Date of Award



© 2021 Zeljko Micevic

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Cynthia Kennedy

Second Advisor

Aniello Trotta

Third Advisor

Gregory C. Robbins


School principals and teachers being a powerful force of social change is a well-established argument. While literature confirms the substantial impact school leaders and teachers have on improving organizations and student outcomes, there is a dearth of granular knowledge related to how rural school principals in China influence teachers' motivation to improve professional practice. Thus, by engaging in a qualitative study leveraging the Interpretative Phenomenological Approach (IPA) this study aimed to illuminate the principals' behaviors that teachers perceived as having significant impact on their motivation to improve practice. As part of its conceptual framework, the study incorporated a theoretical framework that combined the Behavioral Theory of Leadership with Social Contagion Theory. Seven participants from various rural schools in mainland China participated in the study and in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted in two rounds over a two-month timescale in the Fall of 2020. The findings revealed that rural school leaders’ behaviors most germane to teachers’ motivation to improve professional practice were genuine care and concern for teachers’ well-being, accessibility and tempered friendliness, consequential dialogical discourse, articulated communication of school-based expectations and initiatives, avoidance of dogmatic micromanagement on classroom-based matters, perceptible consistency, and appreciable predictability. Recommendations for further study center on future longitudinal studies aimed at investigating the observed phenomenon over time and in different settings and a deeper investigation into the nature of principal friendliness to ascertain degrees to which teachers deem it to be appropriate.


Ed.D. Dissertation