The Professional Development of Successful School Principals: Adult Learning and Leading




Miller-Kopp, Karen

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This qualitative study explores the reasons why principals from all levels, elementary, middle, and high school, seek out new learning and professional growth. This study sought to gain a better understanding of why school leaders continue to grow, as well as how they know when there is a need for additional learning. In particular, the research focused on the self-directed learning of the school leader and the necessary learning that must take place in order for leaders to stay abreast of new requirements and practices. The study focused on self-directed learning as well as formal and informal professional development. In order for the researcher to gain a clear understanding of the types of professional development used by the participants, the reasons for learning and how the learning impacted those they serve. The researcher used a grounded theory approach based on an epistemology of constructionism. The participants in this study included four elementary, four middle, and four high school principals. There were two men and two women from each level. The participants were chosen by a panel of central office leaders and college professors based on their knowledge of the participants’ work. Each participant was interviewed twice and invited to share a learning artifact that represented his/her continual professional growth. Data were collected from the interviews. These school leaders demonstrated the need for continuous learning in order to be successful as a school leader. Findings, through intensive analysis of each participants interview, demonstrated how school leaders’ personal learning has had an impact on those around them. Through the study the participants shared how important self-directed learning is to the success of a school administrator. The participants demonstrated the importance of staying abreast of the ever changing role of the principal as well as having a clear understanding of their own personal needs as a leader to continue to learn when needed, thus being a truly reflective administrator as well as a life-long learner. This study demonstrates the importance of being a reflective leader, how school leaders engage in self-directed learning through formal and informal professional development and how the new learning of school leaders has an exponential impact on those that they serve.



Self-directed learning, Professional development, Critical incident


Miller-Kopp, K. (2018). <i>The professional development of successful school principals: Adult learning and leading</i> (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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