rather than teaching and testing skills in isolation. Second, relationships are fostered and perpetuated through meaningful partnerships where a clear vision for the school is mutually shared. Third, authentically engaging students in community and global opportunities beyond the classroom promotes global learners. Finally, school and district leaders who promoted innovation and experimentation, created a culture of growth mindset and adaptability to change.

Recommendations: This study emphasized best practices in public elementary schools recognized as exemplary by P21. Further research is recommended to identify best practices in other P21 school models, such as multi-level, early learning, charter schools, and those with diverse populations.

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