Date of Award

Fall 12-20-2019

Document Type

Dissertation - University of Massachusetts Global access only

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Kelli Hanson

Second Advisor

Dr. Keith Larick

Third Advisor

Dr. Lois Zercher-Wynne


Purpose: The purpose of this explanatory mixed-method study was to identify and describe rural elementary school principals’ perceptions of their most important needs for professional development in order to effectively enact the four functions of school leadership identified by Seashore Louis et al. (2010) as Setting Direction, Developing People, Redesigning the Organization, and Managing the Instructional Program. Additionally, it was the purpose of the study to describe the perceptions of rural elementary school principals in regard to their greatest professional development need.

Methodology: Principals were surveyed and interviewed to gather quantitative and qualitative data regarding their perceptions of their most important need in professional development within the four core leadership areas as well as their overall perceptions of greatest needs for professional development.

Findings: Examination of the mixed methods data revealed rural school principals perceived several of the 16 practices to be of importance in order to implement the core leadership areas, including creating high expectations, creating effective structures for teacher collaboration, and monitoring the progress of students, teachers, and the school. It was also found that rural principals desire more contact and collaboration with principals from other rural schools.

Conclusions: The study supported recent findings of professional isolation for rural principals in California (Sutcher et al., 2018) as well as the notion that professional development should focus on those practices which have the greatest impact on student success (Seashore Louis et al., 2010). Rural principals need more time to collaborate with job alike partners around high-quality topics such as improving instruction, establishing collaborative grade level teams, and analyzing student results to lead changes in their schools.

Recommendations: Further research is recommended to consider the unique demands and needs put on superintendent-principals and superintendent-principal-teachers. Further research is also recommended to examine what factors lead to the success of some rural schools in which performance is high. It is also recommended to conduct further study on how California’s county offices of education support rural principals.