Date of Award

Spring 4-28-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Jeffrey Lee

Second Advisor

Alan Enomoto

Third Advisor

Kelly Wilbert


Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological qualitative study was to examine the barriers and support systems elementary principals describe, through the lens of Activity Theory, they experienced while leading their schools to achieve 21st century learning exemplar status.

Methodology: This phenomenological study examined the perceptions of 15 elementary and K-8 principals and their respective assistant principals regarding the barriers and support systems they experienced while leading their schools to achieve 21st century learning exemplar status. Participants were selected based on the criteria that they had been identified as exemplary by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21); were public, non-private, or charter; and the principal was the administrator of record for 2 years prior to and during the P21 exemplar application process. Data was collected, analyzed, and triangulated between interview data and artifacts. Data was then coded into themes and organized into the four categories of Activity Theory: tools, rules, community, and division of labor.

Findings: Examination of the data found that principals experienced four major barriers representing three of the four Activity Theory categories and eight support systems representing all four of the Activity Theory categories. Tools represented the most significant barrier that principals experienced, and community was the most significant support system that helped principals lead their schools to achieve exemplar status.

Conclusions: Based on the findings and literature of this study, 12 conclusions were drawn that offer deeper insight into the barriers principals encountered and the support systems they experienced on their journey to becoming an exemplar school. Conclusions provided understanding regarding the barriers that made leading a 21st century learning exemplar school challenging and the support systems that were instrumental in helping principals overcome barriers to ultimately achieve exemplar status. The study further suggested that school principals play a critical role in transforming schools to meet the needs of current and future society.

Recommendations: Further research should be conducted to expand on the understanding and knowledge of the common barriers that hinder and support systems that facilitate school transformation, investigate leadership styles exemplar principals’ exhibit, and explore the correlation between 21st century learning and student outcomes.